The Edgeland House

Built for a science fiction writer by Austin-based architects Bercy Chen, the Edgeland House has all the hallmarks of the genre: a bleak industrial past, futuristic allusions to spaceship design, and techno-primitive building techniques.

The Edgeland House

Located just outside of Austin, the house sits on a former brownfield riven by an old oil pipeline. The architects removed the pipe in an attempt to "heal the site."

The Edgeland House

They filled in the ground cavity with the body of the house. To do so, the architects looked at pit houses, pre-industrial dwellings once built by Native Americans in the area.

The Edgeland House

Sinking the houses would keep the homes thermally conditioned throughout the year. The Edgeland House was submerged seven feet into the ground.

The Edgeland House

The sprawling green roof adds nine inches of soil to the top of the structure that further insulates the house’s interiors.

The Edgeland House

"Nestling the house in the excavation and covering it with a green roof completed the site remediation,” says firm principal Thomas Bercy.

The Edgeland House

A narrow causeway splits the house into two separate zones.

The Edgeland House

The west wing of the house contains the shared family spaces like…

The Edgeland House

…the living room…

The Edgeland House

…and the open kitchen.

The Edgeland House

The east wing houses the residence’s two bedrooms and bathrooms.

The Edgeland House

The central path widens into a courtyard at the foot of a small pool.

The Edgeland House

The client inspired the architects to run with the sci-fi aesthetic. Here, the house looks like a small spacecraft, crash-landed on the mossy field.

The Edgeland House

The "smart" pool ditches the chlorine for a high-tech purification system to clean the water.

The Edgeland House

An exploded 3-D model that details every component of the house, including the green roof, the glass enclosures, the smart pool, and the buried geothermal pump.

Co.Design

A Futuristic House That Seems To Rise From The Earth

The Edgeland House sports a sci-fi design but uses Native American building methods.

Designed by architecture firm Bercy Chen for a science fiction writer and his family, the Edgeland House has everything the literary genre is made of: a gloomy industrial past, futuristic allusions riffing off ancient sensibilities, and techno-primitive building methods.

Sited just outside of Austin, Texas, on a rehabilitated brownfield, the Edgeland House is embedded in a grassy clearing. An old oil pipeline cut through the site, which the architects removed in an attempt to "heal the land" of its past pestilence and "recreate the original prairie," says co-principal Thomas Bercy. But rather than leveling the site and crowning it with an unimaginative single-family home, Bercy Chen proposed building the house in the void vacated by the pipeline. "Nestling the house in the excavation and covering it with a green roof completed the site remediation," Bercy tells Co. Design.

To strategize, they looked at building typologies that employed similar methods. The architects hit on the pit house, a pre-industrial building technique developed by Native Americans in the Southwest. Pit houses, which were among the first native dwellings in the region, were purposefully sunk in order to maintain thermal temperatures throughout the day and night—a model "well adapted to the harsh Texas climate," Bercy says.

Adapted to today’s architectural performance standards, the typology is inherently "sustainable" because it relies on passive technologies to insulate the residence. "We were interested in reinterpreting this ancient typology in the 21st century," Bercy explains. The Edgeland House, which is partially submerged along its base some seven feet in the ground, exploits all the benefits of the type and even builds off of them. The architects installed hydronic heating and a large green roof that spans the width of the house’s footprint. Both take full advantage of the land: The heating system, which loops into a buried geothermal pump, augments the structure’s thermal storage capabilities, and the roof’s extra nine inches of soil greatly increases its insulating properties.

As for the form—the "architecture"—of the house, the designers seem to be riffing off their interactions with their client, a sci-fi novelist. "The owner was very engaged with the process at the early phase of schematic design," Bercy says, adding, "It is not every day that you have discussion about Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archeology with a client." The home is characterized by folding planes and angled walls arranged on a plan that resembles a small spaceship. A narrow path splits the house in two; the bedrooms and baths occupy one side and the kitchen and living room fill the opposite. The discrete volumes, like two wings of a small spacecraft, are covered by pointed overhanging roof planes that converge like an arrow head. A small smart pool, which uses diamond electrodes instead of chlorine to clean the water, completes the allusion.

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