Houses of Import: The Out-of-Towners

This year's Rice Design Alliance's annual architecture tour has turned to out-of-town architects for their take on what we should be doing with our buildings in Houston.

Austin-based architect David Heymann, created a house specific to the Gulf Coast Houston condition. He says, "I wanted to account for the amount of rain in Houston. The rain really shuts everything down, you really feel like you are trapped in your house."

To make the most of our rain storms, Heymann created a gutter-system that funnels about half the rainfall through a giant waterfall feature in the house's front. The rainwater also is collected into a large cistern, which is used to irrigate a garden through a system of pipes. These types of designs are Houston-specific, Heymann concedes, "you couldn't do that in Austin for sure."

RDA Vice President Lonnie Hoogeboom got the idea for this year's theme from his own architectural work in places abroad. A practicing architect of ten years, Hoogeboom has worked on several residential projects out of the town and state. He found that working long distance provided challenges and forced him to alter his design approach. "The benefit of locals working local is that you are always able to visit the site and test concepts at the site," says Hoogeboom. "Architects typically like to have involvement during the construction process to make sure the project is built according to plan." For visiting architects to Houston, issues of landscape, climate, transportation, and lack of zoning all play an important factor.

Hoogeboom wanted variety in this year's lineup. He got just that, with six houses that range from multi-million dollar modern mansions, to a space friendly, understated, casita. In each case we find architects reinterpreting their design to Houston specs. Here our lack of zoning allows architectural freedom other cities don't. Nashville architect Price Harrison has experienced this. Peeved at Nashville's trend to regulate, he argued, "architects should be free to design buildings without aesthetic constraints."

Seattle architect Rick Sundberg designed a house on 1916 Banks Street that mixes Pacific Northwest smooth green stucco with an interior containing several installations from Houston-based artists, while Dallas architect Frank Welsh implemented (Dallas' signature) brick walls to his house on Devonshire Street. We see Houston's apt vegetation used by David Heymann in his house on 3122 Sunset, which has a massive garden, and San Antonio architects Lake/Flato's house 606 W. Friar Tuck engages a forest landscape. A lot of times architects have limited space to work with. Price Harrison makes use of a narrow lot on 6001 Charlotte which plays upon Houston's abundant sunlight, and Atlanta architect W. Jude Leblanc's casita on 3506 Sunset is a small garage apartment with a spacious living area.

In light of the economic crisis, Houston is one of the few places in the last decade to continue growth and expand in population. Increased metropolitan growth means more demand for housing. With outside firms who want to bring their business to where it's best, we can expect a lot more out-of-town influence on Houston architecture.

The Houses of Import Tour is on April 2nd and 3rd from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. For information, call 713-348-4876 or visit

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