Red Bluff Residence

A modern and eco-friendly spin on the ancient pit-house


Austin-based Bercy Chen Design Studio often aims to modernize the architectural staples of yesteryear, bringing the sustainability of our ancestors into a 21st-century context. Their newest project, the “Red Bluff Residence,” works to reinvent the ancient pit-house—once common to hunter-gatherer societies—for an effective site-specific architectural installation.

With sustainability as their goal, the original pit-house structure provides the Bercy Chen team with a fair starting point. Once utilized by the Cherokee and Inuit tribes, pit-houses are known for their ability to protect their contents from harsh temperatures. Their tendency to stay cool in summer and warm in winter comes from their underground structure, allowing wind to pass unnoticed above while the earth provides insulation and temperature consistency.

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The updated Bercy Chen version of the underground hut will utilize these ancient benefits by flooring the house 7-feet deep, allowing the structure to blend in seamlessly with the lush floral landscape. The origami-inspired split roof provides sunlight and ventilation lacked by the house’s simple predecessor, transforming the original mud-packed pit into a comfortable and modern home.

Thomas Bercy, Calvin Chen, and the rest of the design team follow a unique philosophy, aligning cultural richness with environmental awareness. Using historical architecture as inspiration, the team has undertaken several projects which blend their economic and environmental knowledge with their modern design aesthetic. Despite their international recognition, the studio is still heavily involved with the art and architecture of the Austin community, with both founders serving on the Austin Museum of Art‘s board of advisers.