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
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.
- Understand the general concepts of joistile construction and the materials used for the project.
- Learn about evaluating Modern architecture, including Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and
Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Properties, APT’s Principles for Practice on Renewing Modernism and Docomomo’s Criteria for Evaluating Modern.
- Recognize considerations for the documentation of future projects and develop benefits that can be offered to homeowners.
- Explore and identify reasons homeowners may opt for starting over instead of rehabilitating their existing home.