Driving past the Humanities Texas building in Austin on 15th and Rio Grande lately, you may have noticed holes in our walls or the shiny, silver panels that now cover those holes. Inside the building, walls are missing rectangular chunks, exposing drywall, cement, beams, and bricks. In short, our building is riddled with holes—and we couldn't be more excited.
Those holes are the first step in the restoration of our building, the Byrne-Reed House. Built more than a century ago, the Byrne-Reed House was a home until the mid-twentieth century, when walls and acoustic ceilings were added inside to create office space. The house was entombed in its current stucco façade thirty years ago. But while many new additions were made, little of the building was actually demolished. Beneath the stucco, plaster, and drywall, the Byrne-Reed House still stands, and through exploratory demolition, we have brought to light original features that had been covered for decades.
Exploratory, or selective, demolition involves cutting holes in the inner and outer walls of the building to see what remains of the original architectural elements underneath. Architects from ClaytonLevyLittle examined old photos and blueprints of the building, which indicated areas that might hide original structures, such as fireplaces, or decorative detailing, such as cornice patterns.
On the outside of the building, selective demolition confirmed that the original brickwork remains largely intact beneath the stucco overlay. While the brick will need to be restored in many places, much of it appears to be in good condition.
Two other holes in the stucco on different sides of the house reveal the original cornice, which runs in a band around the top of the building, with its ornate detail largely intact.
Inside the building, the entry arch to the east porch appears to be undamaged. Selective demolition has exposed the original brickwork of the arch.
In what is currently our reception area, peeling back the carpet and carpet padding reveals the original black and white foyer tile beneath. The architects believe the tile may be encaustic tile, a ceramic tile where the color variation is due to clay color rather than glazing.
The firebox and masonry of the living room fireplace have been discovered. At the base of the fireplace, a white marble hearth and wood floor can be seen. The wood floor appears to be in serviceable condition.
Another fireplace was found largely intact on the second floor. At the base of the fireplace, a green marble hearth and wood floor have been revealed.
The master fireplace, also on the second floor, was discovered under multiple layers of wood paneling applied over built-in bookcases. Behind the bookcases, the original, unpainted chimney brick was found.
Selective demolition has also led to the discovery of a window on the west side of the building and detail work on the original ceiling. The architects also explored areas of the building that best showed how the stucco façade and interior additions were constructed and attached to the building. This knowledge will allow the architects to remove the later additions with the least possible impact to the original structure when the restoration begins in earnest. For now, we are excited to learn more and more details of the hidden treasure where we work. Each new discovery paints a more complete picture of how the Byrne-Reed House will look once restored. To learn more about the Byrne-Reed House, visit its page on our website.