A. Hays Town Series: Steve Chambers, Texas Architect, Discusses Regionalism

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“Our goal is not to copy history, but to echo its character.”

Texas Architect, Stephen B. Chambers, AIA,

A. Hays Town-designed Acadian style cottage in Lafayette, La, photographed by Chambers Architects during a visit to study Louisiana regionalism.

By Stephanie M. Chambers

The concept of regionalism goes beyond Louisiana, Texas, the U.S. or Europe. It is important to and can be seen in every environment on earth. Each geographic locale, culture, and group of people, creates a built environment shaped by the elements and this becomes their tradition. Each inhabited environ, region, and aggregate of folk traditionally formed bonds and found ways to relate to each other. In addition to language, they did it with their structures, interior furnishings, and their natural world. It’s their identity and soul. A ‘McDonald’s’ approach to things has its place and provides a role and service in a society–we all love coffee and bathrooms that conform to certain standards. But, regionalism is a societal force that reaches beyond standardizing a design style. It serves to sustain the culture, give it comfort, and create the feeling of being “at home.”

Steve Chambers’ Texas modern residential architecture has often been referred to as Regional Modernism. This particular approach to design uses a structure’s geographical context in an attempt to counter the often placelessness and uniform identity that was seen in the International Style of modern architecture. Regionalism is not vernacular or folk architecture, but rather an avant-garde approach that originates from referencing the details, geometry, materials, form and massing of structures specific to a locale or region. Regional Modernism generally emerged during the early 1980s when wit, ornament and reference returned in Postmodern Architecture, as a response to the formalism of the International Style. But, in Texas in the 1930s, David R. Williams and, later his employee O’Neil Ford, were already merging the modernism of Europe with the indigenous qualities of early Texas architecture, subsequently leading the charge toward a modern regional identity in residential architecture.

Preservation Texas award-winning historic restoration of an 1856 dogtrot log home by Chambers Architects, which demonstrates the early forms of Texas’ built environment.

A. Hays Town Plantation-style home design photographed by Chambers Architects in Baton Rouge, LA.

Upon reflection about the residential design of A. Hays Town that we studied while in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, we acknowledge that his measurement and cataloguing of the historical homes of the south for the government stirred his interest to focus, exclusively, on residential design and turn away from commercial projects. His first efforts referenced the French Norman and International Styles with which he had become familiar in architecture school. But, gradually a distinctive style began to emerge from all of the regional shapes, proportions, details and impressions of the Louisiana vernacular that he came to appreciate during his documentation time for the government. A. Hays Town’s career as an architect lasted for 65 years. Today, there are an estimated 1,000 homes remaining that were designed and built by Town, and his distinct style continues to exert considerable influence on the modern architecture of the South in the U.S.

In the gallery, below, you can observe the regional influences of the Louisiana vernacular in the later work of A. Hays Town. You will also see the earlier French Norman and International style influences in the turret (French) and curvilinear flowing tracery of the walls and windows (International style). In the second row, is a photo of the famous “4 Sixes” ranch barn at the National Ranching Heritage Museum photographed by Chambers Architects in order to study the early Texas vernacular. The last photo in the second row and the first photo in the third row are designs by Texas architect, Steve Chambers, for a regional modern ‘party barn’ design for an East Texas second home and the interior of a barn designed for a dressage horse ranch in Paradise, Texas. Photography by Stephanie Chambers

Drawings by architect. Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma Registered, Residential Architect.