Austin House/ 20 Elm Street
Designed by Alex Cvijanovic of Walter Gropius’ The Architects Collaborative (TAC) of Cambridge, MA, this modern house is nestled in the woods adjacent to the fields surrounding the Observatory.
The design includes large windows to bring in daylight, and emphasizes natural wood finishes inside and out. Exterior walls are vertical red cedar, while ceilings and other interior surfaces are cedar decking. Water from the flat roof drips slowly into a pebbled area outside the dining room window. This dripping waterfall can last for days after a rainstorm, and reveals an Oriental influence, which was repeated in some of the family’s collections of antiques and artwork.
The Austin House received the Architectural Record Award of Excellence for House Design in 1961, which included an article about and photos of the structure in its publication of that year.
Holcombe Austin, Professor of Philosophy from 1941 to 1972 (emeritus, 1972-2003), built this house in 1961, when his family’s faculty house was moved to make way for Watson Fine Art Center.
Professor Austin’s academic interests were aesthetics and trees. The situation of his Modernist house evokes the first, and his creation of the Wheaton Tree Walk reminds us of his great love of trees and the outdoor “rooms” that can be created by landscaping. Many of the younger specimen trees on campus were grown on the grounds of the Austin House.
Both Professor Austin and his wife Ethelind, a Wheaton library employee for many years, were famous on campus for their bike-riding and love of travel.