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Designing TreeHouse Dallas: Q&A with Lake Flato Architect Lewis McNeel

For those who know TreeHouse, the fact that our new store in Dallas is a sustainable case study for our vision of the world is not a surprise. For those who don’t know TreeHouse, allow us to introduce ourselves: Our company mission is to make homes beautiful, healthy, and sustainable. For everyone. Smart home technology and sustainable building materials have come so far that we no longer have to skip showers or build with straw bale. We can have efficient and planet-friendly homes that are beautiful, comfortable, and smart. Our new store in Dallas is a living example. Not only is it the kind of architecture you want to spend time in, it also has sustainable technologies built in so that the store is energy-positive, which means it generates more energy than it uses.

Dallas Lighting Small

Another part of the TreeHouse mission is to create community. We are not a typical retail store. We offer public classes, community events, and free project consultations, so we needed a space that can be both a great place to shop and a gathering place to learn about smart home technology and sustainable home improvement.

To guide us through the details of the store and talk about what we did and why, we talked to Lewis McNeel, our lead designer at the celebrated architecture firm Lake Flato. Lewis has built off-the-grid schools and churches in East Africa, a key resume detail that fits perfectly with Lake Flato’s track record of designing and building all manner of sustainable structures, from residential homes to museums to libraries. We asked Lewis about his job and his work on TreeHouse Dallas.

TreeHouse: In Austin, we’re familiar with Lake Flato because they’re designing the city’s new central library, but we didn’t fully appreciate how green their building philosophy was until we started working with them.

Lewis McNeel: Everything we do [at Lake Flato] is about artfully using resources. We think strategically about how to steward resources in the most elegant and valuable way that we can. It’s about seeking the embedded value in as many things as we possibly can. Plus, for all our projects we try to situate a structure in its natural surroundings in as seamless a way as possible. We hope our buildings will re-orient people with nature in some way. As an architect, this philosophy gives me a new perspective on the environment.

Dallas Staircase

TreeHouse: Seems like a good fit for TreeHouse.

Lewis McNeel: TreeHouse came to us with aspirational goals to create a net-zero energy project that is also one of the most beautiful retail experiences imaginable while embodying the philosophy of the brand. It has been a good partnership because of our shared passion for beautiful and high-performance design.

TreeHouse: Can you give us some examples of how this building will use little to zero energy to operate?

Lewis McNeel: Look no further than the roof. We incorporated a saw-tooth roof design with north facing windows to allow beautiful natural daylight to flood the store and lower electricity usage. The south facing surface of the roof then becomes ideal for solar panels. The overall form of the building is entirely generated by pragmatic desires.

Dallas Sawtooth

TreeHouse: Having lots of natural light and solar panels on the roof seem like no-brainers.

Lewis McNeel: Well yes, but the design of the roof has a lot of implications. We try to find straightforward moves like this to create a cohesive unit. I think of these buildings as finely tuned machines. All the systems are augmenting each other and working together to do different things. The roof interacts with the interior to create a beautiful retail environment.

Dallas Performance Lab

TreeHouse: We love the touches of natural wood inside and how they link to the trees outside. Can you talk about how you plan for those details?

Lewis McNeel: When we design by using resources wisely, we are also encouraging community and life. This project has an interesting site element, one single existing tree—a big red oak—that was part of the original center. We built the structure in an L-shape to wrap around this tree and define the outdoor retail space. Here the tree signifies the brand. Plus, its canopy provides a lot of shade, making this a beautiful place to be. We look for the particular local features and seek to maximize their use and focus on the qualities those features bring. The tree is an essential part of the community for TreeHouse.

Dallas Outdoor Small

TreeHouse: Our CEO Jason Ballard talks about how your East Texas project Shangri-La was one of his earliest inspirations for TreeHouse. We see some of the magic of that space in the new Dallas store.

Lewis McNeel: Shangri-La is in this beautiful natural setting that needed to be reinvigorated and rediscovered. Our facilities were designed to magnify those natural features. For the TreeHouse location, we wanted to bring the same sense of respect for beauty and refocus the population back to the importance of nature. We find it extremely important to work in all contexts like this to bring more of what we can do well into the world. We see TreeHouse doing that, as well. In fact, the Dallas store is beautiful because it’s sensitive to the environment and resources.

TreeHouse Dallas opened on June 1. We can’t wait for you to come visit us!

For more information on the store and upcoming events, head to our events page.

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