Location: Tucson, Arizona
Year Completed: 2003
Square Footage: 3500 sq ft
Photographer: Bill Timmerman
Structural: Oasis Engineering
Mechanical / Electrical: Paul Formentini
Plumbing: Ross Mellencamp
Contractor: Repp Design + Construction
Entry Door Artwork: Aureleo Rosano
The Downing residence is comprised of three pavilions of masonry, rusted steel, and glass. The material hues and textures were chosen in response to the desert landscape. Each pavilion steps carefully between the saguaro, along the undulating topography. Just as desert plants follow purposeful patterns, so does this house’s plan. Each orientation is in direct response to sun, wind, topography, vegetation and view.
The site is speckled with saguaro - which in fact became the guiding force behind the design. Intertwining the house around the saguaros to save them, they spoke to us about the site. The lines and notes we made on the survey are a record of a conversation we had with them, as if lining up with each other to help us understand the context. Those lines became the vectors for the building’s layout.
Just as you enter the house, you see back out – maintaining your connection with the land. The entry is the crevice between a two-story mass and living room mass. For seismic reasons we separated the two dissimilar masses, but exploited the structural necessity with a skylight that washes the entry with sunlight - creating a light sculpture that changes throughout the day and throughout the seasons.
The house is truly about movement on the site. It is like walking a trail in the desert, an easy path that ascends and descends, along the way finding spaces of refuge and interest.
Our design approach is to search for the inevitable: reducing elements to their essence without being preoccupied about minimalism. It’s a push toward a solution that begins with an unbiased investigation of the problem, whereby being patient enough to listen to the natural forces leads to answers