Front Elevation

Entry Garden & Carport

Materials and Resources

The (Almost) All-American Home


Karen Lantz


Houston, TX


Polly Ledvina



Project Goal:

What can we gain from questioning the fact that our buildings are largely made of imported materials and fixtures? Can renewable energy become integral to design? And how should architects address the prevailing conditions in which buildings are, in some cases, demolished and replaced just years after they are built? By asking these questions, this project takes up the challenge of defining what it means to build responsibly. Sustainable architecture is more than a checklist – it is the pursuit of healthy environments, which are as much about materiality and vitality as they are space. When the owner bought the lot in 2002, already several of the street’s original 1950s ranch houses had been torn down. These ended up in landfills, like so many ill-fated buildings in Houston. Recognizing the environmental consequences of that practice, this project followed a radically different path: deconstruction. Over a few months, the lot’s existing house was constructed in reverse; every stud, pipe, concrete chunk, shingle, and appliance was carefully removed and then taken to local construction-related charities. The tax deduction from this donation, $60,000, assisted the owner in financing what was to become an all-American house – almost.


Seen from the street, the house strives for a neighborly urban gesture. The front half of the lot is an assemblage of outdoor spaces, each articulated varyingly with texture, shade, and enclosure. Walking through this faceted garden – porch, courtyard, roof terrace, stoop, poolside lounge, and rain-irrigated urban farm – is the best way to understand what the design sought: a convivial yet intimate framework for domestic life in this sprawling subtropical city. The turf lawn of the American Dream house here meets its retooled 21st century match.
Drawing upon the legacy of Houston’s mid-20th-century architecture, the house is built of long-lasting, rich materials and organized by bays of structural steel. This charcoal-painted grid is bookended by east and west-facing walls of limestone quarried in Texas. Rising from the basement to the second story, these downlighted, earthy walls provide a vertiginous contrast to the horizontal continuity of the floor plans, which are entirely finished with blue-green terrazzo floors. These are composed of marble also sourced from Texas.

Offsetting the uniformity of the floor, the ceiling in turn creates distinct spaces. On the first floor, overhead serrations provide acoustical diffusion while enhancing the flow of conditioned air. The dining table – defined laterally by a wall of reclaimed Cypress – sits beneath a ceiling of gold-hued mica panels, which emit a warm glow to diners feasting on the fruits of the garden. Though generously lit by daylight throughout, the house also features 100% LED lighting, integrated in both concealed and eye-catching US-made fixtures. The owner has programmed the house’s digital control system with lighting presets such as “party” and “eco.”

The owners’ commitment to regional manufacturing in this journey toward sustainability and energy efficiency carved a way that others may follow in the pursuit of this reinvented American Dream house.

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