A. Hays Town Residential Architecture: Part One
A. Hays Town’s Home in Baton Rouge
By Stephanie M. Chambers
Steve Chambers, AIA, had the good fortune to meet and interview A. Hays Town, Jr. on a recent trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where many of the homes designed by A. Hays Town can be found. A. Hays Town, Jr. and his wife, Gay, are the current residents of the home where A. Hays Town, Sr. lived, had his studio, and experimented with the development of his unique regional residential architectural style. In Gay and Hays Jr., we discover a gracious and welcoming couple eager to share our enthusiasm for the life and practice of Hays Town, a master architect who defined and elevated the Louisiana vernacular to an art form. “Come on in!,” is the accommodating welcome. “I thought you might come with them,” Gay says to my brother, Greg Moroux Lafayette attorney, who arranged our visit. Greg recently met the Towns at a brunch honoring the children adopted from their much-praised agency, the St. Elizabeth Foundation, established by the descendents of A. Hays Town. Steve is a Texas architect who recognizes that there is much to be learned about his own career path when one gathers insight on the trajectory of well-known regional architects. Chambers admires Town’s sensitivity to historic design, his harmonious integration of the indigenous environment, his collaboration with clients in the design process, and the way he educated potential clients about what constitutes elegant design. Sometimes Town walked away from substantial fees, when there was no ‘chemistry’ in their relationship.
A walk through the home, studio, and various related outbuildings provides an intimate entree into the creative process and sensibilities of Hays Town. We unearth his deep connection to the site and region of this rich culture. The origins of his distinct style are all here: experimentation with ‘benign neglect, incorporating the effects of aging, mold, algae, and mildew; the implementation of discarded materials from churches, abandoned warehouses, department stores, and mills; considerations and adaptations particular to the Louisiana climate; the creative application of indigenous plant materials as a fundamental component to the overall conceptual design; and use of the distinctive Louisiana vernacular that he studied as a worker for the government, when he measured and documented homes across the South during the Depression. “We changed these kitchen floors,” Town, Jr. announces as we enter the back of the main house. “Originally, Daddy used vinyl tile. He didn’t think he could afford the flagstone usually specified and selected by his clients.”
Many things about Town’s life are well-known. A. Hays Town was born in Crowley Louisiana on June 17, 1903. He was an American architect whose career spanned over sixty-five years. He died at the age of 101, still practicing well into his 90s.
While Town designed many commercial and governmental buildings in the style of modern architecture for the first forty years of his career, he made a sharp turn in the 1960s to limit his practice to residential architecture. He preferred the deep personal relationships and hands-on involvement that are inherent in the process of designing homes. His designs were heavily influenced by the Spanish, French, and Creole cultures of Louisiana. These are the things we expected to learn on this trip to the A. Hays Town homestead. What we didn’t expect was the unpretentiousness, authenticity, and celebration of the natural cycle of birth, decline, and renewal. A. Hays Town expressed these qualities in the creation of this style of regional architecture. A. Hays, Jr. manifested these same characteristics in his role as engineer and master builder of his dad’s designs and continues this legacy in the adoption agency he founded and his current efforts to preserve the quality of the Baton Rouge groundwater. The similarities to the rebirth and renewal rites of spring in the observance of Easter do not escape us. Nor does a strong sense of stewardship for the environment in his early efforts at sustainability, which we will address in this multiple-part series on regionalism.
For Part Two of article on Hays Town, click this link: Living in an A. Hays Town Home in Lafayette, Louisiana
In the gallery below, Steve Chambers and A. Hays Town Jr.; rooms of the the home: living, dining, study; porch and back of the house; outer buildings: 1970s addition and architect studio (the Spanish Room, a home office for client meetings); tool shed and workshop; backhouse for children and grandchildren attending LSU; pigeonnier (French pigeon roost); garden and home details showing signs of ‘benign neglect.’
In gallery below, details of the home and garden: shutter detail, wood and brick facade detail; stair to garconnier at back of mainhouse; eaves of guesthouse; porch ceiling on front of mainhouse; flagstone patio; flagstone kitchen floor; reclaimed pine floor with beeswax finish; recycled shutters as door to pantry; reclaimed wood in studio ceiling; kitchen ceiling and lighting detail made by Town with rusted steel to reflect light; back of tool shed; arched transom at former architectural studio.