20 Desert Homes

The desert, a wilderness of rock and hardscrabble, has had a profound impact on human culture, design and our collective imagination.
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Architects and designers have imposed and expressed their creativity on these beautiful landscapes.  The following homes are fine examples of desert architecture.

Composed of primarily steel, this prefab home has sufficient outdoor space. Photo by: Daniel Hennessy

Various groupings of succulents were planted to accent and obscure the home's relationship to its surrounding environment. Photo by: Daniel Hennessy

For all its hard environmental work, one of the most immediate of the Blue Sky Home’s pleasures is how it sits so snugly in its desert surroundings.

The Blue Sky prototype house leads a second life as desert getaway for David McAdam and his partner Scott Smith.

After months of arduous design and construction, Marmol and Becket are thrilled to escape Los Angeles for their idyllic desert retreat.

The DeBartolos wanted to keep the desert tradition of incorporating water near the entrance of the house as a sort of welcome mat, but they skipped the faux hacienda

fountain found throughout Arizona in favor of twin sheets of four-by-eight-foot steel plates that water pours over. Making the unusual fountain from standard-sized materials, which will weather naturally over the years, kept the cost down, too.

The earth finish, slatted cement board siding, and metal roofing harmonizes with the landscape and take advantage of the changing desert light.


Volcano House located in the California Mojave Desert. Designed by Harrold Bissner, Jr AIA

Architect Maurice McKenzie was inspired by symmetrical design, and the resulting linear and stark-white architecture makes a statement against the dry desert terrain. Photo by: JUCO

The house seems to claw onto the surrounding landscape, nestled on an outcropping with nearly 360 degree views of the surrounding desert.

Designed by Taliesin student Dave Frazee, the Miner's Shelter in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a 45-square-foot dwelling that responds to its harsh desert environment with a special metal cover that keeps it shaded at all times.

Copyright Nathan Rist.

We'll also be exploring the Byrne Residence, another home designed by Will Bruder of Will Bruder Architects. With the implementation of patios and courtyards with both shaded and exposed areas, this sculptural house is built for year-round indoor/outdoor living. The angular orientation of the structure allows for optimal views of the Sonoran Desert.

The desert loft resident is involved in off-road activities and required a place, which would sustain its appearance through sandstorms and extensive heat. The massive metal structure elegantly sits in the harsh environment.
The entrance door, secluded behind the thick metal screen, leads to the largest area of the house, unifying the kitchen, the dining room and the living room. The hall connects to three bedrooms and the bathroom.
The dining room exits to the terrace with the fireplace, carved in the floor. the ceiling is hollowed out right above it, following the lines of the round cut out in the floor. The gap's presence is almost poetic, as if it's the only passage transferring the smoke to the sky.

Visitors entering Palm Springs from other desert cities will first come upon the Palm Springs Tramway gas station, designed in 1965 by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers, topped by a hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

Southwest: Steve Martino

Phoenix-based landscape architect Steve Martino has unlocked the secret to successful gardening in dry desert environs: "The backbone of my career has been celebrating the desert rather than making apologies for it," he says. His drought-tolerant designs relate to the southwestern climate and feature native plants—like the whale’s tongue agave, compass barrel cactus, and ocotillo in front of a Scottsdale midcentury house.

The home's Canadian cedar cladding and aluminium joinery is low-maintenance, and designed to weather gently over time. The natural finish blends well with the surrounding garden, with its sculptural, desert plants. "We face south-west, so the weather comes straight at us, and the wind is loaded with salt," says Hughes. "Fortunately, the plants we liked don’t give a hoot about the wind."


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