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gulf coast special magazine



Discover Tranquil Sustainability in LEED-certified Residence, The Lighthouse
Story by Susie Tommaney | Photos by Gary Zvonkovic

Most of us know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. But surely that’s not true about the prestigious, historically significant mansions in River Oaks? Everybody dreams of living in one of those ivy-covered swankiendas designed by storied architects, with manicured gardens that seem to go on forever. Other than the inevitable traffic problems in the weeks leading up to Christmas when all the lookie-loos want to see the holiday lights, surely there’s no down side.

Not true say Joseph H. Adams, A.I.A. and Gail H. Adams, principals of Houston-based Adams Architects. When the partners first met with their new clients more than ten years ago — he an attorney and she a chief justice — the husband said he was tired of living in River Oaks and the never ending cycle of replacing broken air conditioning systems, dealing with rotten wood, and keeping the paint looking fresh.
“He was looking for something that was zero maintenance,” say the Adamses, who delivered a concept that not only fit the bill, but was also years ahead of its time in terms of energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and cutting-edge technologies.

The result was The Lighthouse, a 3,500-square-foot home on Colquitt that became Houston’s first LEED Platinum house, meaning the design incorporates best practices in areas such as innovation and design, sustainability, materials and energy.

“It’s totally self-sufficient, but beautiful, with its command of natural light,” says Joseph, who applied principles he learned studying under Louis I. Kahn, the acclaimed architect who infused light as a theme for Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum.

The house is naturally lit by north-facing clerestory windows, leaving a feeling of living in light, while steel beams and air-conditioning ducts remain exposed for a more open space. Sustainable bamboo was used for the cabinetry and floors, lending a warm, honey-colored glow to the home, while other sustainable materials include paper composite counters.

Screened porches take advantage of southerly winds year round and permeable decking off the dining and master allow the homeowners to extend their living spaces to the outdoors.

The house is sheathed in steel siding that not only blocks moisture, sunlight and heat, it will never need to be painted — so mission accomplished. Joseph tells us it’s the same material used in airplane manufacturing, though the elements of design were not sacrificed. Look closely at the exterior and notice that the corrugations of the panels are in three different widths, creating an atmosphere of progressive diminishment and with a nod to the columns of early Greek architecture.

The living and dining rooms, kitchen and bedrooms have all been situated on the second floor, giving a treehouse feel to those living spaces, while the first floor houses a guest room, garden room, garage, mechanical room and covered breezeway.

Geothermal air-conditioning and 140 panels of photovoltaic solar arrays facing south and west ensure that The Lighthouse has enough power to give back into the electrical grid. Joseph tells us that, for the air-conditioning system, wells were drilled into the ground because water acts as a coolant. “You get down to a certain depth and it gets to 65 degrees. It’s all done naturally.”

 Rainwater is harvested and collected in a 7,000-gallon cistern that is stored underground. The water is then treated for household use: The homeowners don’t need to draw from the City of Houston water system and they also don’t contribute to runoff during heavy storms.

“I like to say that it’s coupled to the earth for cooling, coupled to the sun for electricity, and coupled to the sky for drinking water,” says Joseph.

Due to life events, the house has since been sold, but not before the previous homeowners added charging stations for their electric cars. The current owners have “extended the techie-ness” and can now turn things on and off remotely from their office in The Woodlands. “It’s all about conservation,” adds Joseph.


Adams Architects
Gail Hood Adams
Joseph Houston Adams, A.I.A.
717 Rochow

Dovetail Builders, Inc.
(General contractor)
11302 Craighead Drive

Gessner Engineering
(Structural engineer)

Harvest Solar

Geothermal Advantage, Inc.
Charles Smith

SparkleTap Water Company
(Rainwater collection)


Houston Web Design Company