Published in "Old Houses Made New"

Old Houses Made New is a new book that features amazing house transformations from around the world. The book is published through a Spanish publisher but it’s available in all the major retailers. Check the feature of our Clarksville Cottage designed by our E5A principal Richard Hughes.

Revitalizing Sears Roebuck and Co.

Once the nation’s top reseller, today Sears announced it was considering filing for bankruptcy. How tragic is that? Sears has historically been a diverse and all-in-one company - they sell high quality products, from appliances to power tools and athletic equipment. Founded in 1892 by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck, Sears has been iconic with American working class products for over 120 years.

The eminent restructuring of the company has made me think, what would I do if I were the new CEO? Of course as an architect I thought back to the years when Sears was known for their innovative Catalog Homes. From 1908 to 1942 Sears sold well-designed small to medium size homes that could be purchased as a kit of parts, delivered by boxcar train, to be assembled by the buyer. If I were CEO I’d bring back the pre-fab home but create a new modern standard for innovation. Think of it, Sears sells just about everything that you need for a home - appliances, HVAC equipment, water heaters, power tools - all at a high level of quality. Sears could outfit a complete home or simply sell the shell and homeowners could choose how to finish-out the home to their own taste.

There’s certainly a demand for small well-crafted designer homes that’s not being met. We at Element 5 Architects have several tiny homes in the works. We have our own portfolio of tiny homes (also known in these parts as Accessory Dwelling Units), ranging from small (600sf), medium (900sf) and large (1100sf). All are quite liveable and desirable among the younger generation and older generation alike. While these homes tend to be more affordable because of their size I think that’s only a part of their appeal. People simply find it appealing to live in compact accomodations, a part of the small carbon footprint and living simple movements.

 Typical Sears Catalog Home

Typical Sears Catalog Home

I would start with just that - a series of well-conceived, complete package designs in small medium and large sizes, all compact and innovative. The homes would offer modern technology that’s not typically seen in homes these days. Smart thermostats, lighting, voice-recognition, passive and active heating and cooling, tight ergonomics, modern fixtures. Think along the lines of Backcountry Hut Company, Kasita or Drop Structures…even some of the work we’re doing at Element 5! Here’s to hoping Sears reads our blog and finds inspiration to revitalizing the company.

These are just a handful of examples of tiny homes E5A has designed over the years.

New Branding

We've been working on revising our image a little bit through a new logo, business cards and letterhead. We've also added some new projects to the website. We felt that the previous branding did not reflect the modern simplicity of our architectural designs. Michael Schembri did a great job working with a difficult group of micro-managing designers.  Please have a look and let us know what you think!


E5A Welcomes New Staff

Please join us in welcoming two new staff members to Element 5 Architecture.

Born in New York City, Faye has spent time living in Nigeria, Atlanta, San Francisco, San Antonio and most recently Austin. Faye holds an undergraduate degree in Interior Design and a Master of Architecture, both from the Academy of Arts University, San Francisco. Faye has a dog named Chloe and loves exploring Austin's art and social scenes.

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Samantha Anderson was born in Springfield, IL and received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Ball State University and a Master of Architecture from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After spending some time working for an architect in Las Vegas she decided Austin was a better fit for her. Sam has a cats named Boots and Luna and a boyfriend who shall remain unnamed.

NARI Home Tour

Our Clarkesville home on W. 11th Street was on the NARI Home Tour the weekend of April 7th. NARI is the National Association of the Remodelling Industry and homes on the tour were either remodelled and/or added onto. Our 11th St. home was originally built in the 1920's and was approximately 550sf. We kept and remodelled the front 150sf of the original house, made that the entry and small office, and added a 2-story addition that brought the house up to 2,200sf. No small task given that the lot is only 3,200sf total. Working within a Nation Historical District added to the complexity of the process but it also added to the charm.

Charleston, SC - Sold!

Our first project in Charleston, SC is complete and sold quickly. The new owners loved the design and complimented the build quality. Congratulations and a big thank you to Gas Lantern Custom Homes for including us in their team. We are looking forward to our next project just across the bridge on Daniel Island. 

Coming Soon...

Soon to break ground, watch for this 2000sf residence we designed for a site overlooking downtown in east Austin. The design features 3 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, an open plan and a large roof deck with "in your face" views of downtown off the back. This project marks our first project for Shaun Ryan of Cantegra Developments.

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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.


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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.

Remodeling and Home Design
Austin Architects & Designers