Desert Nomad House

A secluded bowl-like land formation cradles three squared volumes, the architecture settling into low-impact equilibrium among the famed Sonoran saguaros. The landscape surrounding the site provided opportunities for dramatic views; each primary space —living, bedroom, small den—is intentionally oriented toward a singular view both near and far.

The living room looks out onto an intense southwest view in the early evening, as the setting sun highlights a craggy rock hill and draws the eye toward the shadowed foreground at the base of the Santa Catalina mountains which are bathed in the reverse sunset. Once night sets in, the city lights of Tucson emerge.

The experience of sunlight from the bedroom is different; there, the view highlights the rising sun that illuminates a stunning rock face at the top of the Tucson mountains to the southwest and crowns the saguaros and ocotillo near the house. In the intimate den, the aperture frames the nearby rocks and saguaro as if they were a landscape painting.

The volumes that contain each zone each have a single aperture from which each sun-lighting event can be experienced. Each of the volumes is elevated and independent from the rest, requiring a walk on footpaths to move between them.

These paths connect visitors to the land at the same time that they reinforce the house’s purposeful isolation. Our desire to care for the site’s fragile land prompted the elevation of the volumes, which allows for water and animals to move freely beneath them. This way, the landscape of eons ago remains as undisturbed as possible despite this strong visual intervention.

Plate steel clads each element on the exterior, while maple veneer covers the interior walls. The way in which these materials are installed — with articulated panels and exposed fasteners — emphasizes the applied nature of the skin.

This skin makes room for a ventilated air space behind it to exhaust heat through natural convection currents. Together, the aesthetic and practical features of the steel skin nod to the logics of nature and remind visitors of the human-made interventions at play.

The design of the interior refers back to the simplicity of the shape of the three volumes through its subtle translucent glass partitions and a kitchen island rendered in plate stainless steel. Wooden sleeping decks lie flush with the walls, capping each form, and a small carport constructed of steel grating subtly tucks into a small dip in the entry hill above the forms.

From the land, the presence of the volumes goes nearly unnoticed, much like a group of hunter’s blinds. Drawing closer, and past, their elusive nature dissipates as they begin to pull apart. The architecture emerges as the relationship between these three instruments to each other and to the land.

Photography by Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Design & Architecture by Studio Rick Joy

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