Blog by Beebe Cline

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5 Modern Home Exteriors Tell a Texture Story

Every now and then I like to zoom in on houses and the materials they are made of. This ideabook explores the textures that can be expressed through concrete, stone, wood, metal and even rammed earth.

The examples that follow move from the macro to the micro, from the distant view to the close-up, revealing the qualities that may not be apparent at first glance. Check them out to see if these textures might work for your project, be it the walls of your home, a freestanding wall in your yard or even a partition inside.
1. House in Chelsea, Quebec

The exterior of this house in Quebec is made from industrial concrete blocks. But instead of a running bond or some other stacked pattern, Kariouk Associates composed the blocks into a pinwheel pattern. It makes the boxy exterior appear woven.
Up close the variation in the surface — bumpy, not smooth — comes across. This gives the exterior some interesting shadow patterns when the sun is at the right angles. It also shows that texture can come about through the manipulation of the cheapest, most mundane materials.
This Texas house, designed by Cornerstone Architects, is composed primarily of two materials: limestone and concrete. Both appear fairly flat and monolithic, though the latter does have a couple horizontal gaps occurring on the left side above and below an opening in the wall.
This gap, angled back on one side (it's actually angled back on both sides, framing a view of the trees), accentuates the plasticity of the poured-in-place concrete. Given that wet concrete is poured into a mold so it can cure, dry and take a shape, the material exhibits the residue of its formwork. Here horizontal wood planks were used, as the "ghost" of them is visible.
Concrete is used in this house for the chimney and freestanding walls (detached from the house's exterior walls). Therefore the limestone makes up the walls enclosing the house.

This is an aesthetic choice, but it does add to the expense. Of course, it also gives the walls a finer scale and a softer color than the concrete.
The limestone is also used inside, accentuating the monolithic nature of the walls (insulation has most likely been placed between the inside and outside faces, even though the wall looks solid through and through).

At this distance a couple of things are apparent: The mortar matches the limestone so well, it disappears at a distance, and the texture of the stone really exhibits the way it was made; one can see via the curved lines how large discs cut through the stone at the quarry.
2. Buddhist's Home in Utah

One of the most unique aspects of this Buddhist's home in Utah is the way the walls seem to rise up from the ground. The house seems to be made from the rock upon which it sits. This happens through construction with gabion walls — large stones are held in wire baskets.
The texture of gabion walls comes from the color and size of the stones and the type of basket — here rusty. While normally used for retaining walls and highway embankments, gabion walls are somewhat popular in buildings.

But given fire codes, they can't be the primary structure (lest the baskets fail and the stones tumble), and the stones do not protect or insulate nearly well enough to be used for a primary wall.

In this house they are on the face of a solid wall that is more typical on the inside. Nevertheless, nothing else out there looks like a gabion, if that is the look you are going for.
3. Model Home in Arizona

This building is a sales center that serves as a model home for a unique modern desert development in Sedona, Arizona. The dark steel stands out in the desert context, but the rammed earth roots the house in its place, echoing the bluff beyond.
The combination of stained concrete floors, wood ceilings and rammed-earth walls creates a feeling of being rooted in the place.

Rammed earth is one of the oldest construction methods; it fell out of use with modernization but is finding new life as buildings strive to be more sustainable. Of course, the desert is perfect for the material, given its thermal mass and ability to radiate heat during the cool night after absorbing it all day.

What I like about this wall of rammed earth is the way the formwork anchors are still in the wall, projecting from it like hooks. These show the horizontal layers in which the wall was built, compacting one layer, then moving the forms to the next level and so forth.
In many ways rammed earth and concrete are similar; they approach a similar hardness, but one is created by compaction while the other is cured. Yet both are built up from the bottom up (excluding sprayed-on concrete) and therefore exhibit a layering that can be pronounced to greater or lesser degrees. This garage in Portola Valley, California, really accentuates the horizontal layering.
Up close we can see the banding happens from stripes of concrete bumped out from the wall. This is the result of spacing the formwork apart ever so slightly, so the concrete can fill the gap (an outer cover to the form would keep it from spilling out). It's an imperfect technique; hence some sections fall off in the process.
On a side note, the fence that parallels the garage seems to be inspired by the concrete (or vice versa) with its less-than-true horizontal pieces.
4. Loft in Chicago

For the last two examples, we move indoors. For a loft in Chicago, Studio IDE designed a couple of wood walls with a wavy pattern that comes from the articulation of wood slats.
The construction of the alternating wood oak strips is more understandable up close, but it is still complex enough that it's hard to fully grasp what is going on. A wall or door like this would be expensive custom made, but a DIY woodworker would surely have a blast tackling a similar project.
5. Home in New York State

The modern-day hearth in this New York state house, designed by Bates Masi Architects, is a standout, even as its vertical members echo the walls and ceiling.

Instead of wood, the enclosure is made of bronze strips that were digitally cut and then patinated onsite.
The strips are actually L shaped, with the short leg overlapping the adjacent strip — a shingle of sorts. This literally gives the enclosure some flare and a texture that elevates the hearth to a piece of minimalist art.