It was rewarding to take a break from work and read this article about a project we designed for a choreographer of dance and projection. The new owner, Carrie Contey, uses the space to host parenting workshops. Read the article here.
This was a project that we began over ten years ago, so it is great to see it in print, beautifully photographed by Casey Dunn. 2003 marked the tail end of the brutal recession following 9/11 and the dot-com bubble bursting. Rick and I had been working together for just a few months in 2001 before all that went down, and our days were spent toiling away on various competitions (for ambitious projects which we didn’t win), modest renovation projects, and a hunt for our own property (it was a good time to buy, after all).
Modernism was pushing into the Austin architecture scene at the time, though not everyone was on board. If we talked about using exposed steel or incorporating energy efficient equipment in a house, we got a lot of pushback from contractors… except from this one guy, Guido, who was building crazy tall steel houses in Bouldin. We got to know him better and quickly figured out that he was up for trying anything that involved steel and cubist forms. This enabled several projects we did back then, including our own house.
Around that time, Jose Bustamante spontaneously stopped at our office because he liked the sliding barn doors on our loading dock. Being that we had little going on, and Jose seemed to have an interesting project, we hopped in his car and headed to the site. Little did we know, that would be the starting point of a great collaborative project to build his residence and dance studio overlooking a canyon near the headwaters of Barton Creek.
It was a beautiful July day, and the views were magnificent. Despite the ambitious size and program of Jose’s studio project, there seemed to be plenty of space to site the building and maintain a natural feeling. The scale of the studio would be a challenge: Jose needed a space roughly the same size as his practice theater at UT, with a 20-foot high ceiling and elevated dance floor. At the second level would be the residence, but due to the height of the studio, these two could not overlap. We envisioned the studio as a place for work and concentration, and the residence for reflection and peace.
As we got to know Jose and discovered a shared love for things like the writings of Borges, ‘cloud and labyrinth’ became an inspiration for the design.
Most of the living quarters perches above the canyon, while the bedroom and bathroom tuck around the north side for a feeling of security. The living room overlooks the studio space below, with the option of opening or closing it off with big sliding doors.
The big scale vs. small budget meant using unfinished materials such as concrete masonry and structural steel. Jose also decided to forgo air conditioning in the studio space, so the studio can be naturally ventilated with screens below the large glass wall. Custom steel windows were invented to crank open and ventilate the upstairs living unit.
Here is a photo of the building during construction. Those brackets extending off the building were temporary scaffold supports, and were removed upon completion.
The studio space is a large volume that can be viewed from an operable wall in the residence above. Light enters through the wall of fixed glass facing the preserve and a tall skinny southern facing window.
Arriving at details was a collaborative process, as Jose had a strong ability to visualize small details and how they would affect the whole. Sometimes we wondered who was the architect, when Jose provided sketches like this:
Jose continued to build out the project during his time there, especially improving the connection to the landscape and finishing out the interior. All the while developing his work with projection, which we understood to be pretty intense.
He eventually decided that the distance from town was not amenable to his work methods, and that’s when Carrie came into the picture. It’s so interesting to hear her story about finding the space and seeing her use it in such a different way. It shows how truly flexible space can be, despite the effort to tailor the space for a unique purpose.