Backwards Sky Ranch House by Clayton Korte is embedded into a beautiful landscape, extending from the Dry Frio River in Hill Country, Central Texas, down south to a vast meadow. The house’s site-specific design and adaptability allow residents to enjoy the natural environment and surrounding landscape while mitigating extreme weather conditions to maintain thermal comfort.
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The building is oriented lengthwise along the Dry Frio riverbank to maximize views of the valley and encourage natural ventilation. For the main entry, a central dog-run porch connects the living spaces to the main bedroom. The living spaces run parallel to the river and float above the open ground floor, providing shade below while allowing cool breezes for ventilation. Operable windows along the north and south facades also harness the prevailing winds that run from the river to the meadow. Extending out from the porch toward the river valley, the elevated pier creates an outdoor gathering space for unwinding and stargazing.
Innovative techniques to control sunlight are used to create pleasant interior spaces. Soft, morning sunlight is filtered into the interior spaces, and stone bastions positioned along the living spaces, large roof overhangs, and operable shade screens all work to block the harsh afternoon sun, particularly along the south and west facades. During the winter, since the sun is at a lower angle, sunlight can filter through the spaces from the extended patio into the dog-run porch and living spaces. Though the means to control solar radiation remain stationary, sunlight is optimized according to the seasons, allowing for comfort throughout the year.
Some key features of the ranch house’s design are the materiality and how it will age. Exterior finishes include the mortared limestone walls and Western Red Cedar cladding that will patina from weathering. Over the years, the materials will begin to resemble the site’s color palette and create a rustic ranch appearance. For the interior, cedar paneling contrasts with the light limestone fireplace and White Oak flooring. To prevent off-gases from polluting the indoor environment, single-coat application finishes have been used only where deemed functionally necessary.
Surrounding the property, endemic plants including grasses and wildflowers eliminate the need for irrigation. To maximize resources, the limited rainfall is collected from roof drains and used to refill the site’s water table. Since there is porous limestone under the site’s topsoil, the rainwater filters through the stone to replenish the ground, thus balancing the water footprint of the ranch.
Renderings by Clayton Korte