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Edgeland Residence: a modern take on the Native American Pit House


February 14, 2013

Pit Homes were used by some Native American tribes

Pit Homes were used by some Native American tribes

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Edgeland Residence is a modern dwelling designed by the Bercy Chen Studio which sees the company rehabilitating land once considered unsuitable for occupation. Claimed to set a new standard for sustainability, it draws inspiration from the Native American Pit House, and is designed to impact the environment as little as possible.

Traditional Pit Homes are sunk into the ground in an effort to achieve a relatively stable temperature. Similarly, Edgeland Residence required an excavation of 7 feet (2.1 meters) depth. However, disturbance to the former brownfield site in Austin, Texas was kept to a minimum, as previous excavations to remove an old pipeline had already left a sizable scar.

Edgeland Residence utilizes an insulating “green roof,” which sports a layer of grass and is home to carefully re-introduced seasonal native flowers that should lend a slightly different look depending on the time of year. The courtyard is also an excellent area for observing the local wildlife, including hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, and ant colonies.

The interior of the house is broken up into two distinct areas designed for sleeping and living. In order to pass between them, occupants are required to venture outside for just long enough to be reminded of their natural surroundings. It's a nice touch which would perhaps detract from the desirability of the dwelling in the UK's rainy Yorkshire, but should be practicable in balmy Austin.

Natural resources are harnessed where possible, with a series of energy-saving technologies combining to reduce the carbon footprint of Edgeland Residence. Rainwater is directed from the roof into channels which run the perimeter of the house, eventually reaching an underground water storage tank that's used to feed a rather complex “Geothermal System.”

The Geothermal System uses the Earth as a heat source in the winter, and a heat sink in the summer (using a series of buried pipes), thus reducing the amount of energy needed to artificially cool or heat the house. When required, a pump channels cool or warm water through copper pipes just below the floor and integrated into the ceiling, to maintain a comfortable temperature.

The patio area also plays a part in heating water, by absorbing heat from the sun and transferring it via more copper pipes to other parts of the house. Additionally, double-glazed windows incorporate an air pump to increase insulation, and a smart-pool also appears to feed into the overall Geothermal System – perhaps as a secondary area to deposit excess heat. The smart-pool itself does not feature a standard chlorine filter, but rather a diamond-coated electrode which produces oxidants to disinfect the water.

We’ve no hard figures on exactly how much energy is actually saved by the Geothermal System, but it's certainly an elegant method of reducing energy usage that’s sympathetic to the overall Pit House styling.

Edgeland Residence was commissioned by a science fiction writer with a penchant for modern architecture located on the fringes of abandoned industrial areas. The project was completed in 2012.

Source: Bercy Chen Studio via Design Milk

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

I think it would make for an excellent hide away since it would probably be difficult to see or find if one did not know it was there. It looks - IMO - not only cool but green. I like it.


More pics of the interior would have been appreciated.

Rolf Hawkins

This is an interesting take on a partially underground house.

My biggest issue I have with this structure versus building a "square box": the length of the perimeter walls and the associated extra costs.


Definitely stylish, and we could use more of that in Austin where generic suburbs have been growing at alarming rates. I love the pool and separate living, sleeping space. I'm not sure viewing ant mounds would be considered a bonus, the fire ants here are mean. But my main worry is that the hottest days of the year in Austin are also the most humid. That place could get pretty damp if it's cooled through the walls and floor and not by a forced air system that traps the condensation.


I get to observe ant colonies from my house as well. Mostly in the kitchen.


So what is the advantage of not having a covered walkway between the two sides?


Looks neat but not very practical. Washing windows inside and out would become a full time job. Roof bracing looks a little weak unless there is some heavy metal concealed. The space in the middle could hold about three truck loads of blowing leaves and catch tons of snow. Worse yet where would all the melting snow water go. Under the doors? Not quite enough protection from a tornado and could be a nightmare of flying glass. But the neighborhood peeping Toms should enjoy it. Where was the garage?


These ventures will continue to be expensive "one-offs" until someone makes a successful multi-home development. In parts of the country with extreme weather. a community with connecting tunnels and a small shopping center would make this very attractive.

Pat Kelley

Somehow, ther "Green" aspects seem to fall flat when it's a house that must have cost several million dollars to build. I like the overall configuration, but it feels a bit like living in a museum store. Needs earthy touches to dispell that sterile atmosphere.

John Hagen-Brenner

Glazey, it sounds like the heating system is designed to dump heat into the ground, not primarily into water. That said, a big shallow pool will move a lot of heat into the air even in the most humid regions - just ask the guys at the cryogenics department in NHMFL, Tallahassee, FL.

Bob, last I checked, tornadoes, snow, and huge piles of leaves were not big problems in Austin, but this house looks at least as well equipped to deal with them as the standard design. I say that having just shoveled my way out of three feet of snow last week.

Charles Bosse

OT, but where would I find useful information on Geothermal Cooling for a country like Brazil? It seems permanently hot and I have often wondered whether this method could be used in a passive cooled house.


Charles, The problem is that the floors and ceilings are cooled by embedded copper pipes. That creates condensation on the floors and ceilings. Austin sees 80-90% humidity most of the summer, and summer is half the year here. It doesn't really matter where the heat is dumped.

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