Devonian Stone of New York selected MF Architecture as the Firm of the Month in their July 2014 Newsletter. The article features the Pugh Residence Redux, constructed by Pugh Custom Build.
A Modern Light-Filled Home in Texas
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The design work of Matt Fajkus Architecture is based on the belief that each project is unique, as it should be driven by the client, the site, and functional requirements, rather than a singular, preconceived aesthetic. The firm aims for clear and simple solutions to complex problems by blending expertise as well as experimentation. As a young and energetic collaborative, the firm is simultaneously an academic think tank, directly connected to theoretical and technological research at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, while also practicing as an office deeply focused on realizing exceptional buildings.
On a ranch just east of Austin, Texas there is a residence that was recently remodeled by architect Matt Fajkus. The house was originally built in the 1970's and even after several additions, the interior was still starved for light until the new owners decided to hire Fajkus to completely remodel the home. The result is a flexible open plan with clean lines, lots of natural light and beautiful views.
When the new owners acquired the house, they weren't sure if it would be remodeled in a way that would suit their taste. Fajkus explains, "The clients were first considering whether or not they would even try to live in the house. It had been added onto a bit irresponsibly and all the daylight was being choked out of the center of the space. It didn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it or a modern feel."
"I was first asked to really just explore what could possibly happen with the house. That led to the early plan diagrams and perspective renderings where we could examine how the quality of light could be in the space if we were to alter the roof and make some changes in the floor plan configuration. Also, the house didn't have a proper master suite and so the only place where there was any added foundation was for the master suite, so that was a really big design exercise to figure out what the ideal master suite would be, both in terms of configuration but also in terms of the daylight, the materials and so forth. At the end of the process, it became very clear to the owners where this could go and they were really excited about it"
The client also happened to be the contractor on the project, Tim Pugh, which Fajkus noted was a unique scenario. Construction meetings and design meetings were often held at the same time.
The new design proposed a conservation of the overall house enclosure, while carving out interior partitions and removing large portions of the attic. The interior now looks as if the roof has been lifted upward to allow natural light to bathe the space with a carefully placed horizontal row of clerestory windows along what Fajkus calls a split gable roof.
Fajkus explains, "The split gable roof is really two different shed roofs that are aligned differently to allow for the clerestory windows. It was really a key move because they're north facing windows and rarely receive direct sunlight, which is a big problem in Texas. Overheating is our bigger concern, so you don't want to have too much direct solar gain, especially in the summer. It was a very big move to decide to allow for that ribbon of clerestory windows all facing north. It was also our intention to really make the space a house of light and materials rather than any sort of ornament. It was meant to be a space that is a back drop for everyday life and for their art and for everything they have in the house, rather than the architecture being about itself. Now there is a very simple geometry of split gables to allow for a suitable amount of light."
Another feature of the house is a series of threshold pieces to mark ones procession through the house. Starting in the front yard, one encounters a concrete entry portal as an initial threshold. The other two thresholds, found within the home, help denote the separation between the house's three main zones.
"There are thresholds, or portals between the different parts of the house," Fajkus explains, "and we've described that center part of the house as the living/eating space and the bedroom wing is the sleeping and solitude zone. There is a threshold or a portal of gray plaster that defines those two zones, and you pass through the portal from the main living space to get to the more private wing of the house. On the other side of the living/eating zone is what we call a work/play zone where there is an office as well as a play room/media room and it's also defined by a plaster wall."
According to Fajkus, there was one challenge with the project. He explains, "One was that the roof really wasn't sound and we realized pretty early on that making any kind of minor modifications to the roof really wouldn't work. Manipulating the roof just a little bit wasn't an option, and it was clear that something big needed to be done. Once we knew that we had to rethink the roof altogether, that liberated us quite a lot."