In the Trenches
... with Emily Little, FAIA written by Canan Yetmen photography by Nicole Mlakar
Emily Little, FAIA, knows where the bodies are buried. Literally. In the mid 1990s, the Austin architect and preservationist — now practicing with Clayton & Little Architects — took on one of the most vaunted sites in all of Texas: the Texas State Cemetery. As project manager for its renovation, she coordinated a brigade of professionals from architects to archaeologists, and eight government agencies — to say nothing of the powerful Lieutenant Governor who had taken a personal interest in the work. The revered cemetery, the final resting place of prominent Texans dating back to the Republic of Texas, was a natural fit for Little’s tenacity and enthusiastic attention to historic detail, even in the most modern and contentious contexts. Little is that rare breed: native Austinite working in a city of itinerant students, transient politicians, and — lately — hundreds of thousands of newcomers. Her influence on her hometown reaches not only deep, but far as well. Even though most of her work is done in the proverbial trenches — on the site, at the hearing, in the meetings — she is also a familiar and trusted public face of preservation. Her job description is part educator and part cajoler, and there isn’t much she doesn’t know about Austin’s history. Working in a field that is often driven by people’s passions, and where projects can ignite the zealot
in even the most genteel southern lady, she seeks to weave the past and the present together. Yes, the historical has an important role to play in our world, but Little also believes in evolution. “Adaptive reuse is the path that will help us maintain a continuum of style,” she says. “It’s not necessarily all one way or the other.” She notes that historic Texas structures bring with them the foundations of the modern sustainable design movement. Siting and orientation, ventilation, local and recycled materials — it’s all already there. Why lose that? from projects requiring a careful dance of negotiations to those demanding detective work. In the late 1990s, the 1873 Schneider Store was the only historic building on a block slated for development along Austin’s lakefront. Little worked with PageSoutherlandPage and the city not only to restore the historic building’s facades but also to create an appropriate juxtaposition of the new and old fabric. A decade or so later, Little liberated another downtown gem, the late-19th-century ByrneReed House, from its banal 1970s white stucco cladding and unwieldy warren of interior interventions. Careful analysis and an unexpected shard of evidence in the attic led to the pristine restoration of the house. Little’s work ranges
Texas Architect 71
This issue on historic preservation illustrates themany facets of the field, including restoration,rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse.