Fourteen feet wide and about 100 feet long, this skinny house on a 3,000-acre working cattle ranch ups the ante on communing with nature. Located in a part of Texas where “the great plains thistle out,” the building was slid between trees to avoid cutting them down and raised off the ground to preserve the land’s contours. Coincidentally, this path of least resistance produced an optimal solar orientation, with the long sides facing north and south, if slightly askew.
In a trademark move, elements of Max Levy’s design channel nature’s cycles in wholly unexpected ways. Popping up along the roof’s ridge line are a quintet of “light chimneys,” each expressing a different aspect of nature. One collects a little rainwater from the roof that drips into a vase through a half-inch bronze tube suspended above the dining room table. A second chimney houses a wind vane, its rod attached to a debarked tree branch in the little boy’s room that points in the direction of the wind. Two other chimneys reflect the compass directions. Fitted with a central plane that’s painted a different color on each side, one chimney glows yellow at sunrise and red at sunset, while the other emits a blue or green hue. A fifth chimney above the fireplace opens a view to the sky and smoke rising from the flue.
“The most elementary act of architecture is the framing of the view, and it has no particular cost,” says Max. “If you frame a view, you’ve got something.” The judges agreed.
Custom on the Boards
Max Levy Architect
Ranch House for a Naturalist
Architect: Max Levy, FAIA, principal in charge; Bryan Johnson, project architect, Max Levy Architect, Dallas
Builder: Mike Bengfort, Bengfort Homes, Gainesville, Texas
Interior designer: Meredith Ellis, Meredith Ellis Design, New York, New York
Project size: 1,740 square feet
Site size: 3,000 acres
Construction cost: $242 per square foot
Photography: Meredith Ellis
Exterior: Concrete block with slurry finish
Flooring: Forbo Marmoleum
Interior walls and ceiling: 1×6 pine siding
Roofing: Corrugated zinc “C” panel