Murray Legge Architecture

La Grange Landscape

Murray Legge Architecture
15. January 2018
Photo: Leonid Furmansky

A small gem, this pool pavilion is worthy of attention for the way it fits itself amongst the trees on its Texas site. Pillars are placed for function and views, while the roof that provides plenty of shade is notched and cut in deference to accommodate the gnarly trees that make the landscape so distinctive and enticing. Murray Legge Architecture answered a few questions about the project.

Project: La Grange Landscape, 2017
Location: La Grange, Texas, USA
Architect: Murray Legge Architecture, Austin, TX
Design Principal: Murray Legge, FAIA
Project Team: Travis Avery, Assoc AIA; Ben Kaplowitz; Lincoln Davidson
Structural Engineer: TK Consulting Engineerings
Contractor: Shroyco, Sandy Vollentine
Built Area: 5,000 sf

Photo: Leonid Furmansky

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
One of the builders, Sandy Vollentine, connected us with the owners; they are friends and had worked together in the past. They had approached him regarding a new project and in discussing the project he showed them images of a project we'd recently completed. Sandy had been the pool builder for that previous project. The owners liked the project and based on that hired us.

Photo: Ryann Ford

Please provide an overview of the project.
La Grange Pavilion was created as part of a landscape intervention for a house perched on a bluff overlooking the forest and farmland of Colorado River basin seventy miles east of Austin. Surrounding views offer a quintessential display of central Texas wildlife and landscape: songbirds chirping in gnarled oaks on the bluff, hawks and buzzards spiraling on warm updrafts, morning mists in the valley below dissolving in the heat of the day, and ending with the long shadows of a low sun or the dramatic colors of an overcast sunset. The homeowners envisioned an outdoor patio area that would enable them to enjoy this incredible landscape throughout the year.

Photo: Leonid Furmansky

What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
The rugged beauty of the site was an inspiration. Situated on the bluff’s edge, a series of outdoor "rooms" weaves amongst the trunks of a live oak grove adjacent to a new swimming pool. A continuous expanse of creamy Lueders limestone pavers delineates the habitable areas from the surrounding natural landscape while creating retaining walls, planters, steps, benches, and flooring surfaces. The various individual rooms – outdoor lounge, grilling station, dining area, and pool deck –are unified into a single fluid space as it steps down with the natural slope of the topography. Rising seamlessly from this horizontal surface are three large limestone columns that support the roof along with a series of thinner black steel columns around the perimeter. The largest limestone column, adjacent to the dining area, contains a pass-through fireplace. Overhead, a delicate roof spans between the lounge, kitchen, and dining areas to protect from both sun and rain and create a feeling of enclosure.

Photo: Leonid Furmansky

How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
Rather than cutting down the site's gnarled trees, Murray Legge Architecture arranged the outdoor rooms to avoid the root zones, and created holes in the roof canopy so branches could pass through. Four thin, black columns disappear into the surrounding tree trunk silhouettes to produce the illusion that the wing-like roof floats in the grove. Along the western boundary of the site, a swimming pool extends beyond the point where the bluff drops precipitously. The perimeter is designed so the water laps right up to the stone pavers of the pool deck on three sides, and seemingly cascades over the cliff into a surge tank on the fourth. The trees and sky are reflected along this zero edge – a mirror image of the surroundings softly distorted and blurred by the rippling water surface.

Photo: Leonid Furmansky

How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
The design changed as we adapted the basic plan organization to the specific contours of the site and as we began to explore the shape of the tree canopy. We worked the retaining walls in and around the tree root zone. We also adjusted the openings and shape of the roof canopy to accommodate the tree limbs. Initially the roof was conceived of as a sinuous curvilinear shape. This shape was meant to play off the crisp rectilinear block forms and pattern of the retaining walls and columns below. As the design developed the roof shape became more defined. The roof was designed to be dark and clad in wood echoing the branches of the surrounding trees. The flat work, retaining walls and columns below the roof are a light grey limestone common in the area. This contrast between the materials was enough of a separation so we did not feel the roof form needed to be a different language.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Photo: Ryann Ford
Photo: Ryann Ford
Plan (Drawing: Murray Legge Architecture)
Section Sketch (Drawing: Murray Legge Architecture)

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