Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over

APT Student Scholar Abstract

4 - Mid-Century Modern Residence as Historic House – The Acme Ceramic Housing Project

Monday, September 24
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
Faculty Advisor: Fran Gale, Conservation Scientist – The University of Texas at Austin

In the years immediately following World War II, demand for housing far exceeded the available supply. Traditional building materials had been severely depleted for the war effort. Governmental agencies, home builders, architects and engineers were called upon to solve the housing crisis swiftly, using low-cost and innovative approaches.
The various disciplines collaborated to experiment with materials and applied new technologies to produce low-cost housing options. The Acme Ceramic Housing project was one of many experimental and test projects that were conceived in response to the public’s desire for modern housing at an affordable price.
The Acme Ceramic Housing Project consisted of test houses built to study “suitable foundation design for the unstable soils as found in so many sections of the United States, and secondly, as an investigation of the human comfort characteristics of various residential designs and materials of construction.” The project was conceived by W.W. Coates, Jr. of The Coates Company. In 1948, The University of Texas entered into a contractual agreement with Acme Brick Company of Fort Worth, Texas. Acme Brick Co. would finance the construction of six houses in Austin, at a project cost of $240,000 in 1948 dollars, to be studied by the Bureau of Engineering Research of The University of Texas and overseen by The Coates Company. The project was one of the first to consider the combined factors of durability, livability and cost in the construction of homes in warmer climates.
The significance of the general, more modest houses that make up most of the post war housing stock is sometimes hard to convey, even to preservation professionals. These cottage and bungalow style homes lack the square footage and modern amenities required to meet the needs of today’s homeowners. However, mid-century architecture has become, as with earlier architectural styles, a large part of the landscape of our built environment.
Changes in aesthetic preferences and failures in materials and mechanical systems have resulted in necessary renovations that are costly and require retrofitting that may lead some homeowners to the decision of tearing down older homes as their best alternative.
While the character-defining features of the individual houses of the Acme Ceramic Housing Project are worth documenting, the overall integrity and historic significance is established on the merits of the Acme Project as a whole and the critical and influential role research and experimental housing projects played in the advancements of the housing industry. The houses were, as described, experimental in nature. Not all materials and mechanical systems in the houses have withstood the decades since the original research was undertaken. But the fact that five of the six houses remain is a testament to the innovation and importance of the original project.

Learning Objectives:

Lori Martin, MSHP May 2018

The University of Texas at Austin

Lori Martin received her Master’s in Historic Preservation from the University of Texas at Austin, in May 2018. She works for O’Connell Architecture in Austin, Texas. The firm specializes in preservation projects for residential, commercial and institutional clients. Martin served as Student Liaison for the Texas Chapter of APT and is now Co-Director of the Austin Region. She was active in the Student Historic Preservation Association as Events Co-Chair and organized several events including programs on Preservation Planning after Hurricane Harvey; Historic Tax Credits; a presentation by Virginia Savage McAlester as well as networking opportunities for students and preservation professionals. Martin is President-Elect of Preservation Austin, the local non-profit preservation organization.

Prior to returning to school, Martin worked in development and fundraising for non-profits specifically with a focus on preservation, most recently as Director of Development for the historic Stateside and Paramount Theatres. Martin was part of a team that raised over $3 million annually to support the preservation efforts and education programs of the theatres. Her experience includes grant writing, special and annual appeals and the coordination and execution of major events.

Martin enjoys fixing up her 1950s Ranch-style home and spending time with her partner and their 2-year-old Springer Spaniel, Scholar.


Send Email for Lori Martin

Tony James

Anthony James is a preservation architect with a background in architectural history and has worked on many restoration and rehabilitation projects of historic buildings over his 40+ year career. He holds a Bachelor of Architectural History from the University of Virginia and a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He currently has his own practice in Buffalo, NY, and is Consulting Architect to the Buffalo OlmstedParks Conservancy.


Send Email for Tony James


4 - Mid-Century Modern Residence as Historic House – The Acme Ceramic Housing Project

Attendees who have favorited this

Please enter your access key

The asset you are trying to access is locked. Please enter your access key to unlock.

Send Email for Mid-Century Modern Residence as Historic House – The Acme Ceramic Housing Project