Merrilee Lane resonated with our judges because it brings fresh thinking to modest, mid-20th-century neighborhoods, which “are wall-to-wall carpeting across America,” says Max Levy, FAIA. Faced with a flat, featureless lot and a client with a simple program, Max explored how to design an economical house that channels light and nature—two elements tract houses lack, despite their small size. In fact, this new house in a 1950s neighborhood is roughly the same size as the “sad little house” it replaced. The client, a physician with a mid-range budget, requested only two bedrooms and an open kitchen, dining, and living room.
Max’s first thought was how to make nature the focus. On a whim, he diagrammed a row of trees running down the center of the lot, which parted the floor plan into a daytime wing and a nighttime wing. “It was this mad experiment, but as I started sketching, it turned out to be the ticket,” he says. Placed perpendicular to the street, the two rectangular volumes—one containing the kitchen, dining, and living zone, the other housing two en-suite bedrooms— face each other across a gravel courtyard through a scrim of crape myrtle trees. A glass breezeway connects the wings and acts as an entry foyer. Behind it, the east and west wings culminate in a carport and garage, respectively, at the street.
Around those quiet organizational elements, the entire site plan falls neatly into place. Deft detailing supports the al fresco concept. The one splurge was the pocketing courtyard doors on each volume that dissolve the boundary between inside and out. The crape myrtles stand inside steel rings, connected by runnels to the house’s downspouts—a poetic irrigation solution that celebrates seasonal rainfall. Max left a gap between the downspouts and the runnels, so that the owner can see the rain pouring out and rushing through the runnel. “It enhances the feeling of being sheltered, and it’s kind of meditative to watch the rain in that context,” he says.
Inexpensive to build because of its simple framing, the thin house—as though split in half lengthwise—has unmistakable environmental benefits. “So many tenets of green architecture take us away from nature, sealing up a building hermetically to make it as efficient as possible to run the air conditioning 24/7, like a life support system,” Max says. “The skinny form I keep winding up with more easily holds hands with the world.” [See our previous Case Study on this project here.]
Custom Urban House
Max Levy Architect
ARCHITECT: Max Levy, FAIA; Matt Morris; Tom Manganiello, Max Levy Architect, Dallas
BUILDER: Constructive, Dallas
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Max Levy Architect
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Hocker Design Group, Dallas
PROJECT SIZE: 1,968 square feet air-conditioned; 772 square feet unconditioned
SITE SIZE: .25 acre
CONSTRUCTION COST: Withheld
PHOTOGRAPHY: Charles Davis Smith
BATHROOM FAUCETS: Waterworks
CABINETRY: PHD Millwork
CERAMIC TILE: Daltile
CLADDING: Kinney Brick Company
DOOR HARDWARE: Baldwin, IVES, Hager
EXTERIOR LIGHTS: ABB Installation Products
INTERIOR LIGHTS: Leviton, Akari
KITCHEN FAUCET: Hansgrohe
ROOF TRUSSES: Colonial Truss Co.
ROOFING: StazOn Roofing
SINKS: Wells Sinkware
TRANSLUCENT PANELS: LUMAsite
SWITCHES & DIMMERS: GP Drapery
WINDOWS: Western Window Systems
Plans and Drawings