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Mell Lawrence on Designing the Balcones House and the Unexpected Beauty of Concrete

Mell Lawrence walks us through the Balcones House, a study in glorious restraint

Mell Lawrence Balcones House

The Team: Architects Mell Lawrence and Hector Martell worked closely with Branson Fustes’ Pilgrim Building Company, Booth Concrete and Shaney Clemmons of Word + Carr Design Group. Clemmons has since gone on to found Shademaker Studio.The Background: We were hired to remodel an existing home on the site but as we progressed through schematic design everyone realized there was no way to convert it successfully without destroying the essence of what the owners were attracted to in the first place. By then we had learned what the clients were practically searching for as well as the experiential aspects of their lifestyle. They are a family transplanted to Austin from Menlo Park, California. They brought with them a love for home life where inside is graciously connected to the outside. Even in hot Austin they often keep their windows open.The Material: The clients loved concrete as a material. As the project converted to a new build, everyone was enthusiastic about making it work. The inside walls of concrete are separated from the outer walls of concrete by continuous rigid insulation. The heavy mass of the inner wall acts as a thermal flywheel holding inside temperatures steady during our more extreme temperatures. The entire west end of the second floor is a 15-foot-deep screened porch, which further protects from the heat while connecting to the back yard. The upstairs wall is made from wood windows that can be opened wide and the home’s perimeter is shaded by a 7-and-a-half-foot roof overhang.On Achieving Balance: Over the years I’ve been watching the effects of light and shadow. How light affects materials and how we feel when we discover it in any moment. I’m attracted to that and enjoy making the most of it in our projects when I can.