5. October 2016
A quick glance at the front of the residential extension in Texas reveals that something special is going on inside: a bridge leads to a glazed entrance and second floor between two tall tapered volumes. These contain a studio and gallery for the clients, two artists and retired teachers. Designed by A.Gruppo Architects, the house extension and renovation is a light-filled setting for the couple's artwork and art collection. The architects answered a few questions about the project.
New entrance at addition
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
Andrew Nance taught with Jene Laman for a number of years in the Interior Design program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Jene accompanied a studio tour of another residential project under construction (Bley Sleeping House). Afterwards, he approached Andrew about designing an addition to his home. At the first meeting, the Lamans presented two decades of magazine clippings of architecture they were fond of -- which ranged from medieval castles to barns. After a series of lengthy meetings, we were able to distill the essence of how they anticipated using their new spaces; and exactly how the addition needed to work in conjunction with the existing home.
Addition at right and link to existing
Please provide an overview of the project.
Upon retirement after 40 years of teaching Fiber-Arts and Interior Design at Texas State University, the Lamans desired a gallery and studio to complement their modest 1970s-era modern home, taken from Heritage Homes plan books originally started by architect Henry D. Norris.
Clad in white stucco, the 1,800 sq. ft. residence is characterized by a tripartite plan arrangement of two shed roof’s flanking a central core.
The Lamans expertly sited the house amongst a dense canopy of live oak and cedar elm trees on a one-acre, hill country lot in San Marcos. Over the past 30 years, they have carved out a series of outdoor rooms, a secret garden and sculpture courts around their home leaving only one logical area for an addition: the front yard. While in most situations an addition would supplement the operation of an existing structure, this project presented an opportunity for the addition to transforming the identity of the existing home and create a new entry sequence.
Addition and link at dusk
The program called for an exhibition gallery, a painting studio, a library and a new master suite. Taking queues from the parti of the existing home’s massing, the addition is comprised of paired towers (gallery and studio) flanking a foyer and upper level library. Located in a bowl-like depression at the head of a dry creek bed, the addition is accessed via a series of bridges which allowing natural water runoff to flow around and between the existing and new structures.
The atmosphere in the towers is animated through two distinct lighting strategies. Ambient light is filtered by the north-facing translucent walls, while carefully placed skylights project pools of light through a series of ceiling baffles throughout the day. Depending upon the location of the sun, the color temperature of the natural light provides a diverse reading to the Lamans' art.
The Lamans in the new sculpture garden
The library is defined by shelves which cantilever into the voluminous modified-gambrel roof forms of the towers -- linking the spaces through section. Perched atop the entry, views to the surrounding canopy of trees create an intimate gathering space for conversation and contemplation for the Lamans and their guests.
The Lamans' appreciation for outdoor living is realized with the addition of a new sculpture garden and bocce court off of the gallery, ideal for large showings or family gatherings. While in a more intimate setting, the master bedroom and bathroom open directly into a private Zen garden.
The master suite was reconfigured through a sensitive addition of a bathing and dressing room while shifting the existing bedroom out, forming a linear gallery hall which bisects the existing house and new addition. Movement along this corridor not only makes the user aware of old and new but has framed views to the new outdoor rooms as well.
Entrance and view into Studio
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
The Lamans' love and collection of artwork was a driving factor in the design of their addition. Jean is a fiber artist, and Jene is a composer of objects -- found and contrived alike. Their work is rich with texture and requires ample light to appreciate the intricacies of their pieces.
The Lamans' primary charge was for the addition to be sculptural and bold.
As the program called for a studio and gallery, the architects found it necessary to provide a light quality that would illuminate their works. We also felt a need to offer a counterpoint to the cool even north light by animating the spaces through a series of pools of light, cast by the sun, which change throughout the day.
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
The existing mature Cedar Elm trees allowed the sense of a “treehouse” view from the library. This elevated view is distinct from the galleries which are dominated by display wall space and a few carefully placed windows which frame vignettes of the exterior sculpture garden and surrounding grounds.
The addition presents itself as the new face and formal entry to the project, up-ending the traditional method of the addition receding or blending into the existing structure. Additionally, the previous house had an entrance that meandered on a landscaped path and was often confusing, while the new entry is well defined, visible and presents the extensive landscaping the owners have installed over the last 30 years.
Stair up to Library
The main challenge to the proposed addition site was dealing with the existing drainage issues since the addition was located at the start of a drainage area for the neighborhood and received heavy amounts of water during periods of precipitation.
Finally, the building integrates itself into the existing landscape and trees that the owners had meticulously landscaped. The entry bridge is sited next to and under one of the largest trees on the property, which creates a shaded and diffused entry sequence as one travels along the bridge. The shadows from the tree drape across the white face of the paired towers creating a play of shadows as the day progresses.
Gallery from Stair
How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
Initially the form of the building emerged quickly during schematic design. During the construction drawings and bidding stage it was quickly realized that a rigid steel frame was beyond the clients budget. Due to the interior volume and structural form of the conceptaul form, economical wood framing was also not a viable option. A local manufacturer for Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) was contacted and were excited to be able to implement their panels for the project.
Additionally the expression of the exterior form had come down to two viable iterations. One was to consider the formal distinction between the walls and roof as a literal cap and base. Secondly the exterior was also conceived as an extension of the front elevation/section thus the side walls and roof should read as one entity continually repeated as an extrusion.
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
While not entirely influenced by any trends in energy conservation, the structural requirement for the exterior walls and roof required 8” thick SIP panels, which equate to a 0.031 U-Value, minimal thermal bridging, and a very tight building envelope. Additionally, the building orientation and fenestrations allow for minimal direct solar heat gain but maximum daylighting to further reduce energy costs. Finally, the metal roof cladding and white stucco exterior (both oriented to the eastern, southern and western sun) of the addition all have high Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) values to further reject the solar heat gain of the hot Texas sun.
A popular design detail of the continuous roof to wall material transition posed as one of the largest challenges in the construction. The panels had to be continuous from the ridge to the foundation, and broken at each transition. Each panel, ranging from 35’ to 42’ was formed and cut on the ground, and then hoisted up and installed in place.
Reading Room off the Library
What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?
The SIPs helped make this project a possibility. As mentioned previously, the only other viable structural option was a rigid steel frame that would have been cost prohibitive for this project. Additionally, the panels were precut and partially pre-assembled for easier erection on site.
Furthermore, the large two-story translucent wall and bathroom clerestories create a dynamic diffused naturally lit interior spaces, with the use of the polycarbonate panel and frame system over standard wood framed walls.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Link to existing and Master Suite
San Marcos, Texas
Jene & Jean Laman
Andrew Nance AIA, Thad Reeves AIA
Andrew Nance AIA
Thad Reeves AIA, Ana Riley
Sam White PE w/SW Structural Engineers (Foundation and Framing), Wimberley, T
Pat Caballero PE (SIPS), Wimberley, TX
Krisof Irwin w/Positive Energy, Austin, TX
Ryan McWhirter w/Lush GreenScape Design, New Braunfels, TX
A. Gruppo Architects
Craig Neumeyer & Trevor Huffard w/GeoFaze
2,100 sq ft (addition)
1,800 sq ft (renovation)