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The imortance of context

by Michael Green last modified Dec 22, 2005 01:10 PM
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The imortance of context

Posted by Michael Green at December 20. 2005

I had an interesting experience lately, that although it's relevant to the Modernist community at-large, happened in Austin so I thought I'd post it here.

A generally well thought of (I think) local modern builder, Austin City Homes (ACH), is very close to finishing two high-end ($600k+) duplexes on Westover in Tarrytown. It turns out that ACH ignored (didn't know about?!?) the subdivision's deed restrictions which limit construction to single family housing. As a result I was tangentially involved in talking with some of the neighbors about this and found something very interesting; Although the neighbor's most significant concern was ACH's violation of the deed restrictions, the homes total lack of respect for the design and scale of the surrounding homes was a very close second. This didn't come from a bunch of modernist haters either; the duplex is located in an area with several mid-century, albeit generally undistinguished, ranches.

This raises my question. When renovating, or building in-fill homes, what responsibilities do Modernists have to the surrounding neighborhood(s)?

Regards ... msg

Re: The imortance of context

Posted by Mike Derr at December 22. 2005

I really think that the primary issue is one of scale and not design. I doubt those neighbors would be any happier to have a tuscan villa or craftsman looming over them in the same way the ACH homes are. I drive down Westover everyday and the scale of the ACH homes next to the ranch on the east side of their lot is almost comical it is so off (I doubt the neighbor finds anything comical about it). That is, however, par for the course with most of the infill projects in Tarrytown regardless of their style. That obviously has a lot to do with the unseen context of the price of the dirt in that neighborhood.

IMHO, the responsibility is pretty straightforward - be a good neighbor. Think about how you'd feel if you were the neighbor and not the builder/renovator. Would you like playing in the backyard with your kids with a 20 ft wall above your head?

- Mike

Re: The imortance of context

Posted by carl schuelke at December 22. 2005

Your post answers several questions. I live in Tarrytown and drive by that lot fairly often. I have wondered (1) how they got permission to put a duplex on the lot and (2) how the construction possibly complies with the impervious cover requirements? (I think they have enough experience to know the potential violations).

As a resident and member of the West Austin Neighborhood group, the biggest issue overall isn't the style, but the continuing teardowns of smaller homes to build monsters. on the street behind me, two houses have been torn down for some monster tudor type mcmansions that have appalled the people on that street (though describing them as tudor is a disservice to tudor architecture).

I will have to say that I think I like the properties. We are currently doing a modern addition to our 1950 Eichler wannabe, and my wife has forced me to routinely drive by for potential exterior colors. Of course, with our addition, we'll be a whopping 1300 square feet.

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