Miró Rivera Architects completes sustainable prototype in Texas Hill Country
Juan Miró, FAIA; Miguel Rivera, FAIA; Matthew Sturich, RA; Spencer Cook [BArch '10]; Sarah Hafley [MArch '11]; Matthew Helveston; Edward Richardson
Conceived as a prototype for a sustainable rural community, the Hill Country House serves as a beacon to show what could be: a self-sustaining home in a rural setting, virtually independent of municipal water and energy. Situated on a sweeping Texas Hill Country meadow, this private residence is defined by a series of jagged roof peaks inspired by the rise and fall of the surrounding hills. Lovingly referred to as “The Sanctuary” by its owners, an active couple of ordained ministers, and executed on a very modest budget, this modern take on the farmhouse vernacular is a place to bring people together and find spiritual renewal in a responsible, sustainable setting.
The exterior of the home is defined by clean lines, a sculptural gable roof, and a contrasting material palette of corrugated aluminum and warm cypress. While indicative of the clients’ modest budget, the materials also evoke the residence’s rural setting. A tapering limestone chimney was inspired by an existing shed on the 47-acre property made of dry-stacked local stone. Throughout the interior, white walls and ceilings are offset by carefully-considered embellishments such as a limestone hearth in the living room and soapstone counters in the kitchen. Pecan floors are a nod to the home’s rustic surroundings.
In plan, a collection of volumes is arranged along a central spine reminiscent of vernacular “shotgun” cabins, with the public and private spaces of the home situated on opposite ends. The main corridor, which doubles as a gallery, is differentiated by thin vertical windows that balance the requirement for natural light with the need to provide space for hanging artwork. In every room, windows provide abundant natural light and frame views of the surrounding landscape.
Particular attention was paid to creating spaces that would enable hosting large groups of friends and family, blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space. The stark white aluminum cladding is broken at various intervals by warm cypress siding that defines a series of rooms outside the house, including a temple-like screen porch that extends from the volume containing the main living spaces. A shaded outdoor sculpture studio doubles as a stage for casual summer concerts hosted 3-4 times a year.
The design of the Hill Country House is both spiritually and environmentally sensitive, earning a 4-star rating from Austin Energy Green Building, the nation’s first green building program and the model for the LEED certification system. An 8-kiloWatt solar array supplies 80% of annual energy usage. Mechanical heating and cooling is made possible by a 5-ton geothermal system. A 30,000-gallon rainwater collection system meets all of the owner’s annual water needs.
The designers’ approach to materials, construction, and maintenance drastically reduced not only upfront construction cost and waste, but also the expected life cycle costs and impacts. Through careful planning of the construction timeline, and thoughtful material selections, typical construction waste was either minimized, mitigated, or completely eliminated. During construction, the architects and contractor developed a waste-management plan to address the disposal of unused materials as well as any waste produced on site.