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Iss. 94


MATERIAL SOURCEBOOK 172 Pages Featuring Innovative Projects Architects’ Advice on Wood, Concrete, and More An Exploration of Building Modern


Atop a Cliff in Austin, TX, this innovative home is as unique and alive as the owner inside.

EARTH MOVERS A team of architects battles against the toughest site.

WOOD DRIFT Renovating a longtime dream house on the Atlantic Ocean.

BACK IN BLACK Charred wood surprises in its aesthetic and practical use.


Display until June 23, 2014

Text by Mitchell Alan Parker Photos by Dave Mead


Built on a cliff top in Austin by Architect Thomas Berry for lawyer Chris Brown this house and its grass covered roof are nearly invisible amongst the marsh.



Living on the Edge A home as alive as its residents.

On Austin’s outskirts, where urban, industrial, and rural styles collide, lawyer and science-fiction author Chris Brown’s bunker style home redefines modern city living. When Chris Brown needs to think, he grabs his canoe. For the past decade, Brown, a lawyer by day, sciencefiction writer by night, has found peace paddling down a stretch of the Colorado River that snakes through Austin. The Zen-like effect comes not only from the swooping egrets, ospreys, and herons that patrol the waterway but also from the geographic history of the area – an industrialmeets-urban edge land once home to the city dump, the cattle-driving Chisholm Trail, and a B-52 bomber base.

As a completely open space, the kitchen and living room are perfect for relaxing or entertaining.

“I found it to be a pretty transcendent experience that changed the way I think.One afternoon, while searching for more access points to the river, Brown discovered a path that led down to hundreds of cliff swallows and their mud nests under a highway bridge that spanned the water. He became hooked on the idea of building a house that interpreted the intersection of animal habitat and industrial wasteland. “Something about that idea of wild nature adapted to the structure moved me,” he says. So in 2009, newly divorced and living in a downtown Austin apartment, brown bought an empty log on a bluff adjacent to the Colorado. If he wanted a piece of gritty history, he now had it. Unfortunately it came with heaps of concrete, rebar, and debris that had been dumped by construction crews and a decommissioned oil pipeline from the 1920’s wending through the ground beneath the property. It would take a fleet of bulldozers to lift up the pieces of deterierated rubble and steel. As a lawyer this would be the perfect task. “It’s the type of project only a lawyer would do,” Brown says of the mind-draining task of working with a global oil company and the city of Austin’s’ permitting arm to

remove the pipeline, lift the easement, retain liability, and do testing to confirm the ground was clean. But there was a silver lining. Because digging up the pipeline created a massive hole, architect Thomas Bercy, proposed partially burying the house. He envisioned a modern design that nodded to the construction of ancient pit houses-mud-and-grass huts half-buried in the earth by the Plains Indians who once inhabited the area. “We had a hunch that, because of his sci-fi writing and background, Chris would want something more forwardlooking,” says Bercy.

Furnishings in the space are of two categories; “Stuff we had before we moved here and white cabinetry from Ikea,” Brown says. He didn’t want any wood in the house







Bercy updated the idea with a concrete foundation, a structural steel frame, and glass walls that look toward a right that divides the house into two parts. One side contains the kitchen, dining, and living room spaces, while the other side contains two bedrooms and a writer’s loft. Brown shares the space with his girlfriend, Augustina Rodriquez, an architect and designer, and his 18 year old son, Hugo Nakashima-Brown.

Edgeland House Floor Plan A B C D E F G H

Entrance Walkway Bathroom (2) Kitchen Living Room Patio Area Bedroom (2) Mechanical Room Smart Pool

With a fully illuminated deck, you can enjoy the outdoors no matter what time it is.


Chris and his dog portage the canoe to the nearby river where Chris goes out for a paddle multiple times a week: weather permitting.

...As a constant reminder of where everything began, those cliff swallows from the nearby bridge arrive at dusk and dawn every day....

The section diagrams below really help to show how nearly half of the house is underground level.

Exploded Axiometric



GLASS as a matter of personal preference, but some did make its way inside in the form of modern backless stools by local furniture builder Ryan Anderson. The Stools provide seating for a large custom, bent-steel counter surface in the kitchen.

way of healing the sites industrial past,” says Bercy. “The green roof became about restoring the prairie, which created this whole ecosystem. So now the house is alive.”

The forward-thinking approach paid off in efficiency, too; Nine inches of soil work wonders on reducing Not that anyone passing by would notice any of this. energy bills, especially when coupled with radiant cooling Few people even realize there’s a house there at all: Tucked and heating system and an energy-exchange method beneath a grassy roof covered by nearly 200 species of that makes the house “60 to 70 percent more efficient plants and grasses, the structure is virtually invisible from than other houses in Austin, Texas, and even the USA,” the nearby street. In fact, the 1400-square-foot house is according to Bercy. so well hidden in the earth that it doesn’t seem to register And, as a constant reminder of where everything on the radar of local wildlife either. Birds, butterflies, bee, began, those cliff swallows from the nearby bridge dragonflies, hawks, snakes, lizards, and frogs all treat the arrive at dusk and dawn every day, flying in remarkable house like just another grassy knoll. This nature show is “bombing patterns, eating all the flying bugs,” Brown visible from nearly every room in the house through the says. The whole experience has been eye-opening; he has glass-and-steel walls that look toward the rift. “We move come to realize that “you don’t have to go to a park to between rooms and treat the natural environment around be in nature; it’s right here in the middle of the city, under us a very big part of our home – as our living room,” the freeway, seen from your living room – if you can learn Brown says. “The sensation when you sit in here and look to perceive it.”■ up is like Avatar – everything buzzing and flying.” But covering the highly geometric roof with all that greenery was big challenge for Bercy, who had to incorporate anti-erosion mats in the design in order to hold the soil in place and support the hundreds of plants, which are watered by a drip irrigation system. “It was a


For more about the Edgeland House and other modern masterpieces visit Bercy Chen Studio LP



Dwell - Magazine Redesign  

GRDS 243 - Assignment to redesign a magazine and three spreads of a cover story.