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The Toast of the Town

Here’s to 35 more years for Dick Clark, the architect who showed Austin how much fun architecture can be.

A 4,000-square-foot second home on Lake LBJ uses corner windows to capture the full impact of the lake.

Austin architect Dick Clark has reason to celebrate. Not that the bon vivant, man about town and local starchitect isn’t always ready to celebrate, but 2014 marked Dick Clark + Associates’ 35th anniversary. Clark made his mark in Austin with his robust version of Texas-centric modernism, jump-started in the public’s psyche by the visionary’s edgy contemporary restaurant designs. Kenichi, Mezzaluna, the Granite Cafe, Fino and Star Bar electrified the local dining scene in the ’90s and early 2000s, turning eateries and watering holes into destinations to see and be seen.

Thirty-five years ago, though, was not an auspicious time to start a company: 1980 was the first year of a long period when oil prices dropped to all-time lows—a bad time in Texas for building. But Clark has never done things exactly when—or like—they were supposed to be done. The Dallas native grew up in Highland Park, a mecca of beautiful neighborhoods full of houses based on Mediterranean, Georgian and Tudor ideals. These lovely residences also defined what the young Clark couldn’t wait to get away from. “I hate traditional,” he says, not mincing his words at all.

The architect has his reasons: “Those styles are copies of stuff from the 14th century, and they don’t fit the Texas environment.” Clark is passionate about the topic—a good thing, because resistance was hefty at first. “No one was interested in contemporary houses. I had to call it ‘Hill Country contemporary,’” he says about his well-sited dwellings built from native materials and protected from sun and rain by big overhangs. But Clark is persistent. When outsiders discovered Austin in the last decade, they brought their worldly sensibilities with them, and the architect benefited: “I had an audience for my work.”

Clark’s work requires an attentive audience because there’s just so much to consider. It ranges from condos, ranch and urban houses, spec houses and commercial projects to philanthropic efforts such as the Rainwater Court in Kenya, a multipurpose basketball court with an integrated rainwater collection system and solar power. “I feel very fortunate that now I can afford to do this kind of work,” says Clark. Closer to home he continues to push the envelope with site-specific architecture that manages to pair the no-nonsense with the beautiful. A stucco, glass and poured-in-place concrete ranch house on a prairie outside Brownwood is a good example, as is a price-busting spec house in West Lake Hills minutes from downtown Austin that stunned realtors who predicted it wouldn’t sell for more than a staggering $700 a square foot (it listed for more than $1,000 a square foot and was under contract in two weeks). Clark, it seems, thrives on challenge. You could even say he celebrates it, which is one of the reasons the architect is still around after all these years. 

“No one was interested in contemporary houses. I had to call it ‘Hill Country contemporary,’” says Dick Clark.