Riverview Gardens is a series of 3 identical houses located in Austin, Texas, one block north of Lake Austin (now Lady Bird Lake). The homes were inspired by Hamilton pool, a deep natural escarpment which forms a dramatic waterfall near Austin. In the spirit of that waterfall, rainwater is directed to the end of each Riverview Garden house and falls 3 stories in a sheet to form a dramatic waterfall, not unlike the rain screen found in classical Chinese gardens. The rainwater is then collected in an 80’ long shared pond which on a breezy day provides some natural cooling to the houses.
Each unit contains 2000 square feet of conditioned space and an equivalent amount of outdoor living space. The units are raised off the ground to provide covered parking and a recreation area below while capitalizing on views of the lake above the tree line. Each house’s plan is stretched on axis toward the river to frame the primary view while creating semi-private yards between the houses. Spatial organization is driven by the view of the lake.
A series of glass and vegetative screens divide the primary spaces on each floor, each creating a filter between the public space facing the lake and the private space on the opposite side. As one moves from public space to private, the view of the lake is gradually obstructed, retaining the plan’s organizational focus while allowing increasing amounts of privacy.
The houses are monolithic on the east/west axis and completely open with glass on the north/south axis allowing uninterrupted views to the lake. The minimized footprint ensures large shared yards with dramatic 40′ tall Brazilian hardwood walls. A cactus wall, like painter Diego Rivera’s legendary Mexico City studio fence, will frame the lots at street level.
Spatial partitions along each building’s axis are entirely glass to allow shared views. A central courtyard serves as part of the circulation. The courtyard is framed by clear glass walls allowing uninterrupted views through the interior rooms and out to the lake. The courtyard allows private access to the outside and creates semi-private exterior spaces. All roof surfaces are occupiable. The main roof is designed as a partially enclosed “room” with tall translucent panels ensuring privacy, framing views, and reflecting the light of the sky.
Working as both the designer and builder gives the Bercy Chen Studio opportunity to actualize innovative systems and details. A design partnership with structural engineers enabled even these relatively small homes to exhibit some structural fetes. Like an inverted tower of Pisa, the top most volume of the house cantilevers over the middle volume, which cantilevers over the base. The resulting form reaches out toward the lake and provides ample shading for each level.
Ever striving for drama, minimalism, economy and energy efficiency, the studio tested various strategies for making the translucent exterior wall panel system as insulative as possible. Ultimately a combination of policarb panels, enameled wood studs, and ordinary household bubble wrap achieved a minimum value of r-8 for all exterior walls.
The importance of transparency in the project demanded careful consideration of glazing design. Bercy Chen utilized the expertise of fabricators on their team to custom build all windows and doors, even down to the handles and latches.