Naked City

When Green Is Gold

Architect Peter Pfeiffer's 4,000-square-foot Tarrytown home looks a lot like the other luxury addresses on his block. But despite the massive granite staircase leading to the front door and the elevated pool out back, there's plenty that belies the notion that Pfeiffer is just another wealthy man indulging his edifice complex.

In fact, the house is a monument to the growing popularity of ecologically sensitive building in Austin; completed in July, it's one of only three homes in the city ever to receive a five-star rating from Austin Energy's Green Building Program. Pfeiffer's home on River Road is one of 13 residences to be featured on this weekend's AIA-Austin Homes Tour (Oct. 5-6).

"When I got out of school, nobody gave a flip about environmental architecture," says Pfeiffer, who graduated from UT in 1983. "But I stuck to my guns. I knew that there had to be a way to convince people it was worth doing."

According to Green Building Program manager Richard Morgan, Pfeiffer's house reflects both the architect's and the power company's commitment to the environment. Started in 1990 by the city-owned utility, the program is "the oldest in the country." Today, nearly 30% of the new homes in Austin are certified Green -- on a scale of one to five stars -- as are high-profile public projects such as the new City Hall and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Morgan believes that the city has entered a golden age of Green building. By relying on recycled materials, energy-efficient planning, alternative technology and pre-existing urban infrastructure, Green Building not only reduces the impact of new construction projects but helps consumers save money. "Our marketing has worked," says Morgan. "It's good for the environment and it's good for the community. Here in Austin, we're using so many materials that used to be considered alternative [that] you can almost immediately design a one- or two-star home."

Austin's success has begun to garner national attention as well, providing AE with lucrative consulting contracts. Memphis and five Bay Area municipalities are paying a combined $560,000 for advice on setting up their own programs.

Meanwhile, Austin will be the site of the International Green Building Conference this November. Likewise, Pfeiffer is reaping the benefits of living in the nation's green-building epicenter. Business for his firm Barley & Pfeiffer is booming, and his house will be featured in Fine Homebuilding magazine next year. "I tell people it's luxury living without the guilt," he says.

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