There aren’t many houses like this: the short list begins with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and continues through Sir John Soane’s 1812-1813 house in London, now the Soane Museum, and on to Frank Lloyd Wright’s two Taliesins, Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Frank Gehry’s house in Santa Monica, all buildings that carry an importance in the history of architecture that far outweighs their size. —Paul Goldberger
"The main premise of this book," Charles Moore wrote with Gerald Allen and Donlyn Lyndon introducing The Place of Houses, "is that anyone who cares enough can create a house of great worth—no anointment is required. If you care enough you just do it. You bind the goods and trappings of your life together with your dreams to make a place that is uniquely your own. In doing so you build a semblance of the world you know, adding it to the community that surrounds you."
That houses should create a center for those who inhabit it seemed obvious enough, but Moore often pointed out that houses should, at the same time, be instruments of connection. This second part has been, in most cases everywhere blithely liquidated, as houses have, by and large, become instruments of isolation. This has confounded most attempts at making places that have any chance for nurturing a community.
When Charles Moore accepted an invitation in 1984 to come to Austin and develop a new graduate program at the University of Texas, it became another opportunity to develop yet another architectural practice. Like those that preceded this one—MLTW; MLTW:Moore/Turnbull; Moore Grover Harper; Centerbrook; Urban Innovations Group; and Moore Ruble Yudell—what would ultimately become Moore/Andersson Architects began with the act of making a house, the seventh that Moore would design for himself. The place would center Moore's hectic life and work, but connect the work to the sense of being in one of Austin's prized neighborhoods (Tarrytown), the larger sense of the Hill Country, and the even larger sense of Texas itself.
Moore and the partner in this venture, architect Arthur Andersson, arrived to a neighborhood that had been traumatized by the construction of MoPAC, a state freeway that was promoted by politicians and transportation authorities as a "boulevard" but lamentably devolved into a standard concrete high-speed corridor with nary a tree
sidewalk, or intersection in site, let alone any of the charm or prestige or romance that "boulevard" calls to mind. Although Moore's site was directly adjacent to the freeway and its menacingly named "feeder road," the property, an acre-sized slope was shielded by at least some of the noise and pollution by a grove of fine trees, and a greensward along a nearby creek, along which a public trail runs.
Moore understood the apprehensiveness of his new neighbors, who were fiercely protective of what remained of the "soul" of their violated neighborhood. What he did not want to do was declare his tenancy with a monument
Instead, he wanted to make a place that would respect the scale and patterns of the neighborhood, and unobtrusively tuck under the limbs of the stately Post and Shumard Oaks. And even though the careworn 1930's-era bungalow on the property (that had succumbed to a "ranch" addition in the 1940's) offered little in the way of promise, Moore felt it was important not to sweep in and erase the house, but keep it intact as a reminder of the site's history.
For starters, the notion of a "compound" seemed right, since Moore and Andersson could break down the mass—two homes and a studio—into constituent parts, thereby reducing the apparent scale. "Compound" also implied a loose confederation of buildings that could take advantage of connections and overlaps to create what Moore often described as "chances for encounter.Ever since childhood road trips throughout the West, and through to his Master's thesis at Princeton, which focused on the Spanish adobes of Monterey, California, Moore was always interested in the Hispanic antecedents of American architecture. The idea of the courtyard, into which the attention and life of the inhabitants could focus, protected by a thick-walled shell, still seemed a worthy model, given Austin's temperate climate.
Moore was also fascinated by what might be considered the antipodes of the Texas Hispanic typology, the German or Prussian or Alsatian vestige of the thin-walled dwelling, built as clusters of small, toy-like structures in communities surrounding Austin. Instead of focusing inward, these houses turned their attention outward, to the land the inhabitants came to tend as farmers or ranchers, by means of porches, windows, dog-trots, lean-to's, gables and dormers.
In only the way that Moore was able, he took these two contrary architectural idioms and fused the vernacular voices to make a place special to Texas, but "uniquely his own." (Strong helpings of Soane, Maybeck, Schinkel, Pompeii, Sherwood Ranch, Vierzehnheiligen, Bantry House, and Kyoto were added to the mix!) Binding all these metaphors was the sense of the building as geode. The whole compound would be sheathed in plainspoken board and batten, painted taupe to emphasize the foliage, preferring reticence to self-importance. But upon entry, each layer gets looser and freer and more festive, until the act of crossing Moore's threshold unleashes what Paul Goldberger once described as "mad magnificence." Thwarting all expectations of the shell's equanimity, the inner sanctum is encrusted with Moore's collection folk art and toys, the crystals of the geode This is the place that Charles Moore called home for the last ten years of his life, where he centered his many activities, ideas, friends, colleagues, and students, and where he connected to the bigger picture.