On a mansion-lined street in the Rollingwood section of Austin, Texas, sit two 4,000-square foot homes replete with design and product choices that fulfill African-born developer Stanley Lerman’s vision for dwellings that are energy efficient, sustainable, and healthy without sacrificing an ultra-modern aesthetic. 

To achieve a Mid-Century Modern look, architects at Austin-based Barley & Pfeiffer Architects incorporated expansive glass windows and glass doors made from commercial-grade, thermally broken aluminum. And although the stark cubist style doesn’t lend itself to roof overhangs or awnings, the designers used both to shade the windows from the sun and reflect natural light into the house.

“It was really tough to make this [an Austin Energy Green Building] 5-Star green house because of the percentage of windows,” notes Peter Pfeiffer, a principal at the architecture firm. “But because of the solar shading and quality of the windows we used, we were able to pull it off.”

One of the homes also won the 2008 Health Child World Home Award, which showcases projects that demonstrate ways to make dwellings safer and freer of toxins. 

“In the States, we’re bombarded by conditions that … are nonexistent where I grew up, like prostate cancer, asthma, autism, and [attention-deficit disorder],” says Lerman, a yogi instructor who owns Malibu, Calif., property development firm Jivaka. “All of those kinds of [conditions] are coming from somewhere. It must be the modern way of living.”

So the homes’ living areas, except the bamboo-floored bedrooms and kitchen, have allergen-free, sealed concrete floors. A chlorine-free, copper ionization system cleans the water in the swimming pools, which are positioned to reflect light into the main living areas. Metals, glass, and concrete dominate the design, so surfaces need no painting or refinishing, which Lerman says will keep the homes healthier and low-maintenance over the years.

“The only chemical you need to clean anything is water,” he adds.

Green building, he says, “doesn’t stop at construction. It continues through the life of the home. It’s not enough to build the home green. It has to be built in such a way that they can be maintained in a green manner.”

And it doesn’t stop with energy efficiency, Leman adds. “It’s also something that’s sustainable and works with local weather conditions,” he says, “and it’s made in an environmental way.” 

Lerman eschewed photovoltaics in favor of a passive solar design that positions the dwellings to flood with sunlight so the residents will rely less on electric lights. Each main living area features a linear, one-room-deep layout, a centrally located stairwell designed to bring light down into the living area, and light-colored interior finishes.

The houses’ south-facing roofs are designed to accommodate photovoltaic panels or a wind turbine system in case a buyer wants to add those devices. 

Still, Lerman says he’s skeptical about emerging energy-efficiency technologies. “They might be energy efficient,” he says, “but they’re not necessarily environmentally friendly. We don’t know enough about how we will dispose of these technologies or if they are produced in an environmentally friendly way.” Lerman focuses on designing homes that stay cool and use little electricity, thereby eliminating the need to expend money on—and dispose of—additional resources.

Lerman says he will build more houses that achieve “green” without relying on technology.

Pfeiffer calls Lerman a man “with guts. He’s emphasizing the fact of green by design more than green by device.”