Perspective | David Lake

In his own words, David Lake, Partner, Lake | Flato Architects

1950 Austin Population: 250,000

Growing up in Austin was a blast! I was born at St. David's Hospital in 1951, and our raucous family of six lived in a neighborhood east of Balcones Drive. Camp Mabry—untamed and unfenced—was our backyard. My friend Reed and I traversed Austin on our bikes, back when anything north of 45th Street was wilderness and MoPac was a dusty rail line. Summers passed slowly. Our daily routine revolved around being in, on, and around water. Whole days were spent sailing on Lake Austin and swimming at Barton Springs or Deep Eddy. At night, we chased fireflies, were serenaded by cicadas, and marveled at the heat lightning's false promise of rain.

1960 Austin Population: 300,000

I loved being outdoors, but I also loved building things. My brothers and I spent endless hours exploring Mount Bonnell's crystal caves, constructing tree houses, and digging out forts on the vacant lots next door. In 1962, I was a Capitol Page, running handwritten messages between the House and the Senate, where I was awed by the building's spatial expanse and fascinated by the presence of the Texas star upon everything from doorknobs to cuff links, and, of course, by the Capitol dome itself.

1975 Austin Population: 420,000

Being away for a couple of years made me miss Austin's swimming holes and waterways, so I quickly returned to attend University of Texas School of Architecture to pursue my nascent interest in the building arts. I graduated in 1976, and that year I had the privilege of serving on the Austin Bicentennial Committee, led by urban planning visionary Sinclair Black. Our committee recommended that a comprehensive plan be adopted to "preserve, restore, and enhance the creeks of Austin . . . to create a city of greenbelts." Under the guidance of councilman Lowell Lebermann, the city adopted our plan to expand Shoal Creek's hike-and-bike trail to Lady Bird Lake, and develop similar trails and open space on Blunn, Waller, and Barton Creeks to the Colorado River. Later followed the completion of linear parks on Austin's remaining creeks that flow into the Colorado. These scenic corridors continue to define the city of Austin, serving as living proof that thoughtful urban design creates lasting civic value.

In 1979, I moved to San Antonio to work for my mentor, O'Neil Ford, whose refrain was, "Keep it simple . . . Nothing beats a screened porch—except a beautiful shade tree." It was there that I met my future collaborator, Ted Flato, and in 1984 we struck out and formed Lake | Flato Architects. Our first projects were mostly ranch houses, to which we brought a shared belief that a building should respond to the culture and climate of its natural surroundings. Thirty years later, our design process is still grounded in these principles, augmented by our desire to balance the art of architecture with the science of engineering and conversation.

Lake | Flato has grown from its modest roots to a firm of 80 people, with clients throughout the United States and beyond. The consistent thread in our work is striving to shape each building with the least impact on our natural environment. The threat of global warming to all species has made our efforts more urgent. Our integrated design process includes engineers, users, and owners, creating buildings that seek to minimize energy use and curb habitat loss through sustainable resource specification.

In the past decade, Lake | Flato has focused on designing mixed-use districts that strengthen cities by sensitivity in filling underutilized vacant land with more dense, animated, and authentic places to live, shop, and work—which brings me back to my hometown, Austin.

2000 Austin Population: 1,250,000

As an Austin native and part-time resident, I share a concern that by growing too quickly, Austin will compromise its connection to the natural realm. Sprawl and traffic threaten our health and place the Hill Country under siege. Both Sinclair Black and UT Architecture dean Fritz Steiner agree on a comprehensive plan that features a well-connected public transportation system including light rail to concentrate Austin's growth and safe pedestrian and bike systems, all supported and unified by a green infrastructure.

2025 Austin Population: 2,700,000 (Expected)

Smart, sustainable planning will determine how Austin grows. As someone once said, the first generation plants the trees and the second enjoys the shade. Let's plant the strategies that will make Austin . . . the "outdoor capital of the world"!!!


Hotel San Jose pays tribute to the creative through its transformation from a 1930s motor hotel into a stylish and forward-looking destination. A lush inner courtyard creates communal outdoor spaces that provide social and cultural significance, serving as a surprisingly quiet retreat from Austin's busy main street.


The Austin Central Library, in collaboration with Shepley Bulfinch of Boston, is designed to be one of the most sustainable libraries in the country. Charging stations for electric cars, a 150-bike corral, and direct links to multi-use paths that run along the river encourage visitors to use alternative transportation. A green roof overlooking Lady Bird Lake and large screened reading porches welcome visitors to outdoor spaces, while maximum daylight floods the structure's interior.


A screened boathouse pavilion captures views of Lake Austin and catches the breeze from the lake to provide year-long use.


The Pearl Brewery redevelopment in downtown San Antonio serves as a model of downtown transformation. The historic brewery's identity is preserved, while a derelict urban district is revitalized.


An exploration of balance is represented in our design of the synagogue for the Austin Congregation Agudas Achim. The design harks back to the forms of the very first synagogues—nomadic tents re-interpreted into a silent, sacred space filled with light, but grounded solidly in the earth.


Photography by Bill Sallans

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