The Westbrook Residence is grounded in the belief that architecture is best understood episodically; rather than conceived through a clear image, the house unfolds through a series of encounters wandering through its spaces. It attempts to shift the paradigm from a focus on the artifact of building and its articulation, to conceiving of a building more akin to an artist’s primed canvas – to emphasize and embrace the vicissitudes of circumstance, environment and social occasion. Building is an act of profound optimism, and we have tried to make a place that provides a sense of grace to its inhabitants, measured by their intimate experiences living here. Situated amidst a copse of Live Oak trees in a post-war enclave of large lots and ranch-style homes, the Westbrook Residence proposes an alternative to the sprawling suburban model. Here, four masonry volumes coalesce around a central living area, that in turn opens dynamically onto its adjacent landscapes. The free-flowing public spaces are defined as the area in-between, with floor-to-ceiling, site-glazed windows and under a continuous ceiling, while the masonry volumes are delineated in courses of purpose-made limestone bricks and crisp steel openings – creating a sense of intimacy to contrast the more ambiguous public spaces. Above and enclosing the in-between space is another volume, clad in steel, that connects the ensemble; light chimneys cut into this volume activate the space, providing an unexpected source of light and view, and suggest distinct areas within the free-plan of public spaces. The elegance of the ensemble is revealed in the way that the respective volumes meet, sliding effortlessly past each other, rather than in their thinness. A custom pivoting door with purpose-made hardware, delicate glazing, timber screens and a plethora of rift-cut oak cabinetry provide a sense of finesse against the powerful and abstract spaces of this house. TECHNICAL REPORT From the outset, the project recognizes the importance of size in determining the environmental footprint of any project. In combination with its efficient plan and compact volume, the project is oriented for energy efficiency and optimal relationships with the natural surroundings. Water is collected from the roof and set up for a cistern, to be saved and used for the landscape, while at the same time invasive plants were taken out in favor of revegetating with native and adapted species. Glazed areas are oriented towards the surrounding tree canopy and shaded by deep porches and overhangs. The project uses affordable strategies for overall energy savings including careful detailing for an airtight envelope with continuous insulation throughout. HVAC zones are defined according to occupancy, exposure, and orientation, and engineered Variable Refrigerant Flow Heat Pumps with dedicated dehumidification and ventilation are employed to optimize comfort as well as energy savings. Efficient planning and multi-use rooms reduce the building’s overall size. The compact layout maximizes interior area relative to envelope, while working with the site’s tree canopy and the critical root zone of the adjacent, mature Oak trees. The constraints of the large Oak trees created a fundamental link between the house and its natural surroundings, with the foundation being tuned to the root zone of the trees and the fenestration taking advantage of the canopies. Moreover, the limestone brick walls and steel panels that define the exterior surfaces are both dexterous and tough enough to age gracefully while resisting the negative consequences of weathering. Operable windows to promote cross ventilation, glazing strategies to optimize daylight and protect against excess heat gain, and filtered indoor air (MERV 13) is present throughout the house. Ethically sourced material selection – made in tandem with a concern about chemical contaminants both for the occupants and for the areas where they were manufactured – and local manufacturers were employed whenever possible. Moreover, interior quality was tantamount throughout the design, and rooms were designed to have multiple sources of light, cross ventilation and control of their individual environment. STATEMENT OF DESIGN EXCELLENCE The Westbrook Residence provides an opportunity to live in the landscape and frame its many delights. Akin to the ancient structures whose use is continued and remains sustainable because of their inherent delight, one can anticipate that this robust and delightful home will carry on for a very long time to come. Moreover, the collaboration with modelling mechanical systems alongside environmental, structural and design conditions created a building that was carefully sited for solar/wind orientation, possessed efficient mechanical systems & dehumidification, substantial insulation and shade, and a powerful sensory relationship between those living the home and their indoor space. Overall, the quality and thoughtfulness of the non-visual aspects of the building continue to delight as much as its visual character. This project allowed for the time to collaborate wholeheartedly, integrate the wisdom from all the collaborators, and produce a very complete set of documents. Foremost amongst the lessons learned for better design has been that ambition combined with enough time and effort, and great trust all around creates a project better than one from a more single-minded perspective.
Alterstudio Architecture of Austin, Texas focuses its attention to the relationship between the material facts of architecture and the social occasions it shelters and invites. The work is rooted in deep-seated virtues of architecture — generous space making, shrewd manipulation of daylighting, and meticulous attention to detail. The heightening of direct human experience and the framing of the complex circumstances of their situations are at the core of each project. Their commitment to enhancing and protecting both the cultural and natural environments of the communities they serve are evident in the technical craftsmanship of our designs and in the long-term sustainability of their projects. Widely recognized for their compelling designs and meticulous attention to detail, Alterstudio Architecture has won more than 100 design awards and has been regularly published internationally.