A sustainable sanctuary

Nick Myall
23 Jul 2018

The design of this home is both spiritually and environmentally sensitive, earning a 4-star rating from Austin Energy Green Building in the USA

Conceived by Miró Rivera Architects 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 in the USA, 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, a retired but active couple, and executed on a 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, locally-sourced 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, chosen for their distinctive grain, 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. In the meditation room, floor-to-ceiling windows frame one of the clients’ favorite views toward a nearby hilltop, and the grassy landscape seems to flow right into the house. A large picture window located next to the master bathtub transforms an ordinary daily routine into an opportunity for reflection and rejuvenation.

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. The porch’s distinctive 30-foot peak is discernible from a great distance, and its rhythmic horizontal cypress slats are a contemporary interpretation of traditional vented gables. Connected to the garage via sliding barn doors and elevated a few feet above grade, a shaded outdoor sculpture studio doubles as a stage for casual summer concerts hosted 3-4 times a year. During these events, the garage acts as additional “backstage” space.


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, generating approximately 40kW hours of electricity per day. Mechanical heating and cooling is made possible by a 5-ton geothermal system consisting of a loop field of six wells drilled 250 feet into the ground. A 30,000-gallon rainwater collection system, designed to provide 200 gallons per day (enough for four full-time residents), meets all of the owner’s annual water needs, utilizing both charcoal and UV filters to purify rainwater collected from 5,300 square feet of roof area.

Nick Myall

News editor

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United States

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