Virginia Tech Magazine
Making an Impact
Fall 2009

During the summer of 1972, Steven House (architecture '75) explored Europe's great cities while photographing and drawing historic buildings as part of a College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) study abroad program based in Salzburg, Austria.

He found the experience to be so valuable that after he graduated and married fellow architecture student Cathi Bowden House (architecture '77), they saved half their income for 18 months to travel throughout Europe for a year. The Houses spent much of that time on the Greek island of Santorini. Steven says their experience "really crystallized our philosophy of architecture." Cathi notes, "My soul as the architect that I have become was born there."

Steven and Cathi House relax at their home in Mexico
Steven '75 and Cathi '77 House relax at their home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
More than three decades after that formative journey, Steven and Cathi run House + House, a successful architectural firm headquartered in San Francisco, while spending about a third of the year living and working in Mexico.

In 1989, Architecture magazine featured House + House in its issue on emerging talent. Since then, the firm has received more than 50 design awards, and its work has been featured in numerous national and international publications. A new book, Houses in the Sun: light movement embrace, which documents the last 10 years of the firm's work, was recently published.

Yet even at this stage of their career, Steven and Cathi still make it a point to travel abroad regularly so that they can continue to learn from other cultures and incorporate those experiences into their own projects. The Houses have also made it a point to ensure that future generations of architects can broaden their horizons through travel, and in 1998, they endowed the Steven & Cathi House Traveling Scholarship to help pay for student trips abroad.

"You learn about all these buildings through your classes," says Marisa Brown (architecture '10), who traveled in Europe last year on a House scholarship, "but to actually be there and see them, I think you get a sense of what makes them so well known."

One of Steven's classmates on the Austria trip in 1972 was Reynolds Metals Professor and CAUS Dean Jack Davis. Due to globalization, Davis says, education abroad is even more valuable now than it was back when he and Steven traveled, but the cost can be prohibitive. "It's only through gifts like those of the Houses, which help underwrite and lower those costs, that many students can study abroad," Davis says.

Paying to study abroad is one thing, but students also need a place to visit and an itinerary, and the Houses are eager to provide that as well. Two years ago they hosted a dozen students for a three-week intensive program in San Miguel de Allende, a recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Mexico, where the Houses have lived part time and worked during the past 16 years.

Along with touring the city, which was founded in the 16th century, the students sketched, built models, visited construction sites, and worked on design challenges the Houses created. The couple is currently working to establish a regular study abroad program to bring students to San Miguel de Allende from Virginia Tech and other universities. A groundbreaking ceremony recently took place for a new studio building to house the study abroad program.

 Both this room and the courtyard in the photo of the Houses above are part of their home, which they designed, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Both this room and the courtyard in the photo of the Houses above are part of their home, which they designed, in San Miguel de Allende.

The Houses have helped their alma mater in many other ways as both donors and volunteers. They are members of the university's Legacy Society, having given generously to the university through their estate plan, and their lifetime giving puts them in the Ut Prosim Society, a select group of the university's most generous supporters.

The Houses serve on the Bay Area Regional Committee for the current $1 billion Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future and chaired their region's committee in the university's previous campaign, which ended in 1998. They have also served on the CAUS Advisory Council and in 1999 were presented their college's Award for Outstanding Professional Accomplishment in Architecture.

Cathi says she and her husband feel that it's important to give back toVirginia Tech because "the longer we practice
architecture, the more we realize the true value of the education that we received."

Steven adds, "We would not be where we are today had it not been for the architectural education that we received at Virginia Tech."

Another benefit of staying involved with the university, Cathi says, is that it puts them in contact with talented graduates, some of whom wind up working at their firm. Virginia Tech's architecture programs are among the nation's highest rated, and House + House has employed about a dozen Hokies over the years.

Michael Baushke (architecture '88) began his career at House + House and now has his own firm, Apparatus Architecture. Shortly before graduating, he asked the Houses if he could meet with them. Steven and Cathi reviewed his portfolio and immediately offered him a job. "Anyone from architecture school at Tech who comes out here knows of Steven and Cathi," Baushke said. "They have a reputation [for being helpful]."
More online

Learn more about Steven and Cathi House's career and design process by visiting a slideshow at

The Houses have authored a book inspired by their travels, Mediterranean Villages: An Architectural Journey, and their work is the subject of two monographs, House + House Architects: Choreographing Space and Houses in the Sun: light movement embrace. All three books are available at

House + House's work can also been seen at the firm's website at

While the Houses do have an aesthetic, which has been called "handcrafted modernism," their designs emerge from an intensive research process. They always begin with an extensive questionnaire to help their clients find an inner voice for elements that are important but are often lost in the complex process of creating a home.

The Houses collect leaves, bark, rocks, and grasses from the site where a home will be built and use them to determine color schemes and appropriate materials. Their goal is to create a home that perfectly suits both its owner and the surrounding landscape.

Though it's been many years since they graduated and the field of architecture has changed a great deal, the Houses say they are confident that their alma mater has maintained the special character of its architecture program, which encourages students to think independently. That character was evident, Cathi said, when she and her husband hosted the students in Mexico.

"We gave the students an assignment to design two homes in the historic center on a vacant lot, but the students, in their interactions with neighborhood children, decided it would be more appropriate to design a community center. Seeing them take the initiative to change the program was very gratifying."

Molly Stedfast
Molly Stedfast enjoys the Litton-Reeves lounge funded
by her parents.
Walk into Litton-Reaves Hall during the day and it's a safe bet you'll see students studying in the first- floor lounge. After hours, one of the three dozen student groups in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is likely to be using the space. Thanks to the Hokie Parents Fund, it is a very nice space indeed.

In fiscal year 2008, an extensive renovation of the lounge was one of more than a dozen projects paid for with money from the Hokie Parents Fund, a special giving program for parents of current and former students. Thanks to thousands of Hokie parents who give to the fund, the university is able to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to initiatives that help students.

In fiscal year 2009, for example, more than $400,000 from the fund was earmarked for projects that include furnishings and displays for a planned visitor center, new furniture for library study rooms, and additional signs to remind drivers to be alert for students walking on campus.

"For 31 years, the Hokie Parents Fund has been an important resource that helps us to improve campus life and the overall quality of education for all students here at Virginia Tech," says Elizabeth "Betsy" Flanagan, vice president for development and university relations. "It's played a large role in funding projects throughout campus and has helped tens of thousands of students get more out of their time here."


Mary and Kerry Donnelly are among the many Virginia Tech parents who recently gave to the Hokie Parents Fund. "We felt like by supporting the fund we were supporting all aspects of our daughter's education," Mary says. And she's right; money from the Hokie Parents Fund is used for a host of projects to benefit students. In recent years, the fund has supported Family Day, the Hokie Parents newsletter, Common Book programs that have allowed new students to share learning experiences, and many other important initiatives. Visit to learn more.

Molly Stedfast is one such student. The senior biochemistry major is president of the CALS' Student Leadership Council, an umbrella organization for the college's various student groups. Stedfast says that she and other students were delighted when they first saw the much-improved lounge.

"When you walk in, it just looks a lot nicer than it used to," Stedfast says. "It's a pretty relaxing environment that just brings everyone's stress level down, which for a college student is very important."

The renovation did far more than make the lounge look better, however. The room now has numerous electrical outlets to allow students to work on their laptops. The furniture can be easily moved to accommodate club meetings. Overall, the space just works better for all those students who rely on it.

And, as Stedfast points out, that includes "pretty much everybody in the college."

ALBERT RABOTEAU is a writer for University Development.

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