Court and Corten House

Background & site design

The Court & Corten House is a detached single-family residence on a typical sized lot in the established ‘Heritage’ neighborhood district of central Austin and situated within walking distance to the University of Texas campus.

The house was designed and built for a client who is dedicated to preserving the general scale of housing in the vicinity at a time when the area is pressured by new developments that often seek maximum lot coverage and bulk, and thus are counter to the qualities that make the area attractive to so many.

The point of departure for the project was threefold: to design a new house sympathetically scaled to the neighborhood, to honor and accommodate the majestic live oak tree on the site, and to use portions of the lot as enlivening neighborhood gathering spaces rather than entirely private enclaves.

The site design for the project divides two standard lots into three spatial zones. The northern third contains the house, the middle third is a generous ‘buffer’ side yard featuring a rain garden basin, and the third zone is a semi-public outdoor seating and dining patio currently leased by a neighboring restaurant. With the help of landscaping elements such as low walls and planting beds these three zones are separated in a manner that balances privacy with a degree of “conversation” that loosens the sense of division that is common to lot boundaries.

Planning of spaces

The private house contains 1,700 square feet within a two-story structure. The upper floor is set back on three sides so that the house appears more to the scale of most structures on the street from the vantage points of walking along Rio Grande Street. The setback also accommodates the crown of the oak tree and allows for a generous roof terrace on the upper level.

The planning of the ground level comprises an ‘open-plan’ living, dining, and kitchen sequence, a bedroom suite, and utility spaces – all of which receive an abundance of natural light through generous floor to ceiling glazing. The top floor is dedicated to another bedroom suite and the outdoor roof terrace that is accessed through large sliding glass doors.

All of the main spaces are simply painted white to maximize the distribution of light and not detract from the numerous views to the lushly planted surrounding lot. The resulting risk of complete abstraction inside is alleviated by the stained oak flooring and Douglas-fir ceiling areas.

Form of the building

The spaces of the house are arranged three-dimensionally in an efficient and compact composition contained within a seemingly simple ‘cubic’ form representing and celebrating the significant advances made in residential flat-roof construction. The composition of cubes is clad in double-paned glass, Ipe hardwood, and weathering-steel metal siding (often referred to by the brand name “Corten”). The glass will remain looking new, but the steel cladding will change color over time, from initial silvery steel, to velvety cinnamon, and progress into a deep mahogany tone. Conversely, the Ipe wood coloration will travel in almost the opposite path – so the appearance of the house is uniquely dynamic.  These materials were chosen for this coloration quality, as a way to balance contemporary ‘slick’ with traditional ‘texture’, and the fact that they are relatively maintenance-free.

Unique structural & technical considerations

The primary structure of the house is a steel frame atop a concrete slab foundation. Because the house is positioned so closely to the legally protected tree, a large portion of the foundation has a nine-foot cantilever (outward suspension) so that the foundation does not sit on top of the tree’s primary root zone. To accommodate the physical demands of the cantilever, the foundation utilizes a series of piers that go 25 feet into the soil to reach bedrock. The secondary structure of the house is standard wood framing between the steel columns and beams. Internally the walls are finished in the finest “float” surface available which yields a paper smooth texture.

Ecological efficiency

The house was designed and built to be exceptionally energy efficient. The walls and roof are insulated with air-tight foam, the windows and doors are double-glazed, the heating and air-conditioning system are optimally specified, and the house was positioned to receive maximum shade benefit from the 350-year old tree.  Outside, the lot(s) were graded (leveled) to minimize rainwater run-off and planted with hardy native central Texas specimens that readily absorb rain fall yet don’t require excessive watering from the city supply.

Date:  2013-2015
Gross floor area: 1,600 sf
Client:  Confidential
Architect:  Charles Di Piazza Architecture
Design Team: Charles Di Piazza, Chris Cobb, Andrew Fulcher
Landscape Architect: Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture
Structural Engineer: Leap Structures
General Contractor: 22 Construction
Photography:  Paul Bardagjy, Andrea Cano, Charles Di Piazza