We always seem to be infatuated with newness in Architecture, and I will confess I am susceptible to the quick rush of novelty more than I would like to admit. But I am also a great admirer of timelessness—that far more potent elixir that lends Architecture an enduring depth that most other media cannot touch. I recently visited an exquisite house in Dallas by Edward Larrabee Barnes that embodies that rare trait of timelessness in a powerful way. I think it’s the best thing Barnes ever did. I have been to the house three times—each time when a different owner inhabited it. It was originally commissioned by my friend Melba Whatley (then Greenley) and was completed around 1984. Melba was very active in the Dallas Museum of Art and Barnes was doing the museum’s big new building at the same time.
The house was stunning when Melba lived in it—beautifully sited on a rolling piece of land in Preston Hollow, immaculately detailed with minimalist precision and spot on in its scale and proportions. It is richly complex in plan, but also dead simple in the composition of each element. Each sequential owner of the house has lived in it in a different way. Melba had tons of books, and her library was a major feature. The current owners, Will and Catherine Rose, have filled that same room with an extraordinary collection of contemporary art. The proportions, light and simplicity of the room are exquisite, and it works equally well as a library or a gallery. This is what architecture should be: adaptive, and flexible enough that the times and inhabitation can change, while the strengths of the Architecture remain constant.
I also love the fact that it feels like a Texas house (and very different than the houses Barnes did on the East Coast). There is some reflection of Luis Barragan in its hot climate responses—its deep porches and its rambling organization around a courtyard and pool. But instead of the lush Mexican vibrancy and color Barragan would have employed, this house has an elegant, buttoned-down quality that is perfect for Dallas. The way it nestles in to those beautiful North Texas live oaks make it feel like it is an integral part of the landscape. This house is proof that modernism has the ability to transcend generations. If the house were built today it would seem as fresh and contemporary as it did 30 years ago. There is a staying power and, yes, timelessness here that is really remarkable.
Although it may sound cliched, I live, eat and breathe architecture. I’m currently a principal in the architectural firm of PageSoutherlandPage and a professor, as well as the former dean, in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. My teaching and my blog are aimed at educating people on the importance of great architecture in contemporary American culture.