Beverly Skyline Residence, located in Austin, Texas, is a single-family residence and consumes 2800 sq. feet of its 1-acre property lot. The homes remodeling transformation was taken on by Bercy Chen Studio, a local architecture firm with design and build capabilities. When taking on a new project that has a clear site and limited restrictions, the designer has more flexibility to create and explore new styles, resources, and building materials. However, taking a preexisting home and transforming it into a modern 21st century home, equipped with new building technologies and recyclable energy consumption in mind, creates many obstacles in both the design and construction period and therefore requires more innovation from the designer.
Nowadays, too often buildings are treated and designed as disposable goods, not built to last and only used for short periods of time. After which, they are torn down and replaced. Society has a habit of designing with only new, fresh materials and throwing the rest aside. In order to preserve the building’s lifetime, the project’s concept revolved around the notions of recycling a building, reusing natural and manmade resources, and reclaiming the ancient ideal that buildings, especially the home, can and should be sacred places.
Though the original intent for the home was to be a standard, modest remodel, Bercy Chen Studio took the design one step farther and transformed the project into a full site plan remodel. Even the property owner, an attorney by profession, enjoyed being intimately involved with the planning and execution of the design, physically building and landscaping much of the grounds. To the property owner, this project was truly a labor of love. The house was transformed into a complete interior and exterior remodel with a new room addition and included an excavation and re-landscaping of the garden and parts of the yard. In addition, the house was equipped with recyclable, green technologies such as rainwater catch basins, cisterns and reflecting pools, and the use of recyclable building materials. As the original house was poorly sited, a large motivation for the remodel was to reconnect the house with the sites steep topography and capture the expansive views.
One goal was to integrate the architecture with the native garden and creek at the bottom of the property. The inspiration came from the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan (founded 7th century A.D.), which sits above the landscape and provides panoramic views of the city. Similarly, in order to fully enjoy and reclaim the home’s views, the house is wrapped by exterior decks and glass railings, which provide an uninterrupted view of the valley and woods beyond. These seemingly borderless edges reconnect the home with the nature of the site. Also, by maximizing the amount of exterior deck space, people can experience the views in a closer and more personal way.
In the spirit of reclaiming value, recycled materials were employed at every possible opportunity. The front facade of the house is comprised of 800 recycled glass blocks that were provided by the owner, but were originally salvaged from a demolished hospital. The use of these glass blocks was part of the condition of the commission and was integrated on the front façade of the home. This recycled glass wall assembly seems to dissolve the facade of the house, particularly at corner conditions. The original monolithic nature of the house is further dematerialized through the use of slats installed as rain screens. The purpose of these rain screens is to eliminate moisture problems and improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality.
The project also makes extensive use of harvesting rainwater stored in pools and reservoirs to re-connect the house with its site. The water system lends a sense of drama to the intervention. A series of cascading ponds serve as part of the rainwater collection system on the utilitarian level. On the aesthetic level it provides a peaceful transition between the landscape and the architecture. Imperative to the rainwater collection, water runoff is captured through a series of tubes, reflecting pools, and waterfalls and led to a large cistern near the bottom of the property. The roof dams channel the run-off rainwater from the roof into a hidden downspout. A clear, acrylic down spout doubles as a fountain, serving an aesthetic element while functioning as a critical feature of the rainwater collection system. Two reflecting pools combine into one and with a series of four waterfalls as they cascade down the site and into a larger pond at the base. The cascading ponds are made with salvaged steel sheets, poured in place concrete, and recycled rusted steel plate frame. The water is filtered and distributed back out through the cistern.
Architecture elements are treated as installation artwork and sculptures in this project. For instance, the front door is a copper box taking on characteristic of the Donald Judd sculptures. Gutter drains are made with clear Plexiglas tubes so the downward journey of water is appreciated and the rainwater re-harvesting process is better understood. The simple movement of water becomes an animating agent for the architecture and the landscape.
The architects designed a Moroccan themed room, which included a rainwater collection system, reflecting pool, and a sunken living area. The lap pool is designed to wrap around a corner of the house, so the glass-walled living area seems to float in the water. The margin of water, both as reflecting pool and as lap pool, completes the vision of liberation. The interaction between people and these water features is accessible by custom, operable, accordion steel windows. These windows are modeled after le Corbusier’s corner style window, which leaves an open, mullion and column free corner to maximize views as well as display modern building technologies. This relationship between the close proximity of water and living area was inspired by Japanese style architecture, which always includes nature as a prominent feature in the homes design.
Not only did Bercy Chen Studio re-model the home’s interior and exterior but they also excavated and re-landscaped the garden and yard as well. The house itself is elevated on a hill thus one goal for the garden was to integrate the architecture with the native plants and the creek by the bottom of the property. With the previous building not fulfilling its full potential to take advantage of the spectacular views, the main aim was to reconnect the building with its surroundings and utilize the steep topography. The selection of plants in the garden is primarily plants native to the central Texas region. The use of native vegetation contributes to the sustainability of Beverly Skyline by minimizing the usage of water by following the overall principles of xeriscaping. The garden is planned around existing mature trees and shrubs with various ground covers and perennials. The intention was to preserve the characteristics of the site as much as possible and retain the essence of a landscape native to the Edward’s Plateau in the hill country.
The appeal of the redesigned house is not just its simplicity and functionality but also its well thought out aesthetics. The new home’s close proximity with nature maintains the secrecy of private spaces while also giving the illusion of height infinity. The house utilizes a low-tech approach to energy conservation. The climate of Austin, Texas can be excessively hot and humid in the summer. To avoid a sense of closed-off, air-conditioned captivity, fans were strategically placed, each neatly concealed in grilles and installed adjacent to ceilings and skylights for effective ventilation. The exterior part of the house used materials like Brazilian hardwood cladding and steel roof. The new materials in combination with refined detailing of the existing roof structure give the volume clean lines and bold presence, which helps to connect the home to the nature of the site. The interior architecture strategy relies on opening up the space and allowing in the play of natural light. These surfaces create subtle reflections of light and the motion of water on the interior walls and door. Overall, both the client and architect were happy with the finished remodel. Beverly Skyline Residence is no longer an outdated 1970s residence, but is now a sleek modern home equipped with green technologies and better energy efficiencies that will last for years to come.Location: Beverly Skyline, Austin, Texas, USA Architect: Bercy Chen Studio Project name: Residence on Beverly Skyline
Program: Addition and Remodel to 2,800 sq ft Single Family Residence
Status: Completed 2004