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Double Duty
Texas Architect
Austin, Texas, USA
Media, Architecture
Brantley Hightower, AIA
Date Published: 
San Antonio, Texas, Project Profile, Single Family Home, Affordable Housing, Infill Housing
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2020-08-31 17:22:36
2020-08-31 17:59:37
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Dror Baldinger, FAIA
Pine House in San Antonio is a model of affordable infill residential design and another case for the reintegration of design and construction.

Architect Cotton Estes Architect
Client Tony and Sonya Castro
General Contractor Long House Builders
Structural Engineer Spaulding Structural Engineering

Dignowity Hill sits on the near east side of San Antonio. Named after the prominent Czech physician who first settled the area, the neighborhood was home to many of the city’s leading professionals and merchants in the middle of the 19th century. The exclusivity of the area began to change in the 1870s after the construction of a Southern Pacific Railroad line began to encourage industrial development. The completion of Interstate 37 in the 1960s further marginalized the neighborhood.

And yet the neighborhood endured.

By the turn of the 21st century, the desirability of living close to downtown had increased to the point that many of San Antonio’s older neighborhoods — including Dignowity Hill — began to be “rediscovered” as desirable places to live.

Located just a mile east of the Alamo, the Pine House sits in the heart of Dignowity Hill on a narrow, 45-ft lot. Driving down Pine Street, the house does not immediately grab attention. It shares massing and material types with its neighbors and sits back behind a sizable Chinese tallow tree. But upon closer inspection, subtle details and asymmetrical window placements reveal this to be a thoughtful, modern addition to the fabric of Dignowity Hill.

The house consists of two 16-ft-wide extruded gable volumes shifted in plan relative to each other. This subtle move defines a public entry court in the front and a more private outdoor living court in the back. A small front porch leads to a central, glazed entry foyer that acts as a transition between the house’s public and private wings.

To the north, the single-story gable volume contains the more public spaces of the house. The large, open space accommodates kitchen, dining, and living room functions. A series of south-facing sliding glass doors open directly upon the rear deck. A wood trellis works with two existing pecan trees to provide this shaded outdoor extension of the living room.

On the other side of the entry, the two-story gable volume contains an art room and master bedroom on the lower level, and two additional bedrooms on the upper floor. The organization of the plan is efficient, with benches and built-in desks ensuring every corner of the house’s 1,890 sf is rendered useful. Because of the relatively small footprint of the house, every bedroom has windows on at least two sides.

Respecting a limited budget — the house cost around $370,000 — the design accomplishes a lot with a little. Each design decision serves multiple ends. The massing of the home, for example, spatially defines the front and rear courtyards, but it also gives the house a favorable solar and wind orientation. The vertical lines of the house’s exterior may at first appear to simply echo the materiality of neighboring homes, but the siding, too, does more. The cladding is inverted board-and-batten, which, in addition to providing a playful variation on wood siding found elsewhere in the neighborhood, provides improved ventilation for the building’s envelope system.

The Pine House is full of these types of moves: affordable but durable materials combined in thoughtful ways to create something extraordinary. This is fitting in that the house itself came together under extraordinary circumstances. Although it is not uncommon for an architect and contractor to work together during the design of a project, it is unusual for the architect and contractor to live together during that process. The architect, Cotton Estes, AIA, and the contractor, Mike Long, are domestic partners, and this project represented their first opportunity to work together professionally.

“We commonly found ourselves sketching details over breakfast, and constantly thinking of ways to improve on the design,” Estes says. The relationship also inverted the often-adversarial relationship between architect and contractor. “As life partners, we were both rooting for each other to achieve the best house possible.”

This type of close working relationship also existed with the clients, who happen
Organizations Mentioned: (4)
Cotton Estes Architect
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Architecture, Sustainable Design, Housing, Urban Infill
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Long House Builders
San Antonio, Texas, USA
SSE | Spaulding Structural Engineering
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Structural Engineering, Foundation Design, Frame Design