Having worked under Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, modernist architect Harwell Hamilton Harris pioneered California Modern style across the nation, including in Austin, Texas.
There, nestled in a leafy neighborhood eight blocks from the University of Texas at Austin, sits the Cranfill-Beacham Apartments, a triplex of loft apartments considered one of Harris’ best works, which has also been recognized as a Historic Landmark at the local, state, and national level.
English professor and art collector Thomas Cranfill commissioned the project in 1958 as an investment and to house his partner, respected photographer Hans Beacham, who had lived in the third unit until his death in 2004. Cranfill had lived next door in a landmark-status home, also designed by Harris during the architect’s term as The University of Texas at Austin’s first Dean of Architecture.
Harris designed Cranfill’s house and the apartments using California Modernist principles adapted to Austin’s climate and environment.
Board-and-batten redwood siding—Harris originally wanted to use Texas cypress, but defaulted to California redwood due to sourcing delays—clad the upper portion of the triplex, while the ground floor was constructed from concrete masonry blocks.
The one-bedroom, one-bath apartments champion modular grid concepts, modest living, and strong connections with nature.
Modest in size, the Cranfill-Beacham Apartments make up for small square footage with big views. Inside, a stunning scene reveals itself in the rear facade where double-story glazing and louvered glass doors create a seamless connection for indoor/outdoor living.
After Beacham’s death in 1995, much effort was made to save the homes from demolition. Architects Ernesto Cragnolino and Krista Whitson spearheaded the effort to sensitively update the building to modern standards while securing landmark status.
Thoughtfully modernized without compromising Harris’ vision, the three units in the Cranfill-Beacham Apartments have been mostly occupied by architects and midcentury-modern design aficionados.
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