A client once gave Tim Cuppett a quote, painted on a rock, from the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope that states: “Consult the genius of the place.” To Cuppett, those aren’t just pretty words but the defining philosophy behind his work.
Cuppett, founder of the firm Tim Cuppett Architects, knew by the second grade that he wanted to be an architect. At a time when some of his classmates didn’t even know the definition of the word, Cuppett was drawing and, later on, making models.
While he initially worked at Page Southerland Page doing commercial design work, Cuppett’s real passion has always been for residential architecture. Now, with his own firm, his clients are almost solely residential. Cuppett also enjoys designing furniture and will occa- sionally design pieces for the homes he works on.
“I love the scale of residential work. There’s more passion in it,” Cuppett said. “Corporate work is so often all about the dollar. Residential work is often about efficiency too, but there’s more feeling in it.”
For Cuppett, architecture is about defining space, as opposed to creating a sculpture.
“I see architecture as…the drama that comes from different volumes of space, from large and small, light and dark. That’s what intrigues me,” Cuppett said. “Sometimes I see a house that’s a façade, with rooms inside it. That’s not how I work.”
When he starts designing a home, Cuppett said he tends to think from the inside out—arranging rooms to maximize their relationship with the site, the views and natural light. Reflecting on the Pope quote, Cuppett said when he starts a project he tries to open his mind to the site and ask what its unique features are.
“If you open your mind, it tells you that,” he said.
One of his favorite examples of this process in his work is 811 Congress Avenue, a historic building in the middle of a business district that the owner wanted to convert into a residence. The challenge was a space only 21 feet wide and 151 feet deep, and with a dearth of natural light. Cuppett decided to accentuate, not fight, the building’s bones.
The solution to the space and light issue was to slice the building with a staircase, at the top of which is a rooftop pool with skylights on the pool floor. Light filters down the house from above.
While Cuppett has done most of his work in Austin, he loves to travel and encourages aspiring architects to travel as much as possible. Travel, he said, reinspires, reinvigorates and adds experience to one’s vocabulary. For Cuppett, one place that stood out and helped him think of space in new ways is the town of Taormina in Sicily.
“It’s built into the side of a cliff, so on every street you’re looking up and down, there are streets higher and lower, and you feel this experience of vertical space. You could feel that third dimension more than in other places,” Cuppett said.