Residential Design Connects with Community

By Christopher Brinckerhoff Associate Editor

Posted October 02, 2016

Scale, property line and other features embrace the street side

Rame Hruska, AIA, and Russell Hruska, AIA, co-founders and principals at Intexure Architects in Houston, designed their rectilinear house as a showpiece for their commitment to community engagement, energy conservation, sustainability and durable materials. The modern residence is full of energy-conserving and sustainable elements, rainwater harvesting, and is designed to attain LEED Platinum certification.

"One of the big picture things we're trying to do is set an example for positive urban infill and urban redevopment, so taking our own house as an example of that was part of the higher level goals of sustainability and LEED," Rame says.

Three-Part Approach

The husband-and-wife architecture team completed the project as design-builders. They also own Mod Fab LLC in Houston, the general contractor for the project. The Hruskas designed their residence, which they call "tripartite house," in three parts. "They interlock in the way that they're designed; they stack on top of each other," Russell says.

Rame says the overall concept was driven by their personal needs and lifestyle. They designed the first floor to engage the street and neighborhood. "It has a lot of storefront glass, so it's very open," Rame says. "Keeping the first floor very open, while letting the second floor be our private space so that we can disconnect from the adjacent studio (the Hruskas' studio is next to their house), but at the same time, have views out."

The third part is the third floor, where there is a guest bedroom and an extensive, L-shaped roof terrace with two glass sides and views of the city. "[The third floor] gives you a view that normally, in an urban environment, you don't always have that kind of vista," Rame says. "It lets you see out to the larger context of the city; it changes your experience. So the three parts were outward, inward and upward."

Soft Boundary

Another feature that connects the house to the street is a Corten steel berm at the edge of the front yard. "It's a retaining wall that created a berm out toward the street," Russell says. "The idea was we didn't want to build a big fence along the street. But at the same time, we're on a very busy street with a lot of pedestrian movement back and forth, and we wanted to define the property in the urban infill context."

The steel berm raises the ground level, which angles views inside the house above the sidewalk and street. "From the great room looking out, you're looking out on the green grass, and you're not looking out onto the sidewalk and the street; [the berm] serves from both directions," Russell says. "From an outside the property standpoint, it's a nice way of saying, here's the boundary to urban infill. And then from inside the home, as a way to screen the busy street."

One reason the Hruskas selected Corten steel for the berm was because it is located on the southwest corner of the property. "In the evening when the sun hits it, it really glows," Rame says. "So it really has a unique look to it with the way the metal interacts with the sunlight."

Durable Materials

The Hruskas specified high-quality, durable materials with high levels of recycled content. Houston Lbased Ideal Roofing LLC installed 2,326 square feet of Raleigh, N.C.-based Umicore Building Products USA Inc.'s 0.7-mm-thick VMZinc QUARTZ-ZINC TOC Double lock standing seam panels with an anticorrosive, acrylic clear coating, on the exterior walls.

"Part of our design philosophy is the use of natural materials," Rame says. "[Zinc] allowed us to get that warm gray color without it having to be a painted surface. It has a lot more richness and depth to it than other materials."

Vertical standing seam zinc panels clad the front wall of the house and horizontal standing seam zinc panels clad a cantilevered volume on the exterior and interior, connecting the two and shading the front entrance. The zinc panels' horizontal lines relate to horizontal lines on wood-formed, cast concrete walls. "[The zinc] creates shadow lines that pick up on other elements of the home," Rame says.

In addition to zinc panels, concrete fiber boards in gray and white were installed on approximately half of the exterior walls. The structure of the 4,400-square-foot house is comprised of 12-inchthick cast concrete walls and dark-toned, carbon structural steel, much of which is exposed, such as the interior I-beams. The steel was also used for architectural components including an open stair structure, pop-out window-box in the kitchen and fireplace surround. Additionally, Herford, Germanybased Poggenpohl Möbelwerke GmbH's Houston office supplied aluminum components including a backsplash and shelves mounted in a reveal channel.

"In terms of sustainability, not only does [zinc] have recycled content in it, it's designed to last for a much longer time than other materials, and it doesn't require the painting, the maintenance the other exterior materials would," Rame says. "In terms of life cycle, it can be recycled at the end of its life as well."

Conservation Demonstration

Numerous energy-conserving and sustainable design elements contribute to the project's LEED point total. It utilized 1/2-inch-thick structurally insulated panels (SIPs) on the exterior to create a thermal break, 5 inches of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada-based Icynene Inc.'s spray-foam insulation with R-19 thermal resistance in the roof and walls and wiring to support a photovoltaic array.

Storefront glass and numerous double-glazed, thermally broken, windows with low-E glazing and self-cleaning, hydrophilic coating were installed. Additionally, high-efficiency ventilation systems and appliances, low-flow plumbing, LED lighting, electronic faucets, borate-treated wood, polished concrete and hardwood floors and whole-house water filtration and central vacuum systems were used.

One of the first features visitors notice when approaching the entrance to the house is a Koi pond under a bridge between the driveway and front door. The pond is connected to a rainwater harvesting system with a bio-filtration bog area and 1,500-gallon, underground holding tank. It provides irrigation water for the site and, in addition to offering aesthetic enjoyment, the pond draws attention to the system's purpose. "When it rains, the water falls poetically into that tank as an expression of rainwater harvesting," Rame says. "It's a way of engaging people in that whole process, making it a little more apparent how that cycle is working."  Rainwater harvesting also contributes to LEED.

Private Residence, Houston
Completed:
 October 2014
Owners: Rame and Russell Hruska
Architect: Intexure Architects, Houston
General contractor: Mod Fab LLC, Houston
Installer: Ideal Roofing LLC, Houston
Aluminum kitchen components: Poggenpohl Möbelwerke GmbH, Herford, Germany, www.poggenpohl.com
Insulation: Icynene Inc., Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, www.icynene.com
Zinc: Umicore Building Products USA Inc., Raleigh, N.C., www.vmzinc-us.com

Photos: Rame Hruska

Sidebar: Neighborhood Impact

Rame Hruska, AIA, and Russell Hruska, AIA, co-founders and principals at Intexure Architects in Houston, have had a significant impact on their community's architecture. Since moving to Houston's Museum District neighborhood in 2006, the Hruskas have completed approximately 30 residences in a 1 square mile area. On their block, they designed their studio and house and four other residential projects.

The husband-and-wife architecture team has engaged the community with their work in numerous ways. Russell has been a volunteer president of the Museum Park Neighborhood Association and Museum Park Super Neighborhood council.

The Museum District is a transitional neighborhood with a combination of traditional and contemporary architecture. It is on the south side of Houston, where there are numerous museums and cultural centers, between downtown and Texas Medical Center. "It's an ideal place to live," Russell says. "In some of the new construction, developers are kind of turning away from the street and making more inward facing developments. We wanted to keep the scale and rhythm of the street, really embrace the street and not turn our backs to it."

The Hruskas designed their house with a steel berm in the front yard instead of a fence and with the third floor set far back from the street. "If [the façade] was entirely solid, it would look more defensive," Rame says. "We wanted it to be open, inviting."

"With our own house we wanted it to really be an example of how you should treat the neighborhood and how you should treat the street," Russell says. "We've kind of woven our modern fabric into the existing historic fabric of the neighborhood in a way that we think has really been a benefit to the community."

Photo: Don Glenzer

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