(Editor's Note: Robbie Fusch almost singlehandedly brought elegant design back to Dallas in the late 1980's. Years ago the Hal Thompson's, Charles Dilbeck's and other great architects of Dallas's history designed and built beautiful homes. Following World War II the population of Dallas exploded - and so did elegance! In the ensuing years architectural style was limited by how quickly builders could get the design off the drawing board and standing up in the neighborhood. Style and elegance suffered. Along came Fusch who travelled Europe extensively and brought some really great ideas home with him. Here is his story (and some of his work) in his own words...)
I love French architecture! After growing up in Dallas and going to school at Texas Tech, I have been practicing architecture in Dallas for over 40 years. So what caused this infatuation with French design? It all started shortly after college when my wife, Susan and I made our first trip to Europe. My English cousin Barley was getting married, and we decided the opportunity to travel in Europe was too great to pass up. The ceremony took place in southwestern England in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire. What a beautiful country! We had never seen anything as charming or heartwarming. The countryside was something we had never experienced before - the picturesque villages stole my heart! Susan and I fell in love with the timeless beauty of Europe. We experienced wonderful visits to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and of course France. All of these countries are so beautiful! To me, the common threads of Europe's charm are the age and history, and the worn elegance and patina of all the villages, buildings, cottages and gardens.
I love Texas, but in comparison this was not Europe! After spending five years in Lubbock trying to learn about beauty in architecture, little inspiration could be found - except in books! Back in Dallas, everything was so shiny and new. If it is old we tear it down and build something new. I started my own architecture firm in 1976 during the best business market anyone could ever ask for. There was tremendous growth in the area. We have enjoyed many more ups and downs in what seems to have been an endless boom cycle for the last four decades. This has been wonderful for business but terrible for good architectural design. Homes have been designed too quickly, slapped together and sold to eager buyers who knew no better. There were 50,000 people moving into the Dallas area each year that needed housing. Sadly the consequence, for the most part, was cookie cutter plans with ugly facades. We called them "plan shop builder homes" and still do. Consider me guilty of taking advantage of the prosperity of the seventies and eighties that has allowed us to develop and produce many charming, authentic French and English designs. To their credit our wonderful clients have allowed us to rigorously pursue authentic European designs.
What really focused us on France and French architecture was a trip with a client to purchase antique fireplaces. She needed ten mantles for her new French Chateau that we were designing in Dallas. With the size of the project, my client was very focused on the design of her home. She wanted it to have authenticity and a sense that her home was seemingly plucked out of France and placed in Dallas. Previously we had done plenty of "French designs" for other clients but this time I did not feel comfortable with my grasp of authentic French architecture. Nothing like needing to become an expert in a hurry, especially when your client already thinks you are one! On that trip and every subsequent trip, I was careful to observe and study the styles of different regions, and the materials and the different construction techniques used throughout the centuries. It helped me to see the cause and effect of construction and how, over time, emerging technologies impacted building capabilities and architectural style.
Until about a century ago it was very costly and difficult to import building materials from long distances. There were no highways or trucks to supply artisans with products from far away. Naturally, builders used what was readily available, sometimes even reusing salvaged parts of old buildings. Whole villages were built out of the same stone, in the same architectural style, so in seeing the village you experience a very natural, subtle and unified appearance. We call this the "Local Vernacular." For example, steep slate roofs are common in the north of France because of the readily available slate common to the area that will have to carry an abundance of snow. Conversely, shallow clay barrel-tile roofs are prevalent in the south where they simply need to shed water and provide a nice shady overhang. In different regions you will see houses made of brick. Other regions have homes made of stone. Field stone was used in farming regions because, for their crops to properly grow, the farmers would clear their fields of rock and use the stone to build a barn or house. In other areas where soil, sand, and clay were the only materials available the people made clay bricks for their homes. Differences in region, time period, function, and wealth have produced numerous styles all that can be called French. Naturally these observations have compelled me to focus on how we should use materials in a historically authentic way.
Just like the numerous adventures we have experienced throughout Europe, design and construction here in Dallas has also been a journey. New and varying materials and styles challenge us to blend architectural designs of old with what the market is demanding. I like the challenge - I've always liked the challenge! It's what caused me to bring great architectural design to a city that I love!