The Avenue C Fourplexes provide missing-middle housing and density without upsetting the character of Austin’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood.
Architect Thoughtbarn/Delineate Studio
General Contractor Deville Custom Homes
Structural Engineer JM Structural
Civil Engineer Southwest Engineers
The Hyde Park Historic District, which spans from Guadalupe to Red River between 38th and 51st streets, was built in the 1890s as Austin’s first streetcar suburb. Originally marketed by developer Monroe Martin Shipe as a self-sustaining, luxury district of intricate Queen Anne mansions on sprawling lots, Hyde Park got off to a slow start. Struggling to accrue land sales, Shipe pivoted and started marketing the area to the middle class, resulting in the charming cluster of modestly sized bungalows that exists today. The largely detached single-family, stick-frame structures were built during the housing boom of the 1920s, and the neighborhood was declared a historic district in 2010. Given historical protection, neighborhood design standards, and convoluted city zoning ordinances, introducing new construction in Hyde Park can be an arduous process.
The architects at Thoughtbarn and Delineate Studio learned this lesson quickly as they began the lengthy process of developing three adjacent properties on Avenue C in 2015. The client had hoped to turn an existing single-family home and two historic duplexes (with additional rear units added in the 1970s) into a series of three rental fourplexes. All three properties were zoned multifamily, but because the lots were substandard in size (less than the required minimum of 8,000 sf), only the properties that were already in use as multifamily were allowed to be redeveloped as such. The single-family home continued as a relatively straightforward renovation and addition, while transforming the neighboring historic duplexes and their shoddy additions presented a far greater challenge.
The multifamily zoning designation is where the partnership of Thoughtbarn and Delineate Studio (TBDS) paid dividends. The two practices have teamed up over the years to aid one another by sharing their respective expertise. According to Delineate’s founder and principal, Bart Whatley, AIA, “TBDS combines Thoughtbarn’s sensitivity to materials and small-scale, hands-on intervention with Delineate’s knowledge of codes and practices for larger developments.” And there could be no project more apt for this combination than the fourplexes on Avenue C. Under the International Building Code, multifamily-zoned projects require fire-rated walls and floors between units, individual sprinkler systems, separate water meters, ADA parking and accessibility, and more. Although the lots were already smaller than is typical for multifamily zoning, the project still had to abide by 15-ft compatibility setbacks, which are considerably larger than residential. The designers used this provision to their advantage, however, by creating private side yards in the setbacks for each of the alley-facing ground-floor units.
In addition to the zoning hurdles, the project faced further constraints. The Hyde Park Preservation Plan and Design Standards required that the existing duplexes maintain their original street-facing facades. Also, because of a City of Austin tree preservation ordinance, the three large heritage trees on the site could not be moved (or removed). The rest of the design was at the mercy of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, which pushed back on certain elements they felt were too modern, namely asymmetrical gables and long, skinny windows.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the myriad forces acting against the TBDS team, the architects turned out a successful, respectful design. The eight units are connected by a shared pathway that leads from Avenue C to the alley containing parking and entrances to the rear-facing apartments. As per the design guidelines, the historic facades were restored with the original double-hung windows and wooden siding, while new foundations were carefully laid without damaging the existing buildings.
The rest of the project was a complete strip renovation and addition. The front bungalows were reconfigured to create more favorable one- and two-bedroom layouts. These side-by-side apartments are backed by two-story additions with one unit per floor, each clad in white fiber-cement boards with black steel accents to complement the renovated bungalows. Light-stained cedar clads entry recesses, adding warmth to the alley elevation, where design restrictions were far less stringent. Skylights and vaulted ceilings were incorporated into units, where possible, rendering the interiors bright and airy.
Although restrained and fairly conventional, the Avenue C Fourplexes succeed not only in introducing elements of modernity to a primarily historical neighborhood, but also in diversifying housing options in this predominately single-family area. “I think healthy neighborhoods need a mix of homeownership and rentals,” says Lucy Begg, AIA, co-director of Thoughtbarn. “We developed three properties, one four-bedroom single-family home that sold above asking price, and two that are rental apartments for people making median-income salaries. To me, that is the sweet spot of the project, that folks on a mix of incomes are able to live on a nice street in Hyde Park.”
Sophie Aliece Hollis is TA’s editorial assistant.