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House Proud In choosing 25 ‘great’ homes, author looked beyond the usual suspects by Heather McKinney, FAIA

Lisa Germany’s latest book, Great Houses of Texas, was published this year by Harry N. Abrams Publishing Company illustrated with photographs by Grant Mudford. The author recently answered questions posed by Austin architect Heather McKinney, FAIA. TA : Great Houses of Texas is an audacious title. What were your criteria for choosing these houses? LG: When Harry Abrams signed me to write a book on Texas residential architecture, the title with “great houses” was already the working name of the book and it was clear that it would remain. My job was to find no more than 25 houses that fit that description. Having said that, I was completely free to choose. They could all be historical, they could all be contemporar y, but ideally they would tell a story. I was always afraid that there would be those who thought “great” meant “grand” and they would find the book disappointing. And I always knew that architects, who naturally feel strongly about the built environment, would quibble about the choices. My thought was to make such a strong case for my choices that the critical reverberations would be muffled somewhat. Thus my idea, which was inspired by the mid-century Modernism of O’Neil Ford, had its inception in the frontier, which was to recur again and again in his houses and those of others, and which has continued to influence architects practicing today. It was not a maudlin sense of the frontier that I sought, but rather a subtle thread of influence. Fredericksburg-born Chester Nagel’s little Bauhaus house in Austin best made the point because his sensibility in a modern idiom did not compromise what he knew to be the way to build in Texas and how to handle the heat and the creamy limestone of his hometown. My thinking was that to write about the frontier meant that I should include a short chapter at the beginning that showed Texans rejecting the frontier in an attempt to communicate that the state was not only settled but fashionable. But even here I wanted to avoid the usual suspects such that Greek Revival would be represented by Woodlawn, not the Governor’s

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Mansion; Nicholas Clayton’s Victorian not by the Bishop’s Palace, but by the League House; Atlee Ayers, not by the McNay Museum, but by his first venture into Spanish Revival, the Hogg House. Of all these houses from the first part of the book, I would guess that architects might consider Henry Trost’s own home a “usual suspect,” but his Prairie School st yle would be new to the layman. And, in any case, I was grateful to reach to the far West for one of my homes. [An attempt to include the Donald Judd house in Marfa was so bogged down by the Judd Foundation’s bureaucratic demands and fees that it was finally dropped.] The third chapter concentrating on the Modernism in Texas and the last chapter are self-explanatory, I think, but the second chapter “Stirrings of Place: The Romantic and Practical” might seem to entangle the thread of my argument so I will speak about it a minute. I have always been fascinated by homes of the early twentieth century that are dreaming of somewhere else. California has dozens of such picturesque houses, but my thought was that Texas architects and clients had their own take on these myriad styles, which always came down to the land. The enormous live oaks and mossy, sylvan lot of the Armstrong Ferguson house gave way to a Moroccan room, memories of the Dust Bowl shaped Charles Dilbeck’s Norman houses, and the King Ranch and the Stable translated the practical aspects of their existences into styles that had clear points of references—the working missions of the Southwest and European structures that were at home in the woods, respectively. And the Crespi Mansion, built before zero-lot lines became the norm for our current mansions, occupies 28 acres in the veritable heart of Dallas. When it was all over, neither Grant nor I wanted the book to be called The Great Houses of Texas. I had always felt that the story I was telling was just one of many stories that could be told, and I was well acquainted continued on page 33

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Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2008: Design Awards  
Texas Architect Sept/Oct 2008: Design Awards  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...