Ted Flato: "Build Smart, Build Simple"

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Pick up a copy of Lake/Flato Houses: Embracing the Landscape, a 300-page photography book showing some of the architectural design group's spectacular environmentally friendly home designs, and it's easy to sigh and say, "Well, if I had a million dollars, I could have a beautiful house like that, too." That's missing the point, says Ted Flato, in town on Thursday to sign copies of the University of Texas Press release.

"The book is about encouraging people, everyone from architects to clients, to do architecture that...is building smartly, building simply and creating outdoor spaces that allow you to appreciate the outdoors and use less energy. A lot of the houses in the book are expensive, yes, but they're not good because they're expensive. The reality is that sometimes people have all the money in the world and they do absolutely horrible things. Lots of the elements that we use on these houses can apply to other, more modest houses."

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Lake/Flato Architects, based in San Antonio, was started 30 years ago. At the time, many of the houses the firm designed were for country living, with large outdoor spaces and walls of windows that let in the views. Now the company has a number of high-density urban projects as well.

Among its newer projects are Porch Houses, prefabricated rooms that can be arranged in any number of combinations with porches and breezeways connecting the different areas. The Porch Houses, some of which are seen in the Lake/Flato Housesbook, don't cost as much as the impressive homes, but they are every bit as striking and comfortable.

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"About four or five years ago, we thought it would be really, really nice to be able to build more modest houses and have more people be able to enjoy them. Our idea was this prefabricated housing that was called Porch Houses. We wanted to have a system that a lot more people could take advantage of because the costs were reduced; just the design alone would be less expensive.

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"Porch Houses are rooms that are built in a factory that you can arrange in a myriad of ways. We didn't want to just air-drop a house somewhere. That's not very sensitive to the environment. Instead we have a system of rooms that can be connected together by porches. There are five or six different kinds of rooms and you can stack them or build them around a courtyard."

Flato says the Porch Houses project hasn't grown to the point where the group can keep a factory busy all year producing the units, but the system continues to develop.

Ted Flato signs copies of Lake/Flato Houses: Embracing the Landscape at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 13. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑523‑0701 or visit brazosbookstore.com. Free.

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