In Austin, Texas, on a 711-acre site where an airport once stood, a team of developers, architects, and builders are creating a new way to live in the booming city.
A New Urbanist master planned community with 4,600 homes, Mueller Austin looks to create a sustainable, walkable neighborhood that puts pedestrians first. Among the architects shaping the space is Michael Hsu of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, whose Tilley Row Homes offer a fresh interpretation of the traditional urban typology—thanks to density zoning higher than elsewhere in the city.
"It's a great model because in Austin there's so much pressure for housing at different incomes," says Hsu. "New housing anywhere close to the city center is a rare, rare commodity."
The Mueller project adds new houses to the city, but the project comes complete with its own challenges for designers, including a set of strict design guidelines that cover everything from approved plants (native, non-invasive, and drought-tolerant) to building materials ("simple and harmonious).
For the Tilley homes, Hsu chose a traditional gabled roof profile, with rich material details, like layered wood shingles and colorful tile, that only become apparent with a closer look. "It was a great experiment to work within the rules and see how we could get a lot more variety and interest, and add a different style of architecture. Our approach is a little more modern."
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"The development allows for a higher level of density, a mix of housing types, and affordable housing—it's been an interesting experiment on how to develop a large chunk of the city."
—Michael Hsu, architect
Rated five stars by Austin Energy Green Building, the houses feature thick walls with foam insulation and carefully considered glazing to reduce the burden on air conditioning. The structures are pre-wired for solar panels, and special consideration was paid to air quality, with low V.O.C. paints used throughout.
At 1,800 square feet each, the houses are compact, but the repetition of forms created an economy of scale that helped make more expensive choices—efficient windows, quality materials, and subtle architectural details—possible.
"On the outside, the changes are small, but there's quite a bit of variety once you get inside," says Hsu. "A little bit of sameness but with slight changes—we thought it would be an interesting approach."One interior, styled by Christine Turknett, features pops of blue and blush on a crisp white backdrop. The inspiration for the interior design was a modern Scandinavian farmhouse.
Thanks to its market pricing, the Mueller project has drawn a mix of young creatives and empty nesters looking to downsize—two audiences often attracted to smaller, more sustainable projects.
The Tilley row houses and the lifestyle fostered by the planned community have been a hit with Austinites. In fact, all eight residences were sold before they were even completed.
Cover photo by Chase Daniel.