George W. Bush Builds His Dream House (The New Yorker)

Talk of the Town: Dept. of Real Estate

On the same day that Bob Herbert, on the Op-Ed page of the Times, called George W. Bush’s relationship to the environment “Kevorkian,” a group of New York architects heard some surprising news over at the Donnell Library Center, on Fifty-third Street. There, at a lecture sponsored by the Architectural League of New York in accordance with the theme “Shades of Green,” an Austin architect named David Heymann discussed his plans for a weekend house he has designed for George W. and Laura Bush near Crawford, Texas. The surprise is that Bush, the supposed scourge of the environment, is building what architects call a very “green” house.

“Green” architecture has little in common with the Texas traditions of sold-gold doorknobs and studio-apartment-size bathrooms. Until recently, American architects have generally considered it a thank-but-no-thanks option–a worthy thing to do, but too much money and too much work. Still, for architects who are concerned about the environment, the challenge is finding clients with the right sort of bank account and disposition, and then convincing them that recycling toilet water–as the Bushes will do–is a viable life-style choice.

The Bushes, whose main residence is in Austin, bought the property last summer. It covers sixteen hundred acres of rolling farmland (enough to contain two Central Parks) nine miles from Crawford, which is roughly twenty miles west of Waco. Unlike the Hill Country around Austin, Crawford is not a fashionable place for a weekend home, but, according to Heymann, remoteness suits the Bushes fine. “There’s just you and a huge distance,” he said after the lecture at the library. “There’s nothing stopping the space at all.” The house itself is set on a slight rise, facing south. It is one story tall, a U-shaped series of rooms under a peaked roof, with a porch skirting the entire building. “It is a house without any pretension,” Heymann said. “The Governor’s vision of it is that ‘people are just going to come over and sit on the couch and eat beans on a paper plate with us.’”

The house has a groundwater cooling system that doesn’t need Freon to chill the air. And it is equipped with the technology to recycle what’s known in the building trade as black and gray household water (black water is from the kitchen sink and the toilets, gray is from the bathroom sinks and the shower), so that the water can be reused for irrigation or, in the most sophisticated and expensive systems, for drinking.

The Bushes won’t be drinking their recycled water. After all, if things go their way in November, they won’t be around enough to justify the expense.