It was during the 2008 Recession, and like many businesses in the housing industry, San Antonio-based Lake Flato Architects was feeling the pinch. As they thought about ways to continue their work (residential with an emphasis on connecting with the environment) in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, one idea stood out among the rest: prefab.
While modular homes appear to have little in common with traditional Southern vernacular architecture, Lake Flato found a way not only to marry the two concepts but also to celebrate the outdoors in the process. "We're providing something that's familiar and a little distinctive," says Bill Aylor, associate architect at the firm. "It's a combination of the old and new, but not in a contrived and artificial way. We aren't redefining vernacular architecture. We're continuing it for today."
But make no mistake: Modular does not mean mobile home. "Yes, we get the 'Oh, you do trailers...' comment often," Bill says with a laugh. He responds by pointing out all the differences, including that modular homes are engineered to a higher standard, even higher than site-built houses because they are built to be transported.
Inspired by the simple, functional, and honest design of historic dogtrot houses found throughout the South, their Porch House concept combines modest, factory-built rooms with site-built outdoor spaces configured to maximize the living area and the landscape.
Nine different factory-built modular rooms are available to configure a Porch House. All rooms are 17 feet in width with lengths varying from 28 to 48 feet. They can be used alone, stacked, or aligned in any combination. The outdoor spaces, such as porches and breezeways, are added on-site to connect the rooms to one another and the environment.
The Porch House shown here, built on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, is composed of three separate, singlewide, nonstacked room units and multiple outdoor spaces, including a variety of porches for a total of 3,000 square feet of living space. The compound includes a master bedroom and living area connected by a dogtrot-type breezeway, a guest bedroom unit with a front porch, and a separate carport, all arranged to create a cozy courtyard space in the middle and to optimize the views of the surrounding landscape, such as valley and hills.
The bonus: If there was ever a house that invited kicking back, taking in the scenery, and staying awhile, it's a Porch House. "That's the point," says Bill. "We are encouraging people, if not forcing them, to get outside and enjoy it." That's why the outdoor spaces are the true workhorses of these homes. They create shade, encourage cross-ventilation, and expand the living space without expanding the conditioned space. Just as important, they provide a link to the past and a place to connect with others and with nature. "It's an outdoor communal space where you can sit and do nothing or you can engage with your neighbors, friends, or dog. You feel both protected and connected to the landscape," says Bill. "If I were king, I would mandate porches."