In 1984, Lake|Flato Architects moved into the second floor of a former car dealership, just blocks away from the Alamo. The designers handled the building’s renovation in exchange for space. The studio has since expanded to encompass all three floors of the building.
Flato, 56, FAIA, and Lake, 60, FAIA, both follow in the footsteps of a Texas giant. “Ted and I were tutored by O’Neil Ford,” Lake says, “and he beat into us this notion that Modernism needs to be tactile and responsive to content, starting with climate and place and using local crafts and materials.”
“The city has an interesting, old downtown, but it’s very fragile,” Flato says, describing San Antonio. One of the studio’s most visible projects in the city is the former Pearl Brewery site, a mixed-use development currently under construction that serves as the northern terminus for the famed San Antonio River Walk. The firm’s work is at the forefront of downtown-revitalization efforts to transform San Antonio into a more walkable, urban city—while maintaining its distinctive culture.
Lake|Flato books one annual getaway for the entire firm. “Every year we go to my place on the headwaters of the Nueces River to camp out there. It’s a lot of people in tents,” Flato says. “We spend a whole long weekend together with wives and husbands and kids. We don’t do much discussion about work—it’s all about enjoying each other.”
Much of Lake|Flato’s work in Central Texas marries the region’s unique culture with its newfound interest in density. “Austin was blessed with a great mayor who was an architect [Will Wynn] who noticed that there was a lot of older infrastructure holding Austin back from getting to the river,” Flato says. The studio’s “extroverted” design for the city’s new central library, for example—sandwiched between two industrial redevelopment projects—will serve as a “new front door to Austin and to the river,” Lake says. Austin being Austin, a restaurant located inside the library will double as a live music venue.
Lake and Flato share a mind on the question of the so-called “Texas Miracle”—the apparent durability of the state economy during the recession. “Texas has been attracting all these Fortune 500 companies for a while. The momentum for that has been a huge boon for the state,” Lake says. “It hadn’t gotten so overheated” to begin with, Flato notes, but growth has nevertheless slowed. “We were doing hotels for a while, and those have really stopped. There were some major things that really stopped. It’s reasonably stable, but by no means is it overly vibrant.”
“When David and I started the office 27 years ago, it was just the two of us,” Flato says. The practice has since grown to include 55 people—many of whom come to Lake|Flato from outside the Lone Star State. “Because of that, their whole social network is the office [when they start at the studio]. We’re a very, very tight family. We have a lot of couples in the office who didn’t know each other before they came.”
Naturally, a studio based in San Antonio for 27 years is going to swear its allegiance to the San Antonio Spurs. So Lake and Flato considered it an honor to design the Carver Academy for NBA Hall of Famer and legendary Spurs center David Robinson. “He’s become an architecture advocate in the world of education,” Lake says.