Ship of the Desert

Best of 2021
Designing a house in the Southern California desert is as much an exercise in cooperating with an extreme environment as it is in benefiting from what nature has to offer. The site is located on a plateau in the hills 750 feet above the desert floor, with expansive views of the valley below and the Transverse Mountain Range off in the distance. It is this serene beauty of the high desert that inspired the architecture. The plan is long and thin, conforming to the shape of the property, and oriented along a north-south axis. When viewed from a lower elevation to the east, the house emerges from the landscape as two sloping, interpenetrating forms, evoking the form of the hills beyond.Because of the site’s location, the clients, a retired couple who also maintain residences in Los Angeles and East Hampton, N.Y., required that the house be 100% energy efficient through the use of solar panels, yet comfortable in the harsh desert climate. The design therefore optimizes roof angles for solar panels, using a Tesla Powerwall array to store excess energy, and utilizes thicker south-facing walls to provide thermal mass. Throughout the house, there are few openings without solar shading. Shade is not only important for thermal comfort in our design, but the strong shadows created by the harshness of the desert sun become an integral architectural element.Viewed from the south, the master suite reveals itself as a cantilevered cubic extrusion captured by the tectonic masses that dominate the main facade. Below this on the lower level is a seemingly unbroken 50’ length of horizontal steel louvers that make up the entrances to the multi-car garage and the entry garden. While much of the lower floor is buried below ground to reduce solar heat gain, the three guest bedrooms open out into the entry garden, which is open to the sky, receiving bright yet indirect natural light throughout the course of the day.The main floor is organized in a linear progression from private to public. At the south end, the master suite has views looking south, up into the hills. At the opposite, north end of the house, the wall of the main façade mimics the transition from private to public, shifting from solid wall to a colonnade with increasing distance between piers as they march toward the north. The spacing between the piers allows light to penetrate the central, public spaces, while minimizing solar heat gain. In this central space, a kitchen, dining room, and bar give way to a living room and office separated by a monumental steel fireplace. Separating these spaces from the deck and infinity-edge pool beyond is an operable glass façade that can be opened fully, blending interior and exterior space, and opening the house to the unrestricted panoramic view.


100% Electrical needs supported by Tesla Solar Panels and Powerwall batteries.

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