Amid all of the deserved attention sustainability has received in recent years, we often overlook the movement’s earlier incarnation 40 years ago, epitomized by the 1971 P/A Awards Citation to “Take Me to the Mountain.” Designed by Charles Tapley & Associates, the project called for not building on the 55-acre, hilly, Texas property owned by the client, Camille Waters. Instead, the designers showed how she could temporarily inhabit three sites with a combination of a VW van, tent, hammock, fire pit, and outdoor gear.
People camp like this all the time, of course. What makes the project so radical and so relevant to our own time is the idea of an architect and landscape architect like Charles Tapley recommending that a client not disturb a site with a building. According to Joseph Mashburn, who worked on the project and who is now dean of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston, Waters did eventually build “a very small, un-plumbed cabin,” but she “kept the site largely unbuilt across the 38 years of her ownership” before selling the land two years ago.
The submission’s hand-drawn graphics evoke the early 1970s back-to-nature quality of the project, as does its name, recalling the 1969 album Take Me to the Mountains, by the Austin, Texas, country-rock group Shiva’s Headband. But the idea of design professionals recommending not building on a site, and finding nonarchitectural means to meet a client’s needs—that remains absolutely current, part of a do-no-harm ethic that remains our profession’s first responsibility.