This relatively small and sustainable house, built in 1999 as the primary residence for then Governor of Texas George W. and Laura Bush, was designed as a place of concrete experience in natural landscape. One room wide, and without internal hallways, the house is wrapped by a 10’ deep, 10′ high porch, entirely without columns, bordered by a wide rainwater gutter at grade. To move from room to room you walk along the porch. There is no step down, only the landscape coming in.
The long volume of the house follows the contour of the land and curves to make a passive solar bowl. Where it bends the porch runs through the house, dividing the program into simple blocks. The rooms, oriented to the breeze, are small, but feel large because of immense banks of Crittall doors and windows (almost every window is also a door) that allow sun deep into the house in winter. These windows were chosen for experiential as well as environmental reasons, since they afford the maximum amount of view out, and here the invitation to consider the out of doors is central to the life of the house.
For this reason, screens — which diminish views when windows and doors are closed — are hidden in pockets on either side of each set of double doors. The elevations of the public rooms of the house are thus organized as double doors with screen pockets in walls between. This is the maximum percentage of glass possible using vertically oriented windows, and accounts for the exceptional lightness within what are otherwise traditional rooms.
Vertically, the steel frames are organized into four panes. The uppermost of these is typically a transom; the lower three a door or window. The uppermost of these three panes is at eye level standing; the next down is at eye level sitting; the lowest (when a fixed window) is used again for ventilation.
In this house the steel windows are the crucial architectural thresholds. The unusual detail of their interior and exterior installation arises in relation to the extraordinary thin-ness — and the modernity — of the frames. The interior casing is built up as thick, traditional trim, its dimension given by a flitch header cased in the trim supporting the cantilevered gang-nail trusses of the soffit (this continuous header is also articulated outside). On the exterior, the stone cladding is run past the opening then sawn off vertically, not conventionally returned to the wall. The left open air-gap is blocked on either side of the opening with steel angles. These form a deep pocket into which the window frame is set, exposing the dimension of the stone veneer.
At the time this house was built it was at the limit of what could be achieved environmentally using relatively normative construction (the house could go off the grid with a few modifications). The architectural challenge though was to incorporate sustainable concern within the normal patterns of life in a house in the countryside. To achieve this simply would not have been possible without these fantastic Crittall steel windows and doors.
Photography: Whit Preston
This case study is based on architectural comment and submitted entry photography for recent entry in our Crittall Architectural Prize