lake/flato architects, san antonio, texas

Lake/Flato Architects knows something about making an entrance. At residential architect's Project of the Year, a custom house by the firm in Austin, Texas, the sequence of steps leading to the front door rivals any Broadway choreography. Guests first pass through an opening in a fortress-like limestone wall, then proceed between a studio and a guest house. They follow a stone path down to a 30-foot-wide canal that's part of Lake Austin. Lake/Flato lined the canal with a boardwalk, which serves as the project's organizing spine. "It's like a zipper, with a series of little buildings unfolding along it," says principal Ted Flato, FAIA.

The boardwalk guides visitors past another guest cottage and the bedroom wing of the main house. It crosses over a pair of man-made water courts divided by a landscaped peninsula and runs smack into the last building in the series, a double-height screened-in porch jutting out above the water. Known within Lake/Flato as "the boathouse," the room serves as the home's main entry point. Its visibility gives the boardwalk a destination, and at the same time its transparency allows views of Lake Austin to flow right through it. Practically speaking, the boathouse's covered landing provides a protected waterside spot for the owners to store their kayaks.

By stringing the 6,000-square-foot home along its narrow site, Flato and project architect Bill Aylor, AIA, were able to weave water and land into the house's fabric. "Breaking the building into parts brings the scale down," Aylor says. "It helps the house embrace the land better. It's the same concept as the fishing camps you see on Texas lakes." Because of the canal's location between two dams, its water level stays constant, so the architects were free to place each little building as close to it as they wanted.

The project's carefully wrought relationship with its site didn't escape the judges' notice. "You can see the people who live here really want to participate with their environment," said one. "There are warm, interesting events that happen with regard to the landscape."

The judges also admired Lake/Flato's choice of siding material: Hardipanel, a fiber-cement board product. Selected for its ability to weather well with minimal maintenance, the siding was custom stained and sealed by a Dallas artist. Together with a healthy dose of metal and battens of sinker cypress, it provides a fresh variation on Lake/Flato's unpretentious, industrial style. "To break a big house into units and let the man-made parts and nature interact is just so relaxed," a judge added. "It has this informality about it that makes you want to live there."

principal in charge: Ted Flato, FAIA, Lake/Flato Architects
project architect: Bill Aylor, AIA, Lake/Flato Architects
general contractor: Lance Thompson, Thompson + Hanson, Houston, Texas
interior designer: Dawn Thompson, Denison & Denison Interiors, Houston
project size: 6,000 square feet
site size: 1.7 acres
construction cost: Withheld
photographer: Hester + Hardaway Photographers