When the subject of regionally appropriate, sustainable design comes up, Lake|Flato inevitably leaps to mind. The San Antonio firm has built a worldwide reputation for creating and exploring an intense relationship between architecture and landscape. “The mission of the work is to connect to the environment, to leverage the outdoors,” says Ted Flato, FAIA, who co-founded the firm with David Lake, FAIA.
The firm has done just that on inventive, user-friendly projects all over the country, ranging from custom homes to commercial and institutional buildings. Lake|Flato also has designed plenty of work in its own backyard, such as the master plan and several buildings at Pearl Brewery, a 26-acre mixed-use redevelopment complex in downtown San Antonio. Some of its homes—including the screened porch-enclosed Carraro Residence and the waterside Lake Austin House (residential architect’s 2004 Project of the Year)—have achieved near-iconic status. The firm recently introduced a prefab residence called The Porch House, which it’s building in a few different locations.
Among Lake|Flato’s many honors are the 2004 AIA Firm of the Year award, a 2009 Texas Medal of Arts, and more than 100 local, state, and national design awards. Lake and Flato have always incorporated sustainable principles into their work, and they’ve recently formalized that approach by committing to adopt the carbon-neutral targets of the 2030 Challenge.
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
The opportunity to work closely with individuals makes it different from other types of work—it’s personal. That can be good and bad, but mainly really good. You design it for them, with them. You really get to know people. Also, a lot of our projects have a larger land component, so we’re working with the architecture and the landscape. That’s one of the things we do best. We do a lot of second homes, where the goal is often to connect to the environment. Those are great opportunities to do outdoor rooms. The scale is another wonderful difference. People are really going to be closer to a house. It’s a fun opportunity to work on details.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
The most frustrating aspect is also that it’s very personal. That can be a challenge. Often you’re working with someone who isn’t used to doing construction. Part of it is just managing expectations, making the process enjoyable for the client.
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
We believe that architecture must be a partner with the environment: where the landscape and buildings are an inseparable team; where the forms, like with early vernacular buildings, are shaped by the climate; where the materials are of the place; where science and technology are combined with art and craft; and where the entire design is inherently sustainable.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
It’s hard to say people are a tool, but the people are the most indispensable part. Without this great group of people, it would be no fun.
What software does your firm use?
We use SketchUp quite a bit. Our main drafting software is Revit. Those are the two, for the most part.
Who is your ideal client?
Someone who is passionate about what we do, about the kinds of things we’re best at doing, which is architecture that is connected to the environment. Someone who appreciates what we do best. Someone who is engaging, challenging, but also very appreciative of the work we do and the efforts we put into it. A sense of humor certainly makes it fun.
What is your favorite building?
My problem is that I have so many favorite buildings. I love Taliesin West for its connection to that beautiful desert. Also, Louis Kahn’s buildings. The simplicity of almost all of them—the Kimbell, the Salk, a number of his other projects. They’re beautiful, simple, and beautifully detailed.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
It would depend on the place very much. I think people have their environments that they’re very, very good at working in. If the home were in the outback or on a ranch, I’d get Glenn Murcutt. But if I’m in the city, I’d ask Steven Ehrlich. I’d call him up and say, ‘Do the house you did for yourself!’