The 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude.
Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through
pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant
67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the
summer. Systems such as the one in this "eco-friendly" dwelling use about 25%
of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize.
A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof
runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground
purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the
cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home.
Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into
the surrounding ecosystem.
No, this is not the home of some eccentrically wealthy eco-freak trying to
shame his fellow citizens into following the pristineness of his
self-righteous example. And no, it is not the wilderness retreat of the Sierra
Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council, a haven where tree-huggers plot
This is President George W. Bush's "Texas White House" outside the small
town of Crawford.
Yes, the same George W. who believes arsenic and drinking water might not
be such a bad combo, the same man who reneged on his campaign promise to lower
carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the same man who is doing
everything in his power to fling open the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Refuge to
How does the President reconcile an eco-friendly abode for his own family
with his persistent stand against anything that smacks of an environmentally
friendly agenda for the nation as a whole? The answer to that perplexing
question is a real mystery.
Perhaps sound ecological practices are only for those who can afford them:
as a self-proclaimed strict constructionist of the U.S. Constitution, Bush
must be aware that clean air and clean water are not guaranteed in that
glorious document. Perhaps in Bush's Brave New Corporate World, clean natural
resources are merely commodities in a free-market economy: if you can pay for
them, fine; if not, tough. The rest of us will just have to put up with more
toxic dumps and more public lands being turned over to logging, mining and oil
According to David Heymann, the house's architect and associate dean of the
University of Texas architecture department, Heymann designed the house so
that "every room has a relationship with something in the landscape that's
different from the room next door. Each of the rooms feels like a slightly
In a USA Today interview, Heymann said, "There's a great grove of oak trees
to the west that protects it from the late afternoon sun. Then there is a view
out to the north looking at hills, and to the east out over a lake, and the
view to the south . . . out to beautiful hills."
I suppose in George W.'s architectural world only the rich and powerful
have views; vistas that the public owns as part of its shared heritage are up
for lease and sale.
Heymann also termed the house "stunningly small." Really? Would it be
stunningly small for a single mother in South Central Los Angeles? How
stunningly small would it be for an immigrant Latino family in San Antonio
Maybe in the rarified heights where second homes are the norm, 4,000 square
feet is small and on a stunning scale as well, but in Main Street America that
much elbow room is pretty big for the first and only home.
But then most of us can't reconcile what might at first glance appear to be
inherently irreconcilable. Maybe some day, like our noble president, we will
be able to make that kind of staggering mental feat. That is, if we ever stop
Rob Sullivan is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune