Set among mature native vegetation, this Hill Country-Texas family retreat provides a relaxed way to enjoy incredible views and outdoor recreation. The Owner, who is also a design professional, desired to bring a more refined approach to the classic ranch house that is both environmentally responsible and aesthetically sophisticated. The landscape architect chose to contrast native and restored plant communities with simple hardscape materials from the agrarian palette to create a pleasing aesthetic tension that highlights the appreciation of each.
Sited on top of an eight acre mesa in the Hill Country of central Texas, this family compound included a program of four structures and a half-mile driveway carefully sited by the landscape architect in collaboration with the architect and property owner. From the outset, the goals of the project were to respect the native landscape and topography and use caution to preserve every tree and as much native habitat as possible.
The aesthetic driver was to site the house and auxiliary structures as if they were lowered into the native landscape carefully so that the contemporary regional architecture and minor landscape intrusions would be contrasted with the incredible natural prairie grasses, wildflowers and native trees.
The consultants set up small areas for permanent irrigation regimes and placed a temporary system in place to assist in restoring the native vegetation that would be shut off once the endemic species had taken root in roughly six months. 90% of the plants are natives and all are drought tolerant species that grow well in the alkaline, rocky soil.
The landscape architect carefully sited the alignment of the entrance road in the field, working with the road contractor. A careful approach to turns and vistas through the property was seamlessly woven through the topography to create an immersive experience that many visitors to the property comment on as they arrive.
Working in the material palette of the main house, The consultant created an outdoor motor court for six vehicles that is screened from arrival and from interior views by massive stone walls --siting this downhill from the first floor. A central axis of arrival up the stairs to the loggia and front door continues through the house and leads to more private outdoor entertainment spaces facing the sunset.
Two narrow mown lawns define another axis through the loggia that allow space for the young children of the family to play. These 20’ wide lawns are juxtaposed to native bluestem prairies that are punctuated by opuntia species and sotols (dasilyrion texanum) existing prior to the construction and supplemented for enhanced effect. These architectural spaces hold a constant elevation and are retained by corten steel walls that begin to separate them from the prairie in some places.
The restored prairie surrounds the house on three sides, with an unmown buffalo grass field in the rear of the house for flexible space in the event that the family wants to entertain larger groups outdoors.
The family outdoor gathering space is around an outdoor fireplace that is immersed in native vegetation and flowering native perennials that provide color through most of the growing season. One enjoys an incredible vista of the surrounding 200 acres and sunset. Nearby, the master bedroom has a private terrace that shares this view.
Auxiliary buildings on the property include a guest house, swimming pavilion and tennis facilities. The guest house is sited downhill from the main drive so that all visitors see is a six foot stone wall immersed in a drift of bluestem with an entrance aperture that only appears as a narrow slot in the wall. Once visitors descend the stairs they perceive another incredible view shed with an enclosed outdoor porch as the main living area and only the bedrooms air-conditioned. This porch is nestled carefully among existing trees that shade the building and create one of the most attractive spaces on the property.
The pool and tennis pavilions have permeable grass parking areas with corten steel parking stops. The simple moves of structure set against native landscape reduce maintenance dramatically and have maximum aesthetic value. The landscape architect placed rustic trails through the terrain that connected use areas and to wildlife paths that lead out through the property.
In the process of this project, the homeowners were educated about native species on their property and utilizing those for aesthetic value in enhanced groupings. The resultant ranch compound is environmentally responsible and achieves a high aesthetic value based in the endemic condition.
"This project highlights the beauty and remarkable character of native
habitats if designed thoughtfully. The elegant weaving of meadows with the modernist lines of the architecture and the gorgeous stones that create paths and walls come together to create a truly inspiring space in the native prairie. The careful attention to the trees, native plants, and existing topography reveals a deep respect for place in this design--an attribute that all designs ought to live up to."
- 2014 Awards Jury