Desert House

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Date of Completion: 1996
Program: House
Awards: 1998 AIANY Architecture Honor Award
Photographer: Michael Moran

This house holds a secret oasis.

The seemingly barren site of this Phoenix home is subtly rich. A seasonal creek bed running through the center of the property sustains vegetation and small animals. In 120-degree summer heat, the area remains green, full of life, and considerably cooler than the surrounding desert.

The house is designed to connect people to the immediate landscape. Two simple, bar-shaped structures sit on either side of the wash and are connected by two bridges: one open to the air, the other enclosed. Moving through the house, one encounters several steps downward, as the structure follows the grade of the site.

The larger of the two structures holds the living spaces, bathroom, and children’s bedrooms. A detached carport is located nearby. The master bedroom, bathroom, guest room, and study is located in the smaller volume. Perpendicular to the larger volume is a pool, which appears to spill into the wash.

To form the house, single-width local concrete block—some ground face, some sand-blasted—was filled with insulation. Exterior water-washed concrete floors complement the terrazzo ground concrete floors inside. The ceiling is finished in wood fiber and maple veneer panels. Custom built-in maple cabinets hold the family’s art collection. In the kitchen, black-green granite complements a large, cast-in-place concrete counter that anchors the room.

With no tall trees on the site, the structure copes with intensely warm temperatures. Solid exterior walls help protect the structure from the sun. Interior elevations that face the wash have large sliding glass windows, which can usher outside air in. Eight-foot-tall corrugated and perforated aluminum panels cantilever and provide shade while discrete, recessed openings act as light wells, taking advantage of the sun. A narrow opening in the west wall leads to a small court that serves as the home’s entry. The house simultaneously reflects the life of a family and the life of the desert.

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