The Starbucks Effect

We do a lot of residential design at Element 5 Architecture - approximately 75% of our work is designing single-family and multi-family new homes, remodels and additions. So of course we keep up with local real estate trends. I recently read a book written by the founders of Zillow called "Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate" by Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries (Grand Central Publishing). It's a fascinating read and it explains some of the myths and hidden truths about the post-recession real estate market.  

One interesting finding known as The Starbucks Effect states that value of homes within a 1/4 mile of a Starbucks rise faster than those that don't. In fact one area of Boston within a 1/4 mile of Starbucks saw home values increase 171% between 1997-2013. That's the largest increase in the country. 

Austin is no stranger to rapidly increasing home values. However, one area that is increasing the most is East Austin where our office is located and where many of our projects are located. Funny thing is, East Austin (the 78702 zip code) has NO Starbucks at all! There are plenty of local coffee shops and there may be a Starbucks on the horizon (in fact we had a developer in our office recently who was interested in providing space for Starbucks in his East Austin project) but for now home values continue to rise at a rapid pace without one.

Perhaps the fact that Zillow HQ is located in Seattle has influenced the authors' world view. 

Recent Work in Austin

Here's a look at our latest projects in and around Austin. Some have recently completed construction and others are just about to start...

Cumberland Residences - two speculative houses in south central Austin, just completed.

Cumberland Residences - two speculative houses in south central Austin, just completed.

Waller Street Residence - a new 2,000sf house near downtown is about to break ground.

Clarkesville House - recently completed 1,700 sf house on a compact lot in central Austin.

Northwest Hills Residence - a 3,300sf home overlooking the hills of west Austin is in the design phase.

Development Continues in Charleston

Charleston, SC is one of the most booming cities in the US, frequently making top ten lists for growth and economic prosperity. Although we're known for modern eco-conscious designs, E5A has shifted to more traditional designs for our work in Charleston. We always say good design is good design regardless of style and our houses in Charleston continue to follow principles of proper solar orientation, capturing prevailing breezes and energy efficiency while fitting into the coastal Carolina vernacular. Our first house is nearly complete in Mt. Pleasant, just across the Cooper River from Charleston.

Front View

Front View

Construction almost complete on house in Mt. Pleasant, SC (Charleston)

Construction almost complete on house in Mt. Pleasant, SC (Charleston)

Currently we are working on our next house in the Charleston area, a luxury community called Daniel Island. Here's a preview of the design:


What's Trending Among Architects

We can only speak for ourselves - and the crowd of peers with whom we associate - but here are some of the issues architects are following these days.

The Changing Retail World

E-commerce continues to take over the market. Brick and mortar stores are struggling to survive. Adapt or perish. And then there's Amazon's $13.7B purchase of Whole Foods. What's going on? How will this affect our built environment? One trend that appears to be emerging is medium scale retailers are having a very difficult time with the changing paradigm. Shopping malls as a whole are starting to fail or need to evolve into mixed-use retail like The Domain and The Hill Country Galleria in Austin. In order to survive malls have had to broaden their roles to include housing and entertainment (in the case of The Domain) and civic uses like a library and City Hall (in the case of The Galleria).

Many malls have closed their doors. Those malls located in suburban areas with a singular use are suffering the most. But there's opportunity where there's failure. For example, a mixed-use town center development called Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado was once known as Villa Italia Mall, a very typical suburban mall with one huge building surrounded by acres of parking. In 2002 the mall was redeveloped into a more urban town center for this city of 150,000 inhabitants. To read more about this story visit this site. Closer to home, Austin Community College has converted Highland Mall in north Austin into it's flagship campus. It's close to a light rail stop and development is underway for housing and retail.

Redevelopment plan for Highland Mall, Austin, TX

Redevelopment plan for Highland Mall, Austin, TX

How to Create Affordable Housing in Austin

Austin continues to grow at a rapid pace and property values continue to climb out of reach of many middle- and upper middle-class residents. City leaders have several proposals in the works which include subsidies to developers for "affordable" housing, adding density to inner city neighborhoods (with the hope that density brings smaller, cheaper houses...we'll see) and developing city-owned land into affordable rental and ownership units. Click here to view the city's Strategic Housing Blueprint.

What's Next for Mass Transit

The subject of mass transit in Austin is worthy of a dedicated blog post. In the early nineties the principals of Element 5 Architecture were engaged in a study of routes and transit stations for Austin's proposed light rail - that's how long we as a city have been thinking about this subject. In the meantime, very little has been accomplished on a macro scale. Sure, we now have a limited light rail system, bus routes continue to be modified to fit changing demographics and grassroots solutions such as ride-sharing, Car 2 Go, Zip Car and B-Cycle have given people other options. However, there hasn't been a plan to affordably move large portions of the population other than by automobile.

One thing is certain to us architects: transportation affects the built environment. Light rail stations are a magnet for further development. The popularity of cycling - even in a city where the summer heat is so intense - leads to dedicated bike paths and bike storage at buildings. Even options such as ride-sharing and car-sharing lead to reduced parking requirements and every architect will tell you the most influential part of every urban design is providing for the automobile.

Charleston, SC Home Making Progress

Our design for a 2500 sf house in the Mt. Pleasant area of Charleston is coming along nicely. A recent site inspection at the framing stage was almost ruined due to rain but we managed to find a break in the weather long enough to inspect the work. James Richards of Gas Lantern Custom Homes is doing a great job and we're quite proud of this simple home designed in the Charleston vernacular style.

Recently Completed: Wilson Street Residences

The latest collaboration with developer Oam Parkash, the Wilson Street Residences feature two houses - a 2900 sf main house and a 650 sf secondary house. The two structures are separated by a courtyard with a tranquil pool and outdoor living area. The house is currently on the market and it is located in trendy South Central Austin.

Now Licensed in South Carolina

Since we have been commissioned to design a new custom home in Mt. Pleasant (suburb of Charleston) we are now licensed architects in South Carolina! Looking forward to doing more work in Charleston and elsewhere in this beautiful state.

Transformation of a 1960's Ranch Style House

Our clients bought the 1960's ranch style house for the amazing views of downtown. They had no idea that such a plain original design could be transformed so much. The second story addition contains the master bedroom suite and features mezmerizing views of the skyline. The stairway tucks behind the Living Room wall and receives natural light through clerestory windows facing north. While adding the addition we remodelled the downstairs, opening up the kitchen to the back deck and re-building the pool.

Existing house (above)

E5A Featured in New Book

Element 5 Architecture is proud to announce we are one of several contemporary Texas architects featured in a new book that hits the newstands this month. A long-overdue book documenting a state with a growing population, "Contemporary Texas Architecture" by E. Ashley Rooney displays the work of 34 Texas architects whose buildings embrace their region and place. These award-winning residences vary in style, scale, budget, and site, but they are all positioned to incorporate the Texas light, landscape, and local materials. More important, they are designed and constructed to deal with the prospect of climate change, including Texas-size hurricanes, tornadoes, heat, and drought. Readers will appreciate the regional rigor of these buildings sited on the Hill Country's arid escarpments, deep in the piney woods of East Texas, and in the insufferable heat of the southern coastal plain.


Cont. Tx Architecture.jpg

2nd Street House Completed

Our house that we have developed and is for sale (for some reason I have a hard time calling it a "spec house") just completed and it's on the market! Of course it took longer than we thought and cost more but in the end we're pleased with the product. Maybe putting it on the market the day before Christmas isn't the best timing but that's the way it worked out. The front house is 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, 2,000sf. Images are below...

The rear unit features 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and is 850sf. Images ae below...

Our Latest Project: Mid-Century Modern in the Hill Country

About 18 months ago Randi and Taylor approached us wanting a new house inspired by the concepts of Mid-Century Modern designs from the 1950's. The had purchased 10 acres of land near Hamilton's Pool about 20 miles west of Austin with amazing panoramic views of the Hill Country. It has been a long, rewarding process and the photos have just arrived. Taylor and Randi and their two kids move in this week and they are absolutely thrilled to see their dream house completed.

Element 5 Architecture is Hiring

We are looking for young, energetic professionals for at least one - maybe two - job openings as Intern Architect. Candidates should possess the following qualities:

proficiency in ArchiCAD

3-5 years of experience working in an architecture office

architecture degree from accredited university

knowledge of SketchUp, AutoCAD and/or Vectorworks would be helpful

Pay is commensurate with experience level.

Please send a resume and cover letter to

Why We Work in Multiple Genres

Many architects prefer designing in a certain style of architecture - in fact most appear to identify with one style or another on their websites and marketing materials. It gives your firm a clear identity and for the most part we tend to show modern architecture on our website. However, the fact is we work in many genres, depending on our client preferences, the neighboring context and even budget constraints. We feel that good architecture transcends style and a knowledgeable architect is able to work in many different styles and produce quality architecture. 

Tarrytown Residence

Tarrytown Residence

For a project in a conservative, established neighborhood in central Austin we designed a craftsman style house, with deep roof overhangs, awnings shading the windows and a large covered porch. The owners wished to have a very energy efficient home that fit into the style of the neighborhood.

Deep Eddy Residence

Deep Eddy Residence

Not all owners wish to fit stylistically into the neighborhood. In a more eclectic neighborhood in central Austin with a mix of traditional and contemporary homes, we desinged a modern home that conforms to the 2-story massing of the neighboring homes. However, the owners wanted a modern-style house that featured a large screened porch and roof deck facing downtown, towards the front. The house steps back from the street while ascending up a hillside.

Hamiltons Pool Residence

Hamiltons Pool Residence

One of our clients bought a large piece of land near Hamiltons Pool Preserve west of Austin with the intention of building a modest 3 bedroom home for the family and a recording studio for the husband who is a sound engineer. They have a true love of mid-century modern homes and specifically asked us to design an authentic MCM home, with a shallow pitch roof, deep roof overhangs, a carport and central courtyard. The house is still under construction and should be complete in July 2016.

Feature in Spectacular Kitchens of Texas

While our work has been featured in many magazines over the years, we are now featured in a book. Spectacular Kitchens of Texas (Signature Publishing Group, 2016) by Jolie Carpenter presents inspiring designs by 60 of the state’s top architects, interior designers, builders, and professionals specializing in upscale materials, finishes, and fixtures. The hardcover book includes new and re-envisioned residential spaces in a variety of styles, from classical to modern and everything in-between. 

The book can be purchased on Amazon here.

Anatomy of a Spec House, Part 2

Choosing the Perfect Window

Windows are one of the most important - and costly - parts of a house. Therefor we spend a lot of time researching, pricing and thinking of the aesthetics of our decision. When designing a spec house of course cost is a limiting factor. Early on we determined our design aesthetic would be "modern farmhouse" so that allows us to go with any window that has black window frames (which actually is more limiting then one might think). Since this house will be marketed to the mid- to upper-range market, our window selection came down to three types.

Vinyl Windows

The most affordable option. Very energy efficient. Overall a pretty decent window except when you have large units, then the frames tend to warp. A dark color frame tends to encourage warping in the summer. For those reasons we decided against vinyl.

Vinyl window by Jeld Wen

Vinyl window by Jeld Wen


A good mid-range price option. Very sturdy, thin frames that lend to a modern aesthetic. Not as energy efficient as the other choices. In the end we decided against aluminum because we thought the aesthetic wasn't as appropriate for a modern farmhouse.

Aluminum window by Milgard

Aluminum window by Milgard


Andersen makes a moderately priced window that's made of Fibrex, a composite material they developed that has 2x the strength of vinyl, performs better in extreme temperatures and is energy efficient and very durable. Since it comes in many colors (including black) and costs about the same as aluminum we decided to make this our window of choice.

Fibrex window by Andersen - the winner!

Fibrex window by Andersen - the winner!

Anatomy of a Spec House, Part I

We've recently embarked on a development branch of our company, where we will occassionally develop a piece of land in the interest of promoting better architecture in a typology that appears to be lacking good design. Our first attempt at this is to build a spec house in East Austin. With a speculative project, the strategy is to find the proper balance between affordablity and quality. This series of blogs will address the decisions we architects and developers make along the way and why we make them.

Part I: Choosing the Right Foundation

It all starts with a good foundation, and believe it or not there are choices. The cheapest and most common foundation for homes is the post-tension slab. It's cheap because there's very little rebar. The strength of the foundation relies on cables pulled in tension when the concrete is being poured. The problem with this foundation is if you ever want to make an adjustment - remodel a bathroom, add a bedroom, move plumbing - you risk compromising your foundation if you cut a post-tention cable. 

In a conventional slab foundation the structural engineer designs a pattern of rebar that reinforces the concrete. The rebar can be cut without compromising the slab but rebar is expensive. Slab construction is great for compact houses in Austin where the soil can be expansive because we can design a monolithic slab that keeps it's rigidity even when the soil expands and contracts.

A third alternative, and one we often use although it's less common, is the pier and beam foundation. Advantages are that it's quickly built and plumbing and electrical are installed after the piers have been poured, so there's an advantage to scheduling trades. The major disadvantage to a pier and beam slab is that it doesn't work for a garage foundation. So if you have an attached garage (which is common with inner city spec houses), this foundation is not ideal. Also, from a design standpoint, a pier and beam foundation needs to sit at least 30" above the ground which means steps up to the house wherever there is an exterior door.

In the end we went with a conventional slab foundation. It costs more than a post-tension slab but would allow for future modifications.

MX3 Selects Element 5 Architecture for Future Development

Elelment 5 Architecture is pleased to announce our collaboration with creative, inner city home builder MX3 Homes.  "Over the next year we are planning on building and selling, close to 60 homes", says MX3 Design Manager Kyle Cluck. In an effort to expand and improve their design capabilities MX3 choose E5A to design a portion of their homes - homes that appeal to the higher-end homebuyer. MX3 opperates mostly in central East Austin and is responsible for The Orchard, a neighborhood of modern farmhouse designs affordably priced and centrally located. 

E5A Opens Development Branch

We are very excited to announce a new endeavor for Element 5 Architecture coming in 2016. We are establishing Element 5 Development LLC,  a development corporation that will initially focus on small development sites in East Austin. Our first project is located on East 2nd Street, about 2 miles east of downtown. Our goals are to set a new standard for re-development in East Austin focused on quality architecture. Construction on our first project is expected to begin in January 2016 and will go on the market in summer 2016.





The Latest of the Dogwood Trilogy

The Latest of the Dogwood Trilogy

Element 5 Architecture's latest Hospitality and Restaurant Design project is currently under construction as part of Endeavors  Phase 2 development effort in the Domain in Austin, TX.  The latest in the Dogwood Trilogy is just over 10,000 sf with a restaurant, bar, open air interior courtyard & patio bar at the main level and an open air patio bar, sitting area with firepit & interior media room on level 2.  The first Dogwood in Austin opened on West 6th street back in 2010.  The Dogwood Midtown in Houston opened in 2013 and the latest Dogwood @ the Domain is expected to open January 2016.

Read More

Images of Juanita Residence have Arrived

The photos for a new house we designed in central south Austin have just come in and we're pleased with the result. The design turned out very similar to how we imagined from the start. Trying to fit a 2200 sf residence on a small lot in urban Austin can be a challenge. We wanted to break up the massing into blocks of varying colors and textures. The left side property line is at an acute angle so we thought we'd emphasize that with a subtle collission of angles at the front entry. The stone wall seen from the outside continues through the house as does the wood roof eave which carries through the front entry to the back of the house.

For a small, compact house there is a lot going on and a pleasant mix of materials and interest. The house also has a nice view of downtown from the second floor balcony and master bedroom. The owners are having us design a roof deck that will be accessible via a spiral stair from the balcony. We'll let you know how that turns out.

Below you will find a gallery of images. You can also visit our Houzz page or our website for other recent projects. 

Remodeling and Home Design
Austin Architects & Designers