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Modern Renovation in Austin

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Situated in the heart of Austin,Texas, just blocks from the University of Texas campus, the Avenue G House offers a unique and abstract perspective on a thriving historic neighborhood. Kevin Alter, founder of Alter Studio and associate dean of UT graduate programs as well as director of the architecture program, designed the home for a couple with three young children. With the residents’ needs and wants in mind, Alter transformed an underwhelming 1,500-square-foot duplex into a dynamic and welcoming living space.

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  The residence also sits on the edge of Hyde Park, an upscale historic community in the center of the city that was developed in the 1890s. It's a neighborhood primarily populated with conservatively designed mansions and century-old bungalows. Because the property is not within the district’s boundaries, Alter was able to avoid stringent historical building requirements. “We had normal building code issues, but we didn’t have to face architectural reviews,” he remembers. With fewer restrictions, Alter was able to employ a unique design approach that is in sharp contrast with the surrounding homes. “I like having done something quite abstract because of the way it shows off the neighbors,” he says.
    The residence also sits on the edge of Hyde Park, an upscale historic community in the center of the city that was developed in the 1890s. It's a neighborhood primarily populated with conservatively designed mansions and century-old bungalows. Because the property is not within the district’s boundaries, Alter was able to avoid stringent historical building requirements. “We had normal building code issues, but we didn’t have to face architectural reviews,” he remembers. With fewer restrictions, Alter was able to employ a unique design approach that is in sharp contrast with the surrounding homes. “I like having done something quite abstract because of the way it shows off the neighbors,” he says.
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  The residents were keen on retaining elements of the original house, chiefly the brick walls and metal-framed casement windows (which have become increasingly rare and prohibitively expensive to replace). Alter liked that not every aspect of the project was brand new. “I’m not an architect that wants to wipe away the past and start over fresh. In architecture, meaning is construed in many ways–some of that is simply in what one designs, but some of it is in a place’s history.”
    The residents were keen on retaining elements of the original house, chiefly the brick walls and metal-framed casement windows (which have become increasingly rare and prohibitively expensive to replace). Alter liked that not every aspect of the project was brand new. “I’m not an architect that wants to wipe away the past and start over fresh. In architecture, meaning is construed in many ways–some of that is simply in what one designs, but some of it is in a place’s history.”
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  One of the most striking aspects of the Avenue G design is the creative use of available space. On the lower floor, the entryway, living area, and kitchen flow together with minimal division, while the family room occupies an exposed second-level loft. “In this case, the residents’ desire for modernism was a desire for something that was open and liberating,” says Alter.
    One of the most striking aspects of the Avenue G design is the creative use of available space. On the lower floor, the entryway, living area, and kitchen flow together with minimal division, while the family room occupies an exposed second-level loft. “In this case, the residents’ desire for modernism was a desire for something that was open and liberating,” says Alter.
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  Alter and the residents chose to utilize ipe, an ultra-durable Brazilian hardwood, for the interior flooring and second-story exterior paneling. The wood, so dense that it must be drilled and screwed rather than nailed, often comes in an unpredictable array of color shades, evident in the floor’s natural pattern.
    Alter and the residents chose to utilize ipe, an ultra-durable Brazilian hardwood, for the interior flooring and second-story exterior paneling. The wood, so dense that it must be drilled and screwed rather than nailed, often comes in an unpredictable array of color shades, evident in the floor’s natural pattern.
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  Because the residents have three children and thus no shortage of stuff, Alter wanted to create an abundant amount of accessible storage space. A large floor-to-ceiling island between the kitchen and living areas hides closets, a guest bathroom, a wine cellar, and a walk-in pantry behind handleless, walnut-paneled, pop-open doors.
    Because the residents have three children and thus no shortage of stuff, Alter wanted to create an abundant amount of accessible storage space. A large floor-to-ceiling island between the kitchen and living areas hides closets, a guest bathroom, a wine cellar, and a walk-in pantry behind handleless, walnut-paneled, pop-open doors.
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  Particularly fond of careful detail, Alter designed the treads of the entryway staircase to merge seamlessly into the adjacent bookshelves. “I enjoy doing things that make you wonder about the context and look a little further,” he says.
    Particularly fond of careful detail, Alter designed the treads of the entryway staircase to merge seamlessly into the adjacent bookshelves. “I enjoy doing things that make you wonder about the context and look a little further,” he says.
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  Prominent black pop-out windows constitute one of the house’s more distinguished features. The windows are constructed of 3/8-inch steel and flush-mounted glass, offering outside viewers a mirrorlike reflection of the sky.
    Prominent black pop-out windows constitute one of the house’s more distinguished features. The windows are constructed of 3/8-inch steel and flush-mounted glass, offering outside viewers a mirrorlike reflection of the sky.
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  At just over $200 per square foot, Alter was able to keep the construction expenses well below the standard for similar projects in the area. This was accomplished, in part, by using select quality-yet-cost-efficient materials like bathroom tiles from Costco.
    At just over $200 per square foot, Alter was able to keep the construction expenses well below the standard for similar projects in the area. This was accomplished, in part, by using select quality-yet-cost-efficient materials like bathroom tiles from Costco.
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  Alter wanted to design an approachable, livable space that possessed unique character and addressed the residents’ personal tastes. “My role as an architect is somewhere between trusted adviser and clients’ representative. My goal was to help figure out what would make a house meaningful for them.” The Avenue G house was the winner of the AIA Austin 2010 Design Awards' Honor Award.
    Alter wanted to design an approachable, livable space that possessed unique character and addressed the residents’ personal tastes. “My role as an architect is somewhere between trusted adviser and clients’ representative. My goal was to help figure out what would make a house meaningful for them.” The Avenue G house was the winner of the AIA Austin 2010 Design Awards' Honor Award.

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