A Picturesque Desert Prefab
When Jim Murren, a Las Vegas–based casino executive, approached the Los Angeles firm Marmol Radziner for a modern house to complement his hillside desert lot, he hit an architectural jackpot.
However, fine modern buildings are relatively rare in Las Vegas, where builders are inured to making Caesarian palaces and stucco villas and lack experience in executing clean-lined details. Importing such skills is costly. After considering the site and weighing Murren’s interest in eco-friendly building, “prefab was clearly the best and greenest way to go,” Radziner says. Murren, no stranger to construction, agreed that faster on-site assembly would greatly reduce the inevitable environmental impact of his new home.
The C-plan house Murren moved into three months later—when the interiors and finish work were completed—forms a sheltered rear courtyard. The building, split into two wings linked by a glass-enclosed steel structure, offers public and private zones for Murren and his family. The two-story north wing contains the bedrooms and master bath, while the single-story south wing, dedicated to the kitchen, library, and family room, sits alongside a swimming pool, bordered by a glass-walled pavilion for formal dining. Between the two wings, a below-grade open-air courtyard offers a shady place for Murren’s athletic sons to play. A high-ceilinged, 48-foot-long great room—made of four modules and nearly spanning the length of the courtyard—links the house’s two wings and completes the ensemble. From the glass-walled great room, facing east, one can see the glittering Las Vegas Strip. This is their first prefabricated home, but “my wife and I don’t see any operational differences between this and other houses we have lived in,” Murren says. “It’s not as if we had to give up anything in terms of comfort or quality to go green.” In fact, because Marmol Radziner’s prefabs have to be trucked to their sites, they have built-in enhancements, such as welded, torque-resistant steel framing and factory-fitted doors and glass panels that are braced for winds on the highway. When sandstorms buffet the building, Murren never worries.
Outside, in the sloped rear garden, Turrell’s Skyspace, a four-sided, rust-colored concrete pyramid, contrasts pleasingly with the rectangularity of the prefab. While its ostensible purpose is to provide a square opening through which individuals can observe subtle changes in the sky, this art installation has taught Murren to see his house in a different light.
“Sometimes, when I walk back up the hill with my dogs, I notice how its canopies frame—and are framed by—the sky,” Murren says. “And after dark, when the lights first come on, my favorite spot to stand is not in my home but outside, looking in.”