So, it’s that time again! Every Winter, I look forward to the Modern Homes Tour here in Austin, see a previous post here and how to get ready here. I’m pretty excited about the upcoming one on February 2nd as this one is curated by Ingrid Spencer, co-editor at Architectural Record. A few days ago, I got the chance to ask Ingrid about the tour and more about modern homes. Enjoy and learn!
1. You have curated other Modern Home Tours in the past, what do you think makes the Austin Modern Home Tour different or unique from what other cities have to offer?
Every city has a very unique story about how Modernism swept through and influenced residential architecture. Austin had mid century modernists like A.D. Stenger, Charles Granger, and Arthur Fehr, who built houses that employed principles appreciated by folks like Richard Neutra. Stenger did some really interesting things, especially. He would take stone, a material common to the area, and extend its use from outside to inside, so you see these amazing houses in neighborhoods like Rollingwood, Westlake, Barton Hills, and Pemberton with limestone on the interior walls or fireplaces. Really beautiful. What I’m getting at is that the legacy of those guys, as well as people like Charles Moore and other Austin architects from the last several decades, and their influence is apparent in the work of the younger crop of architects currently designing new houses or renovating older ones here in Austin. You’ll see that when you take the tour, and how architects are designing houses unique to our climate. For example there are ways to employ the Modernist principles of bringing natural light into a house while shading against harsh summer sun. Or of connecting exterior and interior spaces while taking into account mosquitos or 100-degree temperatures. This isn’t California, and it’s also not Minnesota. Architects are responding to the unique challenges Austin presents, and that makes the houses here different than those in other cities.
2. When choosing a home or establishment for a Modern Home Tour, what are your Top 3 prerequisites to be included on the list?
Does it employ Modernist principles? No Tuscan villas allowed!
Is it a “responsible” design? Nowadays, sustainable building is important and expected. And that doesn’t mean it has to have solar panels (although those are awesome!). Sustainable can mean orienting a house for passive heating and cooling, finding ways to let cross breezes come through, using recycled materials and efficient appliances, as well as rain collection systems and solar.
Does it fit in the mix? We want the tour to be a fun and informative event, so there needs to be a range of scales, neighborhoods represented, architectural techniques used, that sort of thing. Can’t have 15 white boxes to see in one day!
3. I think a lot of people have misconceptions on what a Modern Home truly is, how would you define or characterize it?
Modern has many definitions, but to me it’s really more a philosophy than a style. The idea that “less is more” translated into architecture. So, that includes things like clean lines, a connection between exterior and interior spaces, simple and few materials, and an appreciation of new technology and new building science, which includes sustainable practices. To me, when you remove all the clutter and ornamentation, then the architecture can really shine, and the house becomes a place for peaceful living. Sometimes, you just know it’s Modern when you see it. And sometimes you know it’s NOT Modern. Just because it’s new, that don’t make it Modern. But what’s fun about this tour is that with some 16 houses so many designers, architects, and builders are represented, and each of them has their own take on what Modern is. Nobody can see all the houses in one day, I’m imagining, so I encourage attendees to go to the Web site, www.modernhometouraustin.com, look at the gallery of houses, and pick the 8 or 9 that really speak to their own definition of Modern.
4. For design enthusiasts, the word *curate* is a favorite. What are the tasks involved in curating a tour? Do you make recommendations to builders, architects, designer on how to make their spaces more exciting to tour-goers?
Curating, in the context of the tour, is really about creating a full experience for attendees. We want everyone who goes on the tour to be really inspired by what they see and hear. They will be seeing inside the private worlds of people who love Modern architecture, who live with it every day, and they get to talk to the architects and builders who created those spaces! So, I try to choose houses that work together as a group as well as on their own.
We do sometimes encourage architects or designers to stage the houses with furniture that will make their designs shine, but that’s really the exception. Most homeowners who live in a Modern house already have the right furniture!
5. Not just for design lovers or modern architecture enthusiasts, why do you think the tour you curated is a must see event?
Our houses are where our lives unfold, and I think we all fantasize about what the perfect house for us would be. Thing is, when you go on a tour like this, you realize it doesn’t have to be a dream! Having a house built or renovated is an intense and life-altering experience, and this tour lets you experience 16 results of that process—16 completed dreams, in a way! It’s inspiring, and you might leave the day knowing the right architect for your dream Modern project…..or at least take home an idea for something you can change about your current house. The possibilities are there. You’ll see techniques that you may never have seen or thought about before, and you get to compare, learn, discuss, and (let’s face it) pass judgement on what you see! If you have an interest in Modern architecture, in Austin neighborhoods, in how other people live, or even how other people store their shoes, this is your opportunity to see that, 16 times over.
Thanks so much Ingrid! I chose to ask her what a modern home is as I’m conflicted as well. I love it when she said it’s more of a philosophy than a style. And now a few images from last year’s tour.