Bryker Woods is more than a neighborhood convenient to downtown with good schools. It is a neighborhood recognized on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior for its historic significance. While most homes in Bryker Woods are not noted for their singular architectural contribution, there is a delightful commonality that combines to create an attractive, vibrant neighborhood. It is no coincidence that many find Bryker Woods a charming neighborhood. Aspects that can be attributed to this perception are invariably associated with qualities that foster a connection with community. Some of these common features are:
- modest scale of home
- inviting front porches
- open front yards (no privacy fencing/walls)
- garages placed in back of the home
- large mature trees
COMMUNITY: Walkable streets, open front yards, front porches and cars in back seemed ideal to the pre-war planners and builders of Bryker Woods. In some ways, they were harkening back to the village of Williamsburg, Virginia where people, not cars dominated the streets. Unfortunately, changes in automobile use have changed the aesthetic patterns of the original Bryker Woods — but not the spirit. This spirit of community still thrives today as residents show their support for a small local school, slow streets, and neighborhood gatherings such as the Fourth of July Parade and the National Night Out.
SCALE: Most original homes in Bryker Woods are similar in size and height on similar sized lots. While originally economically driven, that size and scale are protected and valued today by a number of City development guidelines including the so-called McMansion ordinance. There is attractiveness to the scale of Bryker Woods and homebuyers are drawn to it. Speculators are not.
SHAPE: Most homes in our neighborhood have roofs that are pyramidal (hipped) or gabled (long central ridge). Often, the underlying geometry is delightfully masked by the asymmetrical inclusion of dormers. This architecture of similarity layered with years of personalization reflects the mindset of our residents as much as it does the building trends of our city. Many neighborhoods’ homes are removed and rebuilt, but Bryker Woods houses tend to be reused and adapted.
MATERIALS: Most of the homes in Bryker Woods are wood construction with brick or wood drop-siding exterior walls. The windows are mostly wood double hung with Neo- Colonial division of “six pane over six panes” or “eight over eight”. Most windows are set symmetrically in the center of walls on front facades with looser organization along the sides. Most Bryker Woods homes are pier and beam, giving them a slight elevation from the street. Today, well done additions, remodels and new construction tend to have that same sense of materiality.
DETAILS: Most home in Bryker Woods are modest, but there is a tradition of adding detail and accentuation around the front doorway. While windows and cornices are well trimmed, there is very little excessive or unique ornamentation on other parts of the house. It is the front door, the most welcoming part of the house, where residents show their personality.
Additions to homes in Bryker Woods
The National Register of Historic Places lists over a dozen different historical styles in the Old West Austin Historic District ( Colonial revival, Cottage style and Bungalow among others). So how can an addition add to the historical context of Bryker Woods given all of the possible stylistic variations in neighborhhood ? Begin by looking carefully at your house and your street. What are the parts you like best? What are the elements that tie your house to the neighborhood. These commonalities provide strong cues for any addition.
Homes in Bryker Woods express a desired sense of community. Front porches and walks appear friendly to the street as well as providing needed sunshade for the house. Elimination or undersizing of front porches erodes the original spirit of the place. Open yard setbacks and landscaped buffers represented a healthy way to live when Bryker Woods was platted and still does today. Excessive encroachment and lack of replanting after an addition disrupts the neighborhood fabric. Additionally, changes in the ways cars are kept (as well as the number of cars per household) challenge the original goal of walkable streets. Unlike Hyde Park, Bryker Woods was platted without alleys but still emphasized keeping cars behind the house. Today’s auto needs are much different but remodels and additions that can honor the original patterns are a great benefit to our neighborhood.
Houses in Bryker Woods are mostly equally sized and scaled. While adding on will obviously increase the homes size, the scale and proportion of original does not need to be abandoned in the transformation. Window patterns, dimensions of exterior siding and trim details do not need to be lost as a home changes. There are wonderful hand-craftsmen still working in Austin today. Computers make replicating old trim easier than ever. Roof materials give scale to our homes and there are many cost effective choices to consider. Synthetic siding and other green building materials are becoming available in wider varieties that allow the new to blend with the original sympathetically.
Every construction project should begin with anopen ended question, “Why build here ?” Most residents were initially drawn to Bryker Woods because of the trees, the walkable streets and the similarly scaled houses and yards. These are the same reasons most give when asked about adding on. Additions in Bryker Woods should try to continue these traditions. Every remodel has opportunities to add to the fabric of Bryker Woods while not taking from the traditions that brought us here. Seek those opportunities.