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.