Moore/Andersson Compound
Austin, Texas

Overview

"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 post professional 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 root himself in a prized Austin neighborhood, the larger sense of the Hill Country, and the even larger sense of Texas itself.

What Moore 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 site's trees. And even though the existing 1930's-era bungalow with a 1950's "ranch" addition offered little in the way of promise, Moore felt it was important not to erase the house, but keep it intact as a reminder of the site's history. He would call the design process "selective erasure".

For starters, the notion of a "compound" seemed right, since Moore and Andersson could break down their needs—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 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 opposite of Hispanic typology: thin-walled dwellings, built as clusters of small, toy-like structures by German, Prussian, and Alsatian immigrants to the Hill Country above Austin. Instead of focusing inward, these houses turned their attention outward—by means of porches, windows, dog-trots, gables and dormers—to the land the inhabitants came to tend as farmers or ranchers.

Moore 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, and covered by an metal agricultural roof.

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.
The Moore House

Words may attempt to describe Charles Moore's house, his inner sanctum, but only a visit make any experience a reality.
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Andersson House

Arthur Andersson's house, aligns the southern edge of the courtyard's lap pool. Where Moore's house on the other side is a riot of colors and pattern, Andersson's house is all shades of white and gray, but no less rich. It is a study in how a small house, with only one living space, a narrow kitchen, and a cabinet like bedroom can seem spacious, even grandiose.

Its simple gable roof is held aloft by pairs of beams that converge to a central point above a monumentally scaled window frame that suggests a mirror, but it is only a framed opening. The soaring arch, made of styrofoam is borrowed from a Francesco Borromini travertine window surround in Rome. A row of windows provides views to the pool, while light wells tunnel through the walls above let shafts of light descend into the space during the afternoon. Andersson described the library wall, which follow the line of the Compound's ellipse, as a "cliff dwelling for books", recollective of Anasazi settlements. Above the books, well-known Texans such as Stephen Austin and Sam Houston have been made into backlit trophies, each adorned with antlers.
Main Studio

The Main Studio occupies the southwest corner of the Compound's core. Clever folds in the roof carry down from the entry tower so the ceiling inside has all the feeling of a soaring tent canopy. A giant plastic skylight turns an irregular triangular section of the roof into a hallmark Charles Moore light well.

Artifacts from the Charles Moore's career and practice fill the room, including giant photographs of the Orinda House shower deployed as window screens. When Moore completed an expansions of the Williams College Museum of Art, they opened with a retrospective exhibition of Moore's work. Moore/Andersson designed and painted columns for the exhibition, inspired by the Catalan architect Domènech i Montaner's own columns in the Palau de la Música in Barcelona. But Moore's columns are tied together with interlocking moose heads and antlers, a homage to National Park Lodge visits in his youth.

The shelves that once organized architectural material catalogs, now provide a home for Colin Rowe's architectural library, all illuminated by galvanized metal valences.
Cube Loft

The Cube Loft is a guest space that manages to squeeze all the basics of an apartamento into a mere 220 square feet of space. Kevin Keim and Adam Word Gates took what was known as the "Cube Room" and did some architectural surgery on it by duplicating and adding a dormer window from the other side of the Compound. That allowed a small corner of the otherwise inaccessible attic to be opened up and filled with sunlight, with just enough space for a bed, closet, and little desk. Guests ascend into the sleeping loft by climbing a modern variation of a Japanese Tansu chest, with a kitchenette inserted within. A "Murphy" table, kept from the original space but repositioned makes a place to eat or work, easily folded up to make space. And then a "ribbon" zips and twists around the world, obligingly becoming shelves for art and books, stair railings and the desk above, typing it all together.

The Cube Loft is filled with brightly painted works of Folk Art from Alex Caragonne & Margie Shackelford's collection. Their riotous colors and surrealist abandon counterpoint Kevin Keim's collection of Herbert Bayer geometrics, made with similar palettes of colors, but far stricter Bauhaus geometries.
West Studio

The West Studio was constructed as Moore/Andersson Architects' drafting room and architectural model shop.

A single gable steel roof has the apex cut away and replaced with corrugated plastic so the whole space within is flooded with sunlight. Cedar posts and trusses frame the entry, extending from the parking structure. The drafting room is raised on pier and beam, but where the site cuts away, stairs descend into a double-height model shop. A pair of corner doors slide open on barn tracks, mindful of Charles Moore's Orinda House in Calfornia.
Hal's Box Trot Preservation Shop

Since the Foundation does much of the preservation and maintenance work on its own, we constructed a shop in 2004 to accommodate materials and tools. The structure closes off the northwest side of the secondary courtyard, following the roofline of the adjacent West Studio. A corner is clipped away to provide entry to what will become a private little garden in the deepest corner. Mindful of the Missouri Pacific trains that continually rumble by on the nearby railroad, the Box Trot is really a box car with a single rail on which a timber door and 4-square window can glide. When the timber door is open, it becomes a dog trot, so each of the studios can be ventilated with a strong breeze encouraged by a giant hayloft fan. The door then becomes a sunscreen for the southeastern window.

Inside, lofts under the roof and open frame trusses provide storage space for lumber and timber. Since the site sloped to the east, we were able to include a garden shed under one of the loft. Doors that open in different directions allow big mowers to fit in the shed, while a truss and pulley hoist open the flap for ventilation.

Condominium #9
The Sea Ranch, California

Condominium One is the extraordinary work of architecture that brought international attention and acclaim to Charles Moore and his firm MLTW. The structure helped shift the priorities of an entire generation of architects. Many cheered it as a work of incredible inventiveness and daring, but one deeply rooted in tradition and respect.

Al Boeke, who conceived the Sea Ranch, selected two architectural firms, each to be responsible for the prototype buildings that would introduce the development to the broad public. (Earlier, he had selected Lawrence Halprin as the site's landscape architect.) Joseph Esherick would design demonstration single-family houses. MLTW Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker would design the condominium structure of ten units.

The condominium's site is a bluff, an enormous fault block south of Black Point, with compelling views up and down the Sonoma coast. A cove with precipitous cliffs extends deeply inland, full of ceaselessly active water, rumbling and spraying against giant rocks and small islands, upon which sea lions and birds often congregate. The atmosphere seems to be in perpetual motion too, shifting moodily as clouds, fog, and the sun vie for preeminence. It is a heroic landscape—scenic, energetic, expansive, and vividly colorful—where a continent and ocean come crashing together.

At the time of construction, the site was far more barren than it is today, now that trees and foliage have been allowed to grow and conceal the condominium from view for those passing by on Highway 1. In fact, one has to venture through a tunnel of dense foliage—a double hedgerow of Monterey cypress—to reach the Condominium at the end of its driveway. This long, downward passage stirs the sense of arrival, practically as an emotional catharsis, passing us from light into darkness and then toward a patch of dazzling light again at the end of the tunnel, made when the sun flashes on the Pacific. Upon emerging from the hedgerow, the driveway bends dramatically to the south, where the startling structure suddenly springs into clear view.

What we see first is but a small part of the whole: the sharp, crisp corner profile of Unit #9, which appears to hover in space, cantilevering over its foundation. (Charles Moore purchased Unit #9 upon completion in 1965 and kept it as a retreat for the remainder of his life.)

Studying just this single corner provides important insights about the Condominium as a whole.

Redwood boards, always laid on vertically, sheathe the entire exterior. The planks are "re-sawn", not milled smooth, so the whole carapace has a rough texture up close, fibrous to the touch. The redwood is allowed to weather naturally, so there is a larger scale textural variation, as each board mellows to slightly different, mottled hues. (Boards with too many knots were rejected for the sake of uniformity.) Rusting nail heads create another layer of visual texture as they often weep tears of stain down the boards.  

Most of the Condominium's roofs are "shed", which means they slope only in one direction, without any intersecting gables, dormers, hips, or flat sections. (The few exceptions are when small shed roofs intersect at corners and require a hip rafter.) When extra floor space is required within the overall shed volume for window seats or dining areas, smaller sheds kick out, an architectural feature the architects described as "saddlebags." Notice how the saddlebag roofs are not shingled like the larger ones above, but are instead sheathed in redwood boards. This is a subtle move, as shingles would have confused the saddlebags' sense of scale. The contiguously aligned redwood boards, wrapping both the walls and the roofs, suggest these are shapes that have been unfolded origami-like from the main volumes.

Gutters and downspouts are concealed as wooden details; metal flashing is kept thin, hammered from copper that tarnishes to a verdigris matte finish, preventing reflections.

The sharp silhouettes read as an interplay of horizontals, verticals, and diagonals, extending cleanly and decisively into three-dimensional space. As the eye moves toward the building's lower edge, there is no millwork, just simply sawed board edges that contrast the land's natural contours.

Windows are correspondingly simple, always squares or rectangles, except for a few greenhouse-like bays on other units. Thin wood frames for fixed windows, aluminum cases for operable ones, and slim reveals emphasize walls as taut, flat surfaces. There are no mullions. The sheets of glass read not so much as "windows" but transparent fields, in distinction to the opaque redwood planes. Seen from a distance, however, the windows either appear black or white shapes, depending on if the blinds inside are drawn.

Proportions between width, depth, and height are carefully considered, as well as the proportions of voids between the structures. Notice too how the building seems to constantly engage the ocean horizon, the fundamental datum against which we locate ourselves in the landscape that majestically surrounds us.

This corner's rigorous simplicity is the kernel of a far more complex architectural tale about to unfold.

As the driveway completes its dramatic turn, a larger view of the building comes into focus, approached in perspective. We can see how the Condominium, unlike many other works of architecture, cannot be formulaically summarized as a set of north, south, east, and west elevations. It's too complex for that. Because it occupies a compellingly three-dimensional landscape, the structure responds in kind, as an object projecting into space, extending its inhabitants into the landscape with emotional gusto.
The driveway leads through an opening in a low perimeter wall into a broad, gently sloping paved court. On the east and south sides, there are open "stables" for cars, framed inside by massive timber columns and beams. White Smoot Holman barn lamps direct light only downward to preserve the dark, starry night skies. Entrances to the first pair of units, #8 and #9, line the courtyard's west side, where simple gates open to little entry courts, making the transition from "public" to "private" less abrupt, while also shielding interiors from the intrusions of probing car headlights.

The far corners of the courtyard each provide an access point into another courtyard, the Condominium's inner sanctum, accessible only on foot. Given the underlying slope we are negotiating, the upper corner leads to a staircase that must climb to the foot of Unit #10, a tower planted on the building footprint's highest point. This tower, which offers spectacular southern views, also acts as a visual pin, as if the whole condominium would slide down the hill and into the sea if it were plucked out.
We now find ourselves at the top of the inner courtyard, which descends as a grassy hill below us. It's so steep that we have a commanding view of the ocean horizon above the roof lines of the structures below. A staircase made of railroad tie-sized timbers assists us down the hill, linking along the way to each of the units' entrances. Midpoint (where the other parking court passage enters the scene), a small square deck, really a stage, provides a horizontal surface where people can enjoy the sun, protected from the wind. A giant redwood stump, relocated after it had been charred in a forest fire, stands here for sculptural effect, with all the feel and ennui of a Japanese contemplative garden. At the courtyard's lowest point, a space between units #5 and #6 is bridged over as a kind of minimalist Torii gate, surrealistically framing earth, air, and water. Fire too, if the sun is setting.
If all of these spaces and the enchanting form of the building were not enough, each unit's interior possesses its own magic, full of paradoxes. Insides seem larger than outsides. Spaces crammed full of objects seem roomy, even soaring. There is a tremendous, even primeval sense of shelter, but we feel to be intimately connected to the landscape, separated from us by only 3/8-inch window panes.
This Each of the ten units is completely different, without a single interior elevation repeated. For developers of apartments and condominiums, this itself is a radical departure, as aligning or stacking identical units saves time, money, and intellectual effort. For the architects, however, the architecture of mechanical replication had run its course, and would dishonor this landscape. some text inside of a div block.
Instead, MLTW invented a kind of architectural "toolkit", whose parts could be arranged and rearranged, puzzle-like, to accommodate the specific and even the eccentric within the sheds' encompassing volumes, all determined by the particularities of each unit's position on the slope, orientation to the sun, wind, and views. Aediculas of brawny, telephone-pole-like columns hold aloft a bed, an ironic inversion of grandmother's "four-poster bed". Kitchens, bathrooms, pantries, and closets are contained within hyper-scaled cabinets, often two stories high, made of smooth-milled wood to contrast the re-sawn framing timbers. Built-in window seats and bookcase towers layer horizontal and vertical lines in the volumes. Taking stage directions from Piranesi, compact, narrow staircases, landings and bridges navigate the different levels. Ladders reach to the loftiest lofts, usually secretive children's bunks.
All of these pieces from the toolkit are choreographed within elaborate lattices of exposed, re-sawn Douglas-fir framing timbers, which construe yet another network of three-dimensional layers. Everywhere, we can see how the entire structure is made upright and rigid, a structure of integrity strongly held together with masculine bolts and steel plates. (Douglas fir planks to match the framing cover the interior walls.) Where the need for windows and framing timbers conflict, the architects declare "so be it": this is an opportunity for more layering and the chance to see the interior structure from outside. The windows themselves extend the space into the landscape beyond, often with the clarity and immediacy of a Zeppelin launching out over the cliff to the Pacific, and soon enough, Japan. Some windows offer no view other than the sky, but swing open to fill the space with the sounds of waves. Plenty of skylights admit sunshine that must find its way to the floor, filtering through all of these layers.
Back outside, if we were to retreat to Black Point and study the condominium from afar, we could see that all of these parts unite in monumental scale, a "wooden rock" as Charles Moore loved to say, confidently set amidst the grandiose natural splendor. Those sheds that follow the bluff's downward slope emulate its pitch, while sheds that fall in other directions suggest this is a vernacular village huddled together for mutual protection from the wind, a latter day Fort Ross.
With so many inhabitants, so many views to be framed, so many basic human needs requiring accommodation, this structure could have swiftly spiraled out of visual control, had it not been for the architects' discipline, who insisted every move, every gesture, every urge had to have a compelling reason. It is a finely refereed contest of disorder and order, intention and serendipity, general form and detail, expression and economy. Elevations were not so much "composed" out of a dogmatic allegiance to formalism or symmetry, but rather resulted from realities emanating from each unit. Projections extend from the core because they provide people a useful space or compelling view, or both. And notice how the multitude of skylights are not arranged with any rigid geometric order, but instead appear simply where they need to be, conforming perhaps, the old adage that "there are no unattractive arrangements of sheep on an English hillside."
Burns House
Santa Monica Canyon, California

In 1973, Lee Burns reached out to Charles Moore’s studio in New Haven, Connecticut and asked if he would be willing to design his house in Los Angeles.

Burns considered The Sea Ranch Condominium One (Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, Whitaker; 1965) one of the most inspiring architecture projects of his time. So he was thrilled when Moore accepted a commission to design him a house.
After studying three potential sites, Moore felt 230 Amalfi would offer the best chances for architectural drama, even though its steep terrain and limited size would present significant challenges to accommodate all that Burns outlined, including a chamber spacious enough for his acclaimed Baroque pipe organ.

Moore organized the house across the top of the site’s slope, with the steepest part kept open for a garden. Seen from across Santa Monica Canyon, the Burns House aspires to be a compact village, whose flat facades and shed roofs are suggestive of an Italian hill town.

A private alley shared by neighbors leads to the main entrance on the back side. Upon arrival, one finds a tiny “plaza” meant to stir memories of far grander Spanish Revival ones popular in southern California. Heavy timber gates open into a forecourt, shaded from the sun by lush wisteria. Antique doors from Mexico, with carvings of St. George slaying a dragon, lead into an equally small foyer.
But with one abrupt turn, a soaring double-height, light-filled room expands into full view, dominated by a monumental organ at the far end of the space. The acclaimed Jürgen Ahrend of Leer, Germany designed and built this impressive instrument for the house. Its ranges of lead pipes are set in timber cases that rise above the room like a cathedral facade, set upon a timber dais. Off to the side, an ornate 19th-century trumpet balcony that once stood in a Mexican church provides a vantage point for those nimble enough to climb its ladder.When the room’s massive sliding doors are closed, thick plaster walls and hard tile floors temper reverberations, creating an acoustically ideal chamber for rehearsal and performance.

From the music room, we can see how the rest of the the Burns House is divided into vertical slices, as though three narrow canyons have been compressed together. The slice on the right steps down into the living area and hearth, while the slice on the left faces the courtyard. But the slice in the middle—the most dramatic of the three—is a narrow staircase that races up three levels. A “cliff dwelling” of bookcases populate the staircase canyon’s walls, whose upper shelves are reached only in the imagination, with openings cut through the canyon walls so sunshine from a myriad of windows and skylights illuminate the spaces at different times of the day and season.
The living room is an unorthodox space, resulting from a collision of geometries. As the staircase above cuts through on diagonals, its first landing acts as a bridge, supported by a conspiracy of beams and rafters. (During the design phase, a structural engineer advised that a steel I-beam would be required. So Moore simply “cut” the ceiling rafters in half, and then added mirrors to they seem to magically connect through the I-beam!) In the far corner a small table suggests a dining room, which can be expanded into the courtyard’s fresh air by simply opening sets of glass doors. A kitchen doubles as a pathway to a small patio and kitchen garden, which are shared by an adjoining guest bedroom and bathroom whose main feature is a giant tub in a double height space.

As one begins the steep climb up the great staircase—an abstraction, Charles Moore explained, of the famous stone stair in England’s Wells Cathedral monastery—one is drawn into a startling array of fiendishly clever spatial experiences. This is a house that rewards your attention, full of Moore’s architectural “winks and nods”.

The master bedroom is small, with low-ceilings to direct views out over the canyon, with glimpses of the Pacific through trees. Next is as an ensemble of spaces for bathing and dressing. Since we are within the “middle canyon” and Burns insisted on morning light for his lavatory, Moore designed an interior window so the sun can “leap frog” into the space.  Next, a sliding pocket door is not the closet one expects, but a tiny sleeping chamber for naps, a space that turns out to be a loft for the guest room below.  A ladder lowered by pulleys, ropes, and weights provides the means of descent or ascent.

At the far end of the bedroom suite, a flash of radiant orange tiles draws one into one of the most thrilling showers of all time. A full two stories high, brightened by raking light from giant windows above, the shower has all the feeling of stepping into a lava chute of an exotic Mexican jungle volcano, albeit one made luxurious and cool by water.

The central staircase continues up to a study, the lofty summit of the house, with walls of books to be scaled by Japanese bamboo ladders. Windows provide sweeping views of the Pacific horizon and swing open on hinges to let it canyon breezes, but no mosquitoes, since they seem unable to fly this high. (A barn fan at the very top of the study draws air up from the first floor, ventilating the entire house.) A door leads to an exterior staircase so we can descend the other side of the mountain we just climbed, all the way down to the pool for afternoon dips.

Outside, the swimming pool is cruciform in shape, whose tapered sides exaggerate the perspective, making it seem a pool worthy of synchronized swims of Hollywood’s Golden Era.  With the turn of a garden valve, a concealed polyvinyl chloride tube that’s been punctured with a row of holes makes for an inexpensive cascade to stir the water’s surface into a frenzy of ripples. A staircase between the main house and a little building for the pool equipment and organ blower, leads to a “mirador”, an elevated patio for enjoying drinks and the sunset.
Moore asked Tina Beebe, who was writing her Yale thesis about architecture and color (with guidance by Joseph Albers), to propose the paint scheme for the stucco carapace. With careful study and experimentation, mixing gallons of paint on site, Beebe layered shades of pinks, oranges, ochers, magentas, roses, golds, umbers, and yellows. As the sun moves across the sky, all of the painted planes, subject to shifts of light, shade, and shadow, seems to change color as a chameleon does. But this chameleon’s instinct is not to camouflage itself in the landscape, but to create a setting—exotic and quixotic—against the green canyon and blue skies.

Upon completion, the Burns House was published internationally in the architectural press, and has since been featured in many surveys of 20th-century architecture. Today, it is considered one of the key residential projects in American architecture, a landmark of Los Angeles and California, emblematic of a vibrant cultural era.
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The Charles Moore Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, based in Texas and California.