Cascading Creek House in Austin, Texas by Bercy Chen Studio, 2011
While not as common as rectangular or even L-shaped plans, there is something to be said for Y-shaped house plans. They create an outdoor space, like L-shape plans, but ones that are more intimate and enclosed, open on one side rather than one; the plan and the outdoor space are also more dynamic and directional, opening towards something. A couple houses readily come to mind: the Piku Residence by Dirk Denison and Adrian Luchini and the aptly named Y House by Steven Holl. Both of these houses look outward in the direction of the "fingers" that point to the landscape beyond.
A house that can be added to this short, but not exhaustive list is the Cascading Creek House by Austin, Texas-based Bercy Chen Studio. The design, which I learned about through a Building of the Week interview feature running this week on World-Architects.com, "inserts two long native limestone walls to the sloping site, serving as spines for the public wing and private wing of the house." So immediately we have the Y-shape , which is derived from the program but also the site -- in both the distant (views) and immediate (preserving trees) sense of the term.
This was really the first project where we were able to incorporate all of our systems that we had been working on for some time. All the systems are really working in unison and the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts. -Bercy Chen StudioArriving at the house (top photo) one immediately senses the presence and importance of water, here found in the "entry pond" served by an over-sized scupper that is itself fed by collected rainwater; the pond also doubles as a storage tank. Walking to the entry, which doubles as a link between the two wings, one encounters a shallow pool next to the front door. In the courtyard formed by the two wings is a pool, the last of a triumvirate of water features that advance like a chain through the house. But water is also cycling throughout the house in rainwater collection on the roof, solar hot-water panels also on the roof, water source heat pumps, radiant loops, and geothermal ground loops. These systems combine to "[establish] a system of heat exchange which minimizes reliance on electricity or gas."
After opening the front door one walks left to the open kitchen/dining/living area or right to the wing with the bedrooms. Nice touches in each include, in the case of the former, an an awareness of the site's topography through steps the follow the land falling from the garage to the living room's views of the pool and landscape; in the case of the latter, the master bathroom is treated to a small courtyard that brings light and a little bit of nature closer to the act of bathing. Between these wings is of course the courtyard and pool that steps down to the grass and creek of the house's name beyond. While the house may culminate in this distant view, it offers enough delights inside to keep the residents quite content.