Tucked into the urban grid, a 340-square-foot grain silo becomes an unexpected desert oasis that overcomes several design challenges.
From the 17-foot, operable slot window of a converted grain silo in Phoenix, Arizona, you can see straight into the city center. Though it’s a mere 700 feet from the tallest building downtown, this urban enclave in the Garfield Historic District feels a world away.
The feeling of seclusion arises from the desert garden that envelops the unique home. Add to that a framing canopy with 16 mesquite trees, privacy hedges, a water feature, and ground cover, all of which create an entry sequence—an extension of the home’s architecture—before you even see the door. "That idea of both providing a desert enclave and connecting you to city core visually makes it more precious," says Christoph Kaiser, principal at Phoenix–based Kaiserworks. "You can see the urban context, but are completely hidden away. To capitalize on both increases the beauty."
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Emerging from the sanctuary is a 340-square-foot grain silo, meticulously converted to maximize every square inch of verticality. Originally intended for storage, Kaiser set out on a mission to transform the silo into a warm and livable space. "If you can preserve things like natural light, you’ll wind up with a space that’s comfortable and feeds the soul," says Kaiser. "A silo is a good test as a designer to see if it’s possible."
Not only was it possible, Kaiser made it his own, morphing the silo into a holistic retreat through his own complementary designs, including the custom landscape, built-in furniture, and even custom fabricated doors and commissioned art. "We like to impact much of the design as possible. It’s all about creating a sense of place and transforming you at an evocative level," he says. "To do that best, there has to be a cohesive atmosphere." That cohesion, that atmosphere, exudes warmth. It invites you in. And it wants you to stay a while.
"I wanted a warm interior, almost if you designed Wurlitzer to tend to all human needs and then slid it into one cylinder."
Surprisingly, he describes fitting the program into that 18-foot diameter as easy. Kaiser maximized space by lining the envelope with the bed, bath, and cooking area. "What I learned in early investigations is that I wanted to preserve the verticality of space," he says. "While you’re in a relatively small house, you’re afforded generous space with 26-foot high ceilings. Despite having a bathroom that’s tight, I’m willing to have those moments to counterpoint—to compress and release into another space, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy." The compact bath hugs the arc, with the shower located outside to preserve square footage.
The remainder of the programming flanks the same side of the silo. "I wanted a full-height refrigerator; I wanted moments that were quite generous," says Kaiser. Open living space fills the other side of the cylinder, complete with a dramatic, sliding radial door to further enhance indoor/outdoor living. Above, the mezzanine comprises 60 percent of the silo, with a queen bed and built-in cabinets for generous storage. The womb-like experience is complete with 13-foot-wide image cast from an in-wall projector, making for "the best movie watching in all of Phoenix," according to Kaiser.
Further beneath those walls is a mechanical dream. "I love integrating technology when it’s invisible—and when it works," says Kaiser. "I’m not a fan of technology when it becomes the wallpaper of a space, but when it’s behind scenes and works, it’s magical."
In an effort to isolate any mechanical noise exacerbated by the silo’s 1955 corrugated steel wall, Kaiser developed a subterranean cooling system that feeds into a 16-inch PVC pipe. That pipe sits four feet beneath the ground, snakes behind the millwork next to the refrigerator, and distributes air by pumping through a fan in the mezzanine, coupled with an operable skylight to deliver passive cooling. The exhaust systems are similarly structured, with fans tucked behind the refrigerator to eliminate noise. "Every square foot is precious," says Kaiser. "You have to create peace and quiet and make it as unobtrusive as possible."
From the space efficiency to every painstakingly perfected arc, Kaiser has mastered the paradox of city life and solitude in this grain silo-turned-sanctuary, a place where, as he puts it, "you can bask in the trees, but you can also catch a glimpse of the fireworks at the ballpark." It captures the best of both worlds, and is a silo we’ll never want to break down.
Design, construction, landscape design and lighting, interior design, and cabinetry:
Christoph Kaiser, Kaiserworks
Structural and civil engineer:
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