Chase Daniel courtesy Mark Odom Studio

On a heavily wooded property in Austin, Texas, local architecture firm Mark Odom Studio, along with developer Little City Development and builder Acero Construction, subdivided a 1-acre single-family home site into four lots, each with a two-story duplex.

Unlike most duplex scenarios, the project team could not duplicate the layout of the units because of the property’s established live oak trees. With more than a dozen heritage trees on the property, the architects had to configure each unit floor plan, ranging in size from 1,550 square feet to 2,200 square feet, around the existing trees and their canopies.

“It would be fairly typical to create the same units four times, but this was not the case, due to all the landscape and the trees,” says Mark Odom, founding principal at the firm. “We played a puzzle game in terms of how close the units were to the trees, what the views would be, and how we would disturb the earth.”

Chase Daniel courtesy Mark Odom Studio

The recently completed residences, dubbed “modern treehouse units,” were planned around the property’s trees to preserve their beauty and shading aspects while also meeting local building regulations. The team was challenged not only to construct the two- or three-bedroom homes around the existing tree footprints, but also to create desirable views of the landscaped site and eliminate significant impact to the surrounding trees.

“We believe that architecture should complement the site by celebrating its surrounding and contextual amenities, such as topography, trees, and views,” says Odom. “Existing trees were used not only as focal points for each building but also for various interior rooms, nestling each structure around the patterned landscape.”

In Austin, like many cities, there are regulations to protect established trees. According to the City of Austin website, a protected size tree is determined by measuring the tree trunk at 4.5 feet above the ground, commonly known as DBH—diameter at breast height. Trees within city limits are protected and become heritage trees once they reach 19 inches in diameter, or roughly 60 inches in circumference.

After determining how to site the homes between the trees, the team had to be creative with foundation planning in order to preserve the trees’ root systems. By utilizing small first-floor footprints and cantilevering parts of the second floors, they minimized the impact to the ground and gained additional square footage upstairs.

A shared driveway at the back of the property leads to two parking spots for each unit. This way, cars don’t compromise the landscape and the built environment around it, says Odom.

Connection to the Outdoors
To make each unit feel like a treehouse, Odom and his team brought the leafy scenery inside by utilizing large window openings and glass doors that capture ample views of the tree canopies. Large, covered balconies off the master bedrooms and second-floor living spaces also give homeowners the opportunity to feel they are living among the trees.

Chase Daniel courtesy Mark Odom Studio

Inside, clean lines, white finishes, and black accents provide a modern feel. All four buildings use a common palette of materials, but display their own unique differences in layout and use. Some unit highlights include white quartz waterfall counters, polished concrete ground floors, oak hardwood flooring, large black-framed windows, and contemporary lighting fixtures.

Odom enlisted the help of local companies for several of the materials used throughout the project, including the steel stair railings from a nearby welder and the tile used in floor-to-ceiling bathroom applications from local manufacturer Clay Imports.

Chase Daniel courtesy Mark Odom Studio

“We like to have some variation and individuality per unit,” says Odom. “But we tried to keep it natural and focused a lot of the energy toward the outside.”

Privacy was carefully planned so residents can enjoy the interior and exterior of their home without interruption. In addition to the private balconies, each home has a fenced-in yard with gravel. But if owners choose to wander beyond their unit, the shared drive also promotes social engagement among neighbors.

Chase Daniel courtesy Mark Odom Studio

Front exterior doors add a pop of color, with each of the eight doors boasting its own bright color in contrast with the neutral white and gray siding. The units are topped with durable 24-gauge, double-lock, standing-seam metal roofs, which will help prevent the nearby foliage from falling and adhering to the unique rooflines.

“We took our time designing these. The owners were very much engaged and the builder really cared about the project,” Odom says. “We respected the context and how one should value the natural amenities that were on the site.”

Project Details
Location: Austin, Texas
Architect/Interior Designer/Landscape: Mark Odom Studio
Builder: Acero Construction
Developer: Little City Development
Structural Engineer: MJ Structures
House Size: 1,550 to 2,200 square feet
Site Size: 1 acre
Sales Price: Starting at $599,000