In our ongoing series, Interview with an Architect, we speak with leading voices in the North Texas architecture community and learn about their work, development issues in our community, and good design practices and principals (you can read the first one here and the second one here).
Cliff Welch, AIA, is a Dallas-based architect who champions modern architecture and designs with inspiration drawn from modern architecture of the last century.
One of his designs, located on East Lake Highlands Drive, is featured on the 10th annual White Rock Home Tour April 25-26. When the tour started in 2005, it showcased midcentury modern homes in the White Rock area; it has now expanded to include new construction, as well.
Welch earned his Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Master of Architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington. His work has received multiple Merit and Citation Awards from the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), as well as their coveted Young Architect of the Year award. He has also earned honors from Preservation Dallas, the Texas Society of Architects, D Home magazine, and the AIA.
Welch is the past president of the Dallas Architectural Foundation and taught graduate-level architecture classes at UT Arlington. He is a past executive board member of the Dallas Chapter AIA, also serving two years as their Commissioner of Design, and has chaired multiple chapter events, including various home tours. He also served as a design awards juror for other chapters around the state.
Welch’s White Rock Home Tour house’s elegant simplicity and open spaces incorporate modern design to create an exception environment.
CandysDirt.com: How did you come to be a part of The Enclave at Northcliff/Ten201 development in East Dallas?
Cliff Welch: In 2010, we were approached by Tom Welker, a contractor and developer we had worked with on other local projects, with a unique opportunity. Tom had acquired an undeveloped triangular shaped tract of land in East Dallas, with a park-like setting nestled under a canopy of mature trees, bordered by a church, a school, and the back of a 1950’s neighborhood.
We both believed there was a market for unique, architect-designed, well-constructed, energy efficient homes that could be built at a price point that would makes sense for a speculative project and a potential buyer. The intent was to provide three to four such homes as an alternative to either renovating an older home or investing in a new “tract” neighborhood. Each home would be of the quality and character that would complement the surrounding context of the adjacent established midcentury neighborhoods.
CD: You mentioned that the designs for the homes in Ten201 were based on a prototype that you initially developed for Kessler Woods in Oak Cliff that Tom had been through. What is the connection between the two projects and what appealed to him about that design?
CW: This initial design for Kessler Woods was intended to be a prototypical, modest suburban home, repeated with variations along “Old Oak Cliff Boulevard.” Each prototype would be an L-shaped footprint, solid and private from the street, opening internally to a private side yard allowing the interior spaces to flow to the outdoors, with vehicular access from a rear alley.
The plan had one- and two-story options ranging from 2,000-2,800 square feet. The material palette was kept simple, but durable. From the street, each home would be primarily a simple modular brick, with a single accent wall of concrete block, wood, or stone. The interiors were kept clean and relatively sparse, allowing for personalization by future owners. The variations of this prototype were never built at Kessler.
When Tom went through the home in Kessler, he liked the simplicity and openness and felt that a similar approach could work in this neighborhood. The floorplan was designed to provide universal appeal and function, providing inherent flexibility to work with a variety of potential buyers, from young families, to single owners, to empty nesters. We discussed that each home would distinguish itself through alternative rooflines, orientation, and unique exterior materials, a concept typical of speculative development.
The first home at Ten201, the Lawler residence, was purchased right after construction. Its shallow-pitched roof and floor-to-ceiling storefront is juxtaposed with a lower flat roof, clerestory, and deep overhang. Its primary palette is glass, steel, cement panels, stained ipe, and manganese ironspot brick. We have subsequently designed a small addition and freestanding art studio/carport that is under construction, scheduled for completion in mid-2015.
The second home, the one on the tour, the Ruschhaupt Residence, began construction shortly after the first home was sold.
The two lots to the west [of the East Lake Highlands house] were recently purchased by a local family, and replatted to a single parcel, where we will be working with them later this year to design their new home, thus completing this small complex.
CD: The house on the White Rock Home Tour is the second of the three in the enclave. What makes it unique?
CW: While the home is relatively modest in both size and amenities, the open plan coupled with features like the entire wall of floor-to-ceiling butt-glazing in the main living space, interior masonry, and the front accent wall of Tennessee crab orchard ledgestone create a unique palette and environment. The landscape and pool were subsequently designed by David Rolston of Dallas Gardens.
CD: You’ve been honored for your restoration work on midcentury homes in Dallas. What do you see as the value of renovating versus demolishing these types of structures?
CW: Renovation and new construction both have their place, but it pains me to see great buildings being demolished, especially if the construction that follows is not an improvement in quality. When looking at older buildings, we typically look for “good bones.” Sometimes that is the structure itself, sometimes it is the materials and craftsmanship of the era.
Often older homes offer unique elements that cannot be replicated in new construction due to current regulatory and energy requirements, such as large areas of single pane glass, woodburning fireplaces, kitchens that are not peppered with code-mandated electrical outlets, unique stair rails, etc. We also see a level of workmanship, quality of materials, and attention to detail that is difficult to achieve with today’s resources. The older homes inherently have beautiful millwork and carpentry, unique tile, impeccable stone, and brickwork, etc.
Renovation, adaptive reuse, and restoration can often be the most sustainable alternative as well, while the homes may not be as energy efficient as new construction, the already exist, and often are surrounded my mature landscapes, there is no need to scrape the site and start from scratch. That said, each project is unique, and not all are worthy of the time and expense involved in renovating.
CD: What’s the value to the community of these kind of home tours?
CW: In 1997, I chaired a home tour for the AIA, which to my knowledge was the first time a collection of midcentury modern homes was showcased in Dallas. The response from those that attended was overwhelming. It was an opportunity to introduce the public to an era of architecture that had been somewhat lost in the 70s and 80s.
Since that time, interest and appreciation for modern architecture has increased dramatically. Home tours are an excellent venue for giving the community the opportunity to experience architect-designed private residences first hand.
CD: What’s your favorite building in Dallas, residential or commercial, and why?
CW: There are numerous buildings that immediately come to mind, like George Dahl’s Dallas Public Library, the Statler Hilton, the Meadows Building, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Haggerty Residence, and the Magnolia Building; my favorite is Howard Meyer’s Zale Lipshy Residence on Nakoma, built in 1949.
It represents the perfect balance of humility and confidence, restraint with elegance. The purity of line, clarity of form, the expressions of horizontality, the warmth of honest, simple materials, and the sense of space; for me it just doesn’t get any better than this. It exemplifies livable, timeless, classic modern architecture, qualities we strive for in each project.