As Austin, Texas-based architect Vincent Snyder attests, at first glace the Ottmers Residence looks fairly traditional—recalling a barn or some other farm structure—but for its Hill Country context the architecture is quite modern. The house can be seen as rectangular box with a protective cover that wraps up and over the house, all the while framing views of the landscape and providing shelter for a generous outdoor terrace. Snyder answered some questions about the design that balances context, tradition, and contemporary concerns.
The ancestral ranch of Jeffrey and Katherine Ottmers
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
Young couple with very limited resources that I have known for several years asked for assistance. They live on family land from an original land grant from the mid-19th century.
Southern façade at dusk
Can you describe your design process for the building?
A synthesis of cultural, constructional, and climatic contexts specific to the Hill Country of Texas. Having previously done extensive research in these contexts over the last decade, the chance to generate a sketch responsive to these concerns and their program happened quite quickly. Because the client was the contractor with little contemporary construction knowledge a complete 3-d framing model was completed after the plans, sections and 3-d volumes were established.
View out from second floor
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?
Everything but the details are as designed. The project was designed with this anticipation. The thinking was that if the “bones” were correct then the project’s primary design integrity would be maintained through the rigorous organization of space and light. Thus the use of the 3-d framing model and use of 16” o.c. minor grid & 4’ major grid (and repeated bay sizes). Construction tolerances are at places considerable, yet the project is still quite comfortable and dynamic due to the registration of changing light throughout the day and season.
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?
We design a wide variety of types from institutional/cultural to housing and with clients with vast differences of resources.
Lower Level Plan
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
It would be considered contemporary with regard to all of those aspects (I spoke with the clients yesterday and even with 105 degree temperatures in the Texas heat right now, they only use a window air conditioner in one of the bedrooms and claim to be quite comfortable). However, we have always considered the sustainable aspects that I have been aware of since my university day’s in the late 70’s and in fact, we did solar studies and addressed energy concerns quite seriously while I was at Frank Gehry’s office in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It has always been part of the responsibility of the architect but was done without fanfare. I would say that my friends on the left and right coasts consider the work traditional while most people here in Texas consider the work quite “modern” and non-traditional, although as I said they are influenced from historical precedents.
Upper Level Plan
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?
No. However, naturally in any architects work projects tend to continue along certain threads until many of the conceptual priorities are exorcised.
E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill