The New Urban Home

DELICATE BALANCE OF DENSITY AND OPEN

SPACE GIVES NEW GREEN-BUILT HOME

IN THE MUSEUM DISTRICT NATURAL LIGHT

AND CITY VIEWS

By LINDA BARTH • Photography by RAYMOND ALDERETE

In a space once occupied by dilapidated apartments, the new modern homes of

Southmore Terrace are rising. Their location along tree-lined Southmore

Boulevard in the Binz area of Houston’s Museum District is becoming a sought rafter

address again in a once-grand old neighborhood. Some of the best urban

amenities Houston has to offer are within walking distance.

"We walk to the routine locals - the dry cleaners, the doctor’s and to buy

groceries, but we are also very fortunate to walk to great civic amenities - the

museums, churches, the zoo and Hermann Park," says Houston architect

Russell Hruska, who with his wife, Houston architect Rame Hruska, founded lntexure

Architects and are now developing the Southmore Terrace property. Their

connection to the project is very strong: Immediately adjacent to the site is

their live-work studio housing lntexure's offices and loft living space above

completed in the fall of 2006. On the rest of the property, five homes

designed by Russell and Rame Hruska are in various stages of construction. One modern home,

pictured on these pages, is completed and will be on the AIA Houston Home tour Oct. 18-19 (see Page 72 for tour

information). Russell Hruska is chair of this year's AIA Houston Home tour.

The 2,400-square-foot freestanding house is a study in how private and

comfortable a contemporary house can be, even though iris built in relatively

close proximity to other houses. "We could have put ten patio homes on the

property," says Houston architect Rame Hruska. "Instead, we put five. We're trying to balance the

amount of density with open space."

The modern home, along with the other homes in Southmore Terrace, is also a

study in green-building, as the Hruskas are among the first architects in

Houston to participate in the LEED for Homes pilot program. LEED for Homes is a national standard that promotes design and construction of high-performance

green homes that use less energy and natural resources, create

less waste and are healthier for the occupants.

 

MORE DENSE YET SPACIOUS

As development of Houston inside Loop 610 increases housing density in

the inner city, designers are seeking to define how Houstonians can live

Together more closely in an urban environment. Some higher density urban developments work better than others.  IF too many units occupy a small space the residents begin to feel cramped.  Spread out the development and the neighborhood becomes more suburban and less walkable. The Hruskas' thoughtful planning for Southmore Terrace achieves the delicate balance of private and public spaces by allowing each house individual and community green spaces and lots of natural light.  “We tried to get natural light everywhere we could.” Says Houston architect Russell Hruska. 

All the homes have rooftop terraces and city and treetop views to create the

feeling of indoor and outdoor spaces blending as one. Large, gracious windows,

carefully places are key to the spacious feel of the interiors.

The windows very purposefully frame views of the landscaping. "Where

there are windows, " Rame Hruska says, "people have specific views. When inside the

house, it feels very well planned, not random, and the windows bring a sense

of the gardens into the house."

All windows the double-glazed, low e-insulated glass windows made by Ram Industries in Stafford, Texas. Choosing these windows and other building materials manufactured locally within a 500-mile radius of Houston saves on

shipping and energy costs and has helped the project qualify for certification under LEED for Homes

 

WHY LEED FOR HOMES?

The LEED for Homes program created and administered by the U.S. Green

Building Council, a non profit environmental organization , promotes sustainability in building design and construction. The program provides third-party  verification that a home is built to the highest green standards. When a home

is LEED certified it is energy efficient , uses nontoxic building material,

conserves water and respects the environment in which it is constructed.

"I think LEED for Homes sets an example," says Russell Hruska. "Not only is it the right thing to do for the environment, but it improves the livability and

quality of your home. In addition, having third party certification as to how

your house was built will help add value to your home investment in years

to come."

Russell worked with LEED consultant David Murrah in

Houston to make sure the house meets LEED for Homes standards.

Murrah set a blower under the house to measure positive and negative

air pressure in the structure. The house was also inspected with an infrared camera

 to determine the efficiency of insulation and other energy saving metods.

While building the house, all construction waste was separated into wood .

glass , plastic and aluminum, piles and hauled to recycling centers. “We recycled

80 to 90 percent of the wood construction ," Russell says. He also made sure

the yards of black plastic used to cover the poured concrete foundation of the

house were gathered and taken to a plastic recycling facility off I-10.

"There's so much waste going into the landfill ," Russell says, "we want to do

as, much as possible to create sustainable homes. "

Among other green features incorporated into the house:

  • About 95 percent of all metal used in the construction is recycled metal.
  • Hardwood floors were harvested from the old apartments on site

and re- used in the new houses.

  • All exterior materials are either locally- sourced or recycled content.
  • Low or no voc paints
  • No existing trees were destroyed.
  • Much of the paving is permeable to allow water to soak into the ground

and nourish the trees.

  • Insulation is Selbar, 100% post-indusrrial cardboard that is treated to

Prevent fire and mold, then shredded and spraved in to place .

  • Nontoxic pest control products were used including a mesh coupling

that goes around each plumbing penetration to prevent termites.

  • Some of the houses in Southmore Terrace have geothermal air-conditioning

systems, though the house featured in this article does not.

  • Dual flush toilets
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, including hybridized buffalo grass
  • Operable windows.

The exteriors of the South more Terrace houses are painted similar shades

of white and gray, but cantilevered volumes are given accent colors of orange

or green. The design concept for the houses is contemporary. "We believe

architecture should be of its time and place," says Rame. "We wanted the

houses to be clean and modern, light and bright, but at the same time we

didn't want them to be stark white boxes. Bright color accents and natural

materials help add warmth and character."

The homeowner of the modern home on tour purchased it before it was built, as

have all homeowners on the property. The person had been seeking to buy

in the neighborhood for several months and stopped in to chat with Russell Hruska

in his office. The floor plan, with its generous open spaces, particularly in the

living and dining area on the second floor, sealed the deal.

The house and trees around it survived Hurricane Ike in fine form. The

owner likes staying in the house, cocooned in comfort, and, in fact, stayed in

the house during the storm, feeling very comfortable about the strength of its

structure. "Before living here," the owner explains, "I lived in a small apartment

and I always found something to do on a Saturday. I tried not to be

home very often. Here, all I want to do is stay on the couch every Saturday

and read. Before the storm, there was a weekend it was a little bit cooler. I was

on the second floor, opened all the windows, had an amazing cross breeze and

it was a lot like heaven."

 

This urban home at 1825 Southmore on the AIA Houston

Home tour Oct. 18-19 is one of five homes planned for Southmore

Terrace. Its cantilevered volumes are accented in bright

orange. "We wanted the houses to be clean and modern home,

light and bright, but we didn't want them to be stark white

boxes. Bright color accents and natural materials help add

warmth and character," says Houston architect Rame Hruska.

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