Our friends at Houzz give us the exclusive tour of a home with a contemporary addition that masterfully respects the ancient oak tree beside it. Take a look:
A house’s design is influenced by a number of factors, from the local climate and building codes to the preferences of the client and the character and proximity of neighboring buildings. This addition to a 1920s Craftsman bungalow in Austin, Texas, like most buildings, responds to a variety of these factors, but in particular the presence of a 100-year-old oak tree drove much of the design.
While such a specimen is something to take advantage of for shade and visual enjoyment, in Austin it is also protected by local law, which says that oaks and other trees more than 24 inches in diameter should not be removed. Further, to protect the tree’s root system, the architect had to leave a 16-foot radius around the tree. Taking into account also the desires for a northern exposure (this is Austin, after all) and for something modern that did not adversely affect the view from the street, Murray Legge Architecture created a respectful and dynamic addition.
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Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: A filmmaker who also chairs a university film department
Location: Austin, Texas
Size: This is a 1,100-square-foot addition to a bungalow of roughly the same size.
Tree 1: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
The way the addition respects the 16-foot boundary around the tree is apparent in the kink in the house’s north side. The upper floor cuts back as well, to be basically a triangular shape. Both floors open to the impressive tree.
Tree 2: Before Photo, original photo on Houzz
The existing bungalow, shown here from the street, is modest and indicative of what is found throughout the area, hence the desire for the addition to not impact the street view.
Tree 3: Floor Plan, original photo on Houzz
These site plans show the before and after, and how the lot extends from one street to another. The bungalow fronts the street on the left, while the addition has its own front, one that is used primarily as a driveway and for access to the new addition.
Tree 4: Floor Plan, original photo on Houzz
The pinch created by the heritage tree restriction is obvious in the plan (it is eight feet from outer wall to outer wall at this pinch point). Architect Murray Legge used this to his advantage by allowing the kink to define two areas on the relatively open first floor: the dining room on the left, closest to the original structure, and a home office on the right, which is farthest away.
Further, the dashed line cutting across the dining room indicates the line of the second-story glass wall, which brings additional light to the first floor. Above the study area is a new master bedroom.
Tree 5: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
The east side of the house is the rear of the lot, but the addition creates a new "front" that faces the other street via the through-block condition. To maintain privacy this face is primarily solid, save for a portion of the master bedroom in the upper-right corner and a small "inverse clerestory," as Legge calls it, at the base of the wall.
A cypress rain screen covers the addition, and at the base, it playfully overlaps some polycarbonate panels (bringing more natural light into the study), like paint dripping down a wall. Further, one panel of the rain screen is canted back for a small light that illuminates the path to the gate that provides access to the yard and the addition.
Tree 6: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
In the backyard again, we can see the gate on the left that provides access from the driveway. The client holds a number of dinner parties and other events, and this entry allows direct access to the deck and addition where they take place, so guests do not have to move through the rest of the house.
The glass on the second floor is punctuated by a blue middle section, serving the master bath; the portion to the left serves the bedroom, and that on the right serves as a clerestory above the stair.
Even though Legge kinked the plan to work with the tree, the roofline extends straight across to provide some shade and shelter. The deck extends even farther out toward the tree to give plenty of space for the various events.
Tree 7: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
Here, we are looking from the pinch point toward the dining area and existing house beyond. This view accentuates the flow of space upstairs and the light brought in by the second-story clerestory windows.
Tree 8: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
Thanks to the bedroom overhead, the study has an appropriately small scale, aided by the half bath and other service spaces behind the wall of books. Note the small window at the base of the far wall, the same opening we saw from the addition's east facade.
The built-in bookcases with a miniature "stair" snaking up the front of the real one beyond are a nice touch.
Tree 9: Murray Legge Architecture, original photo on Houzz
Our tour of the addition ends in the master bedroom, what Legge calls "a sort of crow’s-nest getaway from the often-buzzing activity going on within the rest of the house." Legge cut back the corner at an angle to respect the tree’s branches, but also to give the client a view of the sky that the tree has been reaching toward for 100 years.