Texas House Digs Deep To Heal Old Wounds

When does the term “green roof” end and “earth shelter” begin? A gorgeous residence in Austin, Texas, designed by the Bercy Chen Studio, certainly blurs the line between the two.

Located on an old brownfield site in a formerly industrial area, the Edgeland House is a gesture towards healing old environmental wounds and merging of modern and traditional designs. It is also a prime example of how a home can be heated and cooled efficiently simply by being closer to the earth.

Austin's Edgeland House is part bunker, part hillside, part modern residence all in one. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

Austin’s Edgeland House is part bunker, part hillside, part modern residence all in one. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

Using the ancient technique of the Native American “pit house” that is dug into the soil, Edgeland is sunk 7 feet underground, making use of the thermal properties of the earth’s mass to regulate temperature year-round. In summer, the surrounding soil stays cooler than the air and acts as a natural air conditioning, a phenomenon that is reversed in the winter to similar effect. The house also has an integrated hydronic HVAC system to aid in energy efficiency.

The backyard opens up dramatically, revealing an open-air, modernist patio and triangular pool. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

The backyard opens up dramatically, revealing an open-air, modernist patio and triangular pool. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

The thick green roof above acts as an extra layer of insulation, retaining heat in winter and blocking directs sun in the summer, while also absorbing rainwater to replenish the damaged soil. Bercy Chen worked with Avant Guardist Specialty Fabrication to create the planted-roof system, which includes a water-barrier membrane to protect the rest of the home from water damage.

View from inside the naturally lit home. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

View from inside the naturally lit home. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

The roof can support a wide range of plant species, but is geared toward native flowers and grasses that are adapted to the Texas weather patterns. For this project, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center collaborated with Bercy Chen to reintroduce more than 40 native species of plants and wildflowers on the site in an effort to ameliorate the local ecosystem.

Seen from one side, the green-roofed house looks more like a natural hill than an actual residence. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

Seen from one side, the green-roofed house looks more like a natural hill than an actual residence. Image via Bercy Chen Studio.

While one side of the house looks like an unbroken grassy hill, the rest opens up to an angular modernist backyard patio, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that let in ample natural daylight through the rest of the house. The pointed triangular forms, including an open-air pool, act as a sunken passageway that connects visitors to the manmade and natural worlds.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.

    • Cooper Carr

      That is pretty amazing. I wish more homes in Texas would be built to be adapted to Texas and abandon the traditional home style of New England.

    • bluethumb

      The insurance co.building codes requirements stiffels creative house buildings.