Unlike a new build, a remodel requires discovering the heart and soul of an existing building and figuring out how to accommodate it. But it also involves addition—pulling ideas from particular structural needs, your own imagination, and the context.
Kerrville-based architect Mark Eubank is doing just that for the Laity Lodge renovation project. He’s an old-school guy who prefers drafting tables and pencil drawings to computer-generated sketches, which seems fitting for someone heading up the redesign of a space intended to restore God’s people through the quiet, the simple, the intimate. Mark is an architect familiar with those important characteristics: he was on the team that designed the Cody Center in 1999 and he has contributed to many H. E. Butt Foundation projects since. We met with him to learn more about how he is approaching the Laity Lodge renovation.
How do you go about discovering the heart and soul of Laity Lodge? I know you spent a lot of time with the original plans.
It’s awesome that we have the original plans. With lots of [remodels] there aren’t original plans, so you start from less than zero, really. I’m having to put words in the former architect’s mouth, but they look to me like they were trying to give the Butts a modern building that was campy. Rustic, but was still a modern building. Clearly, somebody on the Butt side has a proclivity towards modern, because Black Bluff is a radically modern structure for the time—maybe not risky, but relatively avant-garde. They hung it off the cliff. They had 2,000 acres; they could have put it anywhere.
We don’t want to mess with the character. We don’t want the guests to come back and go, “Where’d the Lodge go?”
Some are going to say that, because it’s going to be different. But the form is going to be there, and the roofs are going to be there. That big, horizontal thing was a 60s modern era thing that we’re trying to keep. We’re going to add a lot of stone to this project that’s not there now. Relative to other buildings in the Canyon, this particular building didn’t get its share of stone. I want guests to see the old, and I want them to be confronted with the new at same time.
Philosophically, how do you approach a project like this where you have a design vocabulary, and then you’re stepping into another design vocabulary? What goes through your mind when you’re doing that?
Lots of creative people create their own alphabet, their own language for design. It’s how they speak, and that includes how you use materials and how you put the materials together and how you want materials to change. Most architects carry that language around and are looking for a way to express it. When you have a remodel project like this, it’s more about the language that is there and how can we rev it up.
We’ve talked about this building as being Plain Jane. The Waterfall patio is a world-class exterior space. It’s awesomely proportioned, and it’s beautifully detailed. The Lodge is beautiful … and the rest of it is blah. It could have been that back then the version of camp was sort of monastic, clean, simpleness. This is clean and simple at a whole new level.
For someone who has been to retreats for 20 years, what are the positive emotions you think people might experience upon entering one of these new rooms for the first time?
Right off the bat, they’ll notice they’re not just a rectangle anymore, and we’re adding almost six feet in one direction, so the rooms are bigger and the bathrooms are bigger. The bed space is completely reoriented. I think there will be an “Aha!” moment for people coming in the first time.
There’s a really large glass opening in these rooms. There are 10-foot-wide sliding glass doors in each room. That’s a big, honking piece of glass—a lot of view. Reorienting the rooms from the river side to the meadow side is significant—and there’s some risk in that. The problem is the river is just not there. If they mowed all these trees down and cleared them out so you could see it, could see the bluffs, maybe that would be worth it, but that’s not how it happened.
How does the meadow figure into your plans?
We’re going to focus on the meadow. The meadow is pretty now, but I think eventually that meadow is going to become a little more natural and maybe even prettier—more Hill Country meadow-y. That’s what I hope.
Photos by Michael A. Muller