• TedAndDavid
    David Lake, FAIA, and Ted Flato, FAIA, are the recipients of the 2024 AIA Gold Medal.

The Texas Society of Architects congratulates and celebrates this year’s recipients of the 2024 AIA Gold Medal, David Lake, FAIA, and Ted Flato, FAIA, founders of Texas-based firm Lake|Flato.

The post below originally appeared on the blog of Brantley Hightower, AIA. It has been edited for clarity and style.

On December 14th, 2023, the American Institute of Architects announced that it was bestowing the 2024 AIA Gold Medal on David Lake, FAIA, and Ted Flato, FAIA.

This is the organization’s highest honor and is given to “an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” Notable past recipients including both Franks (Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gerry) and all three Louises (Louis Henri Sullivan, Louis Kahn, and Louis Skidmore).

2024’s award is notable because the medal will be awarded not to an individual, but to two individuals. It is unclear if they will have to share a single medal or of they will both get one of their own, but I suppose could just ask them. Another reason this year’s award is notable is because I can claim to know David Lake and Ted Flato as I worked for them for more than eight years as an employee at Lake|Flato Architects. 

I first became aware of their work as an architecture student at the University of Texas. By then they had already become known for using vernacular precedents to craft an approach to architecture that was as “modern” as it was “Texan.” In the late 1990s, they were just beginning to make the transition from small but exquisite ranch houses to larger (but no less exquisite) civic and commercial projects. I remember making a pilgrimage to San Antonio the summer between my sophomore and junior years to see as many of their projects as I could. A few years later, I was able to tag along on an office field trip to several of their north Texas projects when my girlfriend at the time (now my roommate, wife, and mother of my children) was working there as part of UT’s Professional Residency Program.

ranch style house
Verde Creek Ranch by Lake|Flato, a 2024 Texas Society of Architects Design Award winner.

After a few years working at a big firm in Chicago (and a few months after that at a tiny firm in Dallas), I moved to San Antonio to begin what I would refer to as my “first tour” at Lake|Flato (2002-2004). The work being produced was good, of course, but even better was the office culture. The firm was around thirty people back then and I found the environment to be both generous and supportive. In addition their obvious architectural skill, David and Ted had a remarkable ability to attract talent to their office in San Antonio. And that talent was remarkably devoid of conflict and ego. This allowed what was then a mid-sized architecture firm to still have the casual feel of a small office without the hierarchy or interoffice politics associated with larger firms. It felt very much felt like a family, especially when all of us would gather at Ted’s family ranch on the beautiful headwaters of the Nueces River for the annual summer retreat known as “Flake|Lato”.

The office was remarkably supportive when I left for grad school and was just as welcoming when I returned for my “second tour” (2006-2012) a few years later. By then the office had nearly doubled in size and had begun landing larger university and corporate commissions better suited for sustaining a larger office. They continued to design houses, and although these homes could no longer be described as “small,” they still embodied David and Ted’s core sensibilities. Even as the office’s work began to transition away from the more explicit references to vernacular buildings, the designs still connected people to nature. New hires helped move the office towards a more science-based approach to sustainability while a new generation of partners helped pioneer new variations of what a Lake|Flato project could be.

will smith zoo school
Will Smith Zoo School by Lake|Flato, a 2024 Texas Society of Architects Design Award winner.

David and Ted’s influence on the architecture of San Antonio and Texas and beyond is, as the AIA Gold Medal criteria states, significant and lasting. So too is the shadow they cast, which can be an issue for the growing number of former employees (myself included) who must differentiate their work as something other than a lesser, cheaper version of what David and Ted have been doing for close to 40 years. The reality is David and Ted will be forever looking over my shoulder. They will be forever my Jiminy Cricket (along with Ralph, Max, my professors, my family, and everyone else who played a part in me becoming the architect/person I am today), whispering in my ear asking to ask if what I’m doing is good.

Of course, I’d like to think that relationship works both ways.

In the first level of what was once the Lake|Flato’s main lobby (a recent renovation relocated the entry) sits a mural painted by Ted’s sister, Malou Flato. Based on a group photo taken at one of the office’s Flake|Lato retreats, the 2008 acrylic painting includes an abstracted depiction of me. You can see me in the official photo released in the AIA’s announcement of David and Ted’s Gold Medal. Wearing a white guayabera and holding a kayak paddle over my cowboy hat, I appear over David’s left ear as if I’m whispering into it…

Hey. Thanks for letting me be a part of this office you and Ted built. Thanks for all your hard work that has been such an influence on me and the rest of the profession. Remember, we’re all still watching, so make sure what you’re doing is good.

close up of photo

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