Take a self-guided tour through the winding lanes of River Oaks and you'll see plenty of homes by the premier Houston architects of the early 20th century like John Staub and Birdsall Briscoe, some of them bearing plaques attesting to their historical significance. But nestled among the stately century-old homes are more recent works conceived in the same traditional style by architects William Curtis, Russell Windham and the associates at their prestigious Houston-based firm, Curtis & Windham.
"What I love about traditional architecture is that it's a language—you can innovate, you can express the local character," says Windham. "Clients come to us for personalized buildings of the highest quality."
Curtis and Windham are both native Texans who spent the formative years of their careers on the East Coast and abroad before returning to Houston and partnering to create their firm in 1992. Twenty-five years later, they've released the first monograph of their collected works, A Vision of Place, a stunning tome that covers 18 unique projects that together represent the scope and variety of their work, which has taken them from River Oaks to the Texas Hill Country, Montana, New Mexico and beyond.
Rather than describe the details of each home, the architects let the gorgeous photography speak for itself and focus the text on explaining the background and context of the property, and how they responded to the particular site with their design, whether that means focusing on restraining scale on a lot in River Oaks so as to not overwhelm the neighbors or using specific materials to blend in to the moon-like setting on New Mexico's Chama River.
The projects are arranged chronologically in the book, and organizing and selecting them took the partners on a year-and-a-half journey through the evolution of their firm and aesthetic, from a spate of extra-large homes in the early '90s to the preference for slightly smaller and more informal houses today—although Russell notes that while they've been having discussions about eliminating formal living rooms and dining rooms with clients for years, only very recently have a couple truly followed through with alternative floorplans.
The book covers all three distinct areas of their practice—architecture, interiors and landscape architecture—and includes elevation drawings in certain cases to give as complete a picture of each project and the factors that went into their decision-making as possible. The hope is that it inspires future architects in much the same way that Curtis and Windham's collection of over 3,000 architecture books have influenced them, as well as showing that traditional architecture is anything but more of the same.
"We're not slavish to the style; we are slavish to doing things right. We don't feel like it's limiting—good taste is limiting," says Windham. "Every project is different based on the client. The best compliment we've been given is that if we had 20 clients at a party, you could talk to everyone and figure out each person that goes with each house."