One sunny day, while searching for more access points to the river, Chris Brown (the owner of the house, a lawyer and writer) discovered a path that led down to hundreds of cliff swallows and their mud nests under a highway bridge that spanned the water. He became hooked on the idea of building a house that interpreted the intersection of animal habitat and industrial wasteland. “Something about that idea of wild nature adapted to the structure moved me,” he says.
So, in 2009, newly divorced and living in a downtown Austin apartment, Brown bought an empty lot on a bluff adjacent to the Colorado.
The architect of this future home is Thomas Bercy, who updated the idea with a concrete foundation, a structural steel frame, and glass walls that look toward a rift that divides the house into two parts. One side contains the kitchen, dining, and living room spaces, while the other side contains two bedrooms and a writer’s loft. Brown shares the space with his girlfriend, Agustina Rodriguez, an architect and designer, and his 18-year-old son, Hugo Nakashima-Brown.
Not that anyone passing by would notice any of this. Few people even realize there’s a house there at all: Tucked beneath a grassy roof covered by nearly 200 species of plants and grasses, the structure is virtually invisible from the nearby street. In fact, the 1,400-square-foot house is so well hidden in the earth that it doesn’t seem to register on the radar of local wildlife either.
Birds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, hawks, snakes, lizards, and frogs all treat the house like just another grassy knoll. This nature show is visible from nearly every room in the house through the glass-and-steel walls that look toward the rift. “We move between rooms and treat the natural environment around us as a very big part of our home—as our living room,” Brown says. “The sensation when you sit in here and look up is like Avatar—everything buzzing and flying.”