The Texas Farm
Posted on July 24, 2014
After recently spending the day at the farm outside of Athens, a small town in north central Texas, it only reinforced the cultural and architectural diversity of the state I call home.
Producing crops from the land and raising livestock is definitely a part of it, but for me it was more about the idea of escape to a place where you could experience the landscape and all that goes with it.
My first experience with the idea of the Texas Farm was not on a real farm, but in spirit, not far from it. It was my grandparent’s simple rock home on the rolling hills along the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas. This place was rooted in what living in the landscape of central Texas meant to me as a child. It had gardens and fruit trees and was more of a cottage in scale, this getaway provided my earliest memories outside of my own home and it was really where I began to understand what ‘place’ meant. The home was a small compound, with fig trees framing the entry court and the narrow porch of the rock cottage, with a small side garden contained between the house and the old board and batten barn. The back of the house opened to a timber deck that my father and I helped build, stepping down to a couple of lawns for gathering, built up behind stacked stone low walls. The hill rolled on to the river beneath the canopies of oaks and cypress at the river’s edge. This is where I learned to swim, diving from the large limestone stepping stones to the “big rock” into the cold, clear water of the river, being paced by our family’s Welsh terrier – ‘Wellie’ alongside me in the water. I got my first taste behind the wheel on the back of my grandfather’s John Deere mower. While not a farm, it was country life.
I experienced the real agriculture of a farm on the coastal plains from my mother’s side of the family. This was the other end of the scale with John Deere machinery, riding alongside my Uncle Oran in a combine, raking through the fields of okra and sorghum that were rotated with cotton. This was on the edge of South Texas, hot and humid, only to be sated by capturing the breeze blowing in from the Gulf under the cool, deep shaded porches. These simple sheds of white-washed framing and corrugated metal were the central gathering space of the farm – at the rustic hearth table for family meals, sharing a midday respite from the harsh sun, or just whiling away the late evening hours telling tall tales. The house itself was basic, but when set within the surrounding agrarian structures, their scale and proportion as a whole set against the flat, green fields of the coastal plains, gave a clear dominion to this place.
As I grew older, I began to visit what might be considered more true farms in the small towns between Houston and San Antonio. They had grown out of the Czech and German rural communities like La Grange, Shiner, Schulenburg and others. These were the farmhouses of my friend’s grandparents and families, from simple structures that I might have first seen in a book of drawings by Buck Schiwetz, to the horse farms grown from generations of care. These were simple, yet beautiful compositions of using the tried and true massing forms of the local architectural vocabularies and their local materials and craft.
All of this has helped to imbue my own understanding of precedent and how these local histories informed their sense of place. It was a primer to my architectural being. Texas is rich in these architectural traditions that have been shaped by “farm life” and it varies from region to region. Whether drawing from the early Anglo- roots of east Texas, the German forms of central Texas, or the rusticity of the Spanish west – this sense of belonging within the landscape is what I keep coming back to as inspiration. It is what makes us who we are as architects, as families, as people.