Bercy-Chen Studio is doing a fascinating 1400 square foot residence in Austin, Texas that hits all the right TreeHugger buttons. It is on a modern version of the pit-house used by ancient Pueblo and Cherokee Indians.
The Red Bluff house is a little more sophisticated; like the pit-house it uses the earth's thermal mass to temper the climate. However it adds a few modern touches like hydronic heating & cooling, geothermal heat exchange, phase-change thermal heat storage, rainwater collection and a green roof.
The architect writes:
The house's relationship to the landscape both in terms of approach as well as building performance references the oldest housing typology in North America; the pit house. Like a pit house, the house will undergo a 7-foot excavation gaining benefits from the earth's mass to maintain thermal comfort throughout the year. Such architectural settings create opportunities for maximum energy efficiency using a proposed Integrated Hydronic HVAC system.
The heating and cooling system is very sophisticated, yet based on simple principles of thermal mass and time-shifting. Heat from the sun is absorbed through the patio floor and circulated into phase change storage, smoothing down the peaks and reducing load on the heat pumps. (See full size drawing on flickr here)
According to Designboom, the site is a brownfield that contained an oil pipeline that will be excavated and removed, and that "central to this retreat for a science fiction writer is the healing of the land, a charges site where the urban/industrial condition once met nature in a brutal and unsympathetic manner."
Bercy Chen have a well-deserved reputation for green design; a few years ago we published their Annie House.