LocationAustin, United States
Architect in ChargeSean Guess
From the architect. In my work I am continually attempting to pare down the objects, spaces and details to their essential elements while trying to maintain a certain sense of elegance and refinement to how materials are joined and intersect. This refinement process drives me to limit the palette of materials for any given project, which I believe lends a certain amount of power to those materials. For the Elephant House, during design I came across a corrugated fibre cement panel, historically used for roofing applications. I became enamored by this material. The scale was perfect, the natural manufactured color beautiful without treatment and inherently durable and low maintenance, and the installation seemingly straightforward. Up close it looks like elephant hide, hence the project name.
The form of the house hints at the vernacular shapes of traditional buildings in this area, but this house is a far cry from an attempt at a “contemporary farmhouse.” The concept of the form is rooted in ease of construction and detailing, for both aesthetic and cost reasons. It further reinforces my underlying desire to arrive at the essentials of a building.
The interior is a continued experiment in the use of pine plywood, a material I return to in my projects for its color and texture. I took a few more liberties as this was my own home in the connections, edge details, panel layouts, etc., and applied different concepts in different rooms. The stair is designed to be a plywood object you enter and exit on each of the three floors. The remainder of the interior is rendered in simple white, with shutters for each of the 5 large south facing windows that both allow light in and provide for privacy depending on your chosen configuration. These were inspired by Luis Barragan.
The siting of the house takes advantage of the length of the lot and the relationship to the long side of the corner. A generous overhang of the second floor over the first on the south side provides shading for the south facing glazing on the lower level. The south facing second floor wall is 16” thick, while the five windows along this elevation are recessed into that thickness, inset into deep cut Lueder limestone surrounds. Our garage is detached, and between the house and garage is a 24’x24’ open air cedar deck, on which we spend a lot of time. It is our open air plaza, oriented to take advantage of the ever present breezes on the crown of our little bluff.
Product Description. The principle expression of the architecture is the Cembrit corrugated fibre cement cladding. The scale of the corrugations is quite a bit larger than traditional corrugated metal, for example, which has been used in the vernacular architecture of this area for the last century. The increased scale of the cladding dovetails well with the simple form and overall scale of the structure, creating dramatic shade and shadow throughout the course of the day. This raw, unfinished material will continue to patina over time and take on new character without compromise to the integrity and longevity of the cladding.