• The house is sited to align with the view of the valley it overlooks. Photo by Dror Baldinger, AIA

Project Gewinner Residence, Fredericksburg
Client Jim and Kym Gewinner
Architect Energy Architecture
Design Team Jim Gewinner, AIA; Amanda Smith, AIA
Photographer Dror Baldinger, AIA

Jim Gewinner, AIA, cites the land as his first consideration while planning a house for himself and his wife. “It took a year and a half to find the right property with a buildable location and the right view facing in the right direction,” he says. “As you can see, I like glass. And we knew from living in Houston that a north-south orientation was critical, because of the intense low sun on the east-west exposures in the early morning and late afternoon.” When he found the 10-acre plot at the end of a country lane outside of Fredericksburg where their house now stands, he immediately fell in love with it: The sloping terrain falls away from the road and overlooks a wide, picturesque valley. 

Before designing and building this house, Gewinner had very limited experience with residential projects. He spent his 40-year career working on highly technical facilities for the oil and gas industry, most recently with Energy Architecture, a company he founded. After purchasing the site, he took a few years to think very carefully about the land and the house he would place there. The result is a synthesis of landscape and architecture that 2016 TxA Design Awards juror Thomas Hacker, FAIA, says possessed “a kind of interesting Kahnian character.”

“The organization of the service spaces as things that serve the big space of the house allows that space to be completely free and engaged with the landscape,” Hacker says. “That contrast, I think, is very much like some of the earlier work of Lou’s that explored that idea very well.”

Gewinner lined the house’s premier, south-facing view up with the axis of the valley it overlooks. “I didn’t want the eye to get caught at the house,” he says. “I wanted the view to go through, for the house to not get in the way.” While the north-south glass walls keep the view moving through the site, the house is also lifted above the sloping terrain on concrete walls and is accessed by a bridge. This separation from the ground plane also allows air to flow more easily around and under the house, and gives it a sense of lightness, which was important to Gewinner.

There is little to catch the eye, or the wind for that matter, on the interior as well. Gewinner placed all of the service functions — bathrooms, closets, laundry, mechanicals — in a solid, limestone-clad core. A guest room for his daughter extends from the east side of the core, and the living room/kitchen and lofted master suite is on the west side. At just under 2,200 sf, it is modest and open, a way of living the Gewinners grew accustomed to in the studio apartment they shared in Houston.

Gewinner acted as the general contractor on the project, hiring the subs and doing quite a bit of the work himself. He took a similar hands-on approach to the design process. After extensive computer modeling, he built a balsa wood model. Seeing the design in this form led him to make four changes: two related to proportions, and two to the exact location of the garage and the bridge. “It’s interesting,” Gewinner says. “Here in the digital era, we can still learn things from actual physical models that the computer model just can’t touch.”

Aaron Seward is editor of Texas Architect.

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