From the street this house has an unassuming appearnace, its low volumes converging towards the driveway. Yet a water feature, a large scupper extending from the garage, hints at the rest of the house’s delights. From the front, the two bars split to create an intimate open space while opening up to the landscape beyond. Bercy Chen Architects answered some questions about their design of the Cascading House.
View of rainwater-collecting roof from street entry
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
We received the commission through the interior designer with whom we had completed a previous project for the owners.
View of courtyard from living room
Can you describe your design process for the building?
Cascading Creek House was conceived less as a house and more as an extension and outgrowth of the limestone and aquifers of Central Texas. The primary formal gesture of the project inserts two long native limestone walls to the sloping site, serving as spines for the public wing and private wing of the house. The walls and the wings they delineate shelter a domesticated landscape that serves as an extended living space oriented towards the creek below and protected from the torrents of water draining from the street above during sudden downpours characteristic of the area. The siting of the boundary walls and building elements was informed by the presence and preservation of three mature native oaks.
View of public wing from courtyard
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?
As far as sustainability, this was really the first project where we were able to incorporate all of our systems that we had been working on for some time. All the systems are really working in unison and the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts.
Elevation and details sketch
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
The building relates to contemporary architectural trends through its integration of sustainable features, in a combination of time-tested vernacular wisdom and cutting-edge high technology. The roof structure is configured so as to create a natural basin for the collection of rainwater, not unlike the vernal pools found in the outcroppings of the Texas Hill Country. These basins harness additional natural flows through the use of photovoltaic and solar hot-water panels. The water, electricity and heat which are harvested on the roof tie into an extensive climate conditioning system which utilizes water source heat pumps and radiant loops to supply both the heating and cooling for the residence. The climate system is connected to geothermal ground loops as well as pools and water features thereby establishing a system of heat exchange which minimizes reliance on electricity or gas.
Beyond the technological, the form and siting of the house subtly addresses the social issues of American suburbia. That the roof of the house sits below grade at street entrance offers a critical alternative to the stereotypical “McMansions” of the surrounding neighborhood. In contrast to the unassuming face towards the street, the residence presents itself generously towards the wilderness below, embracing nature without overwhelming it.
Are there any new/upcoming projects in your office that this building’s design and construction has influenced?
Currently under construction is the Red Bluff Residence, our futuristically sustainable reinterpretation of the North American vernacular pit house. Much of the sustainable technology developed and explored at the Cascading Creek House are being applied and further investigated at Red Bluff. Superficially, the acute and obtuse angular formal language of Red Bluff seems to be a departure from the orthogonal rigor of Cascading Creek, but the house continues the theme of examining through spatial form and tectonics the role of architecture as mediator between human interaction and nature. As in Cascading Creek, Red Bluff presents an unassuming “facade” towards the street, quite literally burying the architecture under landscape. The cantilevering roofs of Cascading Creek towards the hill country below are echoed at Red Bluff by the cantilevered shards of greenery pointing towards the bend of the Colorado River downhill of the wooded site.
E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill
Precedents and sustainable features diagram