Al Komatsu We call on a midcentury master, founder of an eponymous Fort Worth architectural firm, for a chat about good fences and decades of great design. In 1958, a young Fort Worth architect designed a modern, 3,400-square-foot house in the Tanglewood neighborhood and surrounded it with a custom fence. Today, in the deep shade of towering old trees, the house looks carved into its corner spot, one of those graceful, low-slung midcenturies that seems to have melded organically with its lot. Current owners Teel and Monty Lunsford fell madly in love with the place in no small part because of the eye-catching fence. This year, when a fallen tree destroyed part of it, they contacted Komatsu Architecture, whose founder, Al Komatsu, designed the house and fence, to have it rebuilt. At age 91, Komatsu is retired, but his firm, now run by son Karl Komatsu, remains one of Fort Worth’s most notable. Over two generations, Komatsu Architecture has restored numerous historic Texas courthouses and designed civic and education buildings from Flower Mound’s Public Library and Fort Worth’s Fire Station No. 8 on Rosedale to Moncrief Hall at TCU. This legacy, along with the Lunsfords’ passion for their historic gem, inspired us to visit with Al at the Komatsu headquarters, where he’s still a regular, engaged presence. He kept us waiting a moment or two — he had just dashed out to renew his driver’s license. — Marilyn Bailey 817 Home It was almost 60 years ago, but do you recall a house you designed in Tanglewood with the distinctive architectural fence that so captivated the current homeowners decades later? Al Komatsu I remember designing two houses in that area, one that I designed for a doctor and one for a businessman, who died quite young. I remember that he had some pretty unique requirements. But don’t ask me what it looks like, because I designed dozens and dozens. We put a lot of fences on our residences, and each one was different. 817 Does a great fence make what’s behind it more alluring — like an invitation, almost? AK Indeed, it enhances the total design. You try to design every aspect of the house, whether it’s the fence or the landscaping or the walks. Everything has to blend into a whole. The fence gives a privacy that the homeowners want — most of them want complete privacy — but, secondly, I feel that everything is a part of the design and I think it has to complement the residence. In other words, the worst thing is a fence that contradicts your intent or the quality of design. It has to be assimilated into the home design. And you have to regard the neighbors, too — you’re hoping that it complements the neighborhood. 817 Can you talk a bit about resonances between this kind of midcentury residential design and Japanese design? AK It’s interesting you speak of that, because not too far away from there two people asked me to design homes with a strong Japanese influence. Both of them wanted a visitor who visited their home to get a strong impression of Japanese influence. 817 What are some elements that do that? AK The roof — it has to have sort of a sweeping roof that is characteristic of Japanese roof design. And the fence, as you’re talking about. The gates have to have the traditional Japanese look, and what we call the fenestration, the windows, have to have a certain proportion. The treatment of the entryway, especially. 817 That brings us to the Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where you designed the spectacular entrance gate. AK We did about 90 percent of the structures there, actually. We did the teahouse, the pavilion — everything, practically, except the shop. For instance, we did the pagoda. It was city employees who built these things there because they were trying to economize. I would oftentimes design an element, like the pagoda, and they would say, “We can’t build that.” Sometimes, as with the pagoda, I had to redesign something three times before they said they could build it. 817 Tell us about your gate — the portal to what may be Fort Worth’s most beautiful spot. AK It was a very interesting project because we studied a number of gates in Japan. I had visited Japan a number of times because I was in the Korean War, and about every three weeks I would get a pass to visit Japan for a couple of days. I used to visit my sister-in-law in Kyoto, and she took me around. Kyoto is the place to see old Japan, because MacArthur spared that from being bombed, so everything is practically untouched there by World War II. I made many tours getting familiarized with different approaches to temples, homes, gardens — and gates. I saw a lot of gates. This one is not an adaptation of any particular gate. We wanted something that was not an identical copy but something that captures the spirit of the Japanese gate. It is a gate of its own. 817 Do you ever regret not doing more residential design? AK In the early years, I did a lot of houses in El Paso, Odessa and Fort Worth, particularly in that area you’re talking about and in Westover Hills and Ridglea. Those were the years before I got into a lot of commercial work. I kind of abandoned the residential work, and one reason was that I was getting a lot of calls on Sunday saying, “I changed the plumbing from silver to gold,” or something, and so I went into commercial work because people would only call during the business week. THE DETAILS Komatsu Architecture The firm founded by Al Komatsu is now run by his son, Karl Komatsu. Services include architectural and interior design, programming, historic preservation and master planning. 3880 Hulen St., Suite 300, Fort Worth, 817-332-1914, komatsu-inc.com Scott Tucker Construction 908 S. Sylvania Ave., Fort Worth, 817-332-9008, scotttuckerconstruction.com
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