Desert Courtyard House by Wendell Burnette Architects. The 7,200 ft² (669 m²) house is located in Scottsdale, AZ . The site is a peninsula of granite outcroppings and towering Saguaro cacti surrounded on all sides by deep perennial desert washes except for a single spit of land affording access from an Ocotillo studded ridge above. The building site, further down a long private drive, levels out toward the west into an edge condition dominated by an expansive vista – layers and layers of distant mountain ranges – that in the evening seem to epitomize the drama of the Arizona Sunset. Due to the elevation of the site beneath the community’s gaze and the entry gate at the road it became important to us – to recede the house as a deep shadow – into the depth and complexity of the desert floor below

 

When your feet begin to move across this delicate floor you feel as though you have entered a Zen garden. At the eastern edge of our garden, the sound of water is heard trickling – remarkably even in our Desert – for half the year through a fractured decomposing granite boulder field and a rush of cattails. At the highest point of the site we took delight in a large arrow-shaped granite boulder pointed west, a peculiar group of volcanic rocks and a large multi-armed Saguaro between. Standing in this place for the first time, we felt immediately compelled to hold and preserve a microcosm of this precious primordial desert landscape including an equally infinite piece of its indomitable sky.

The plinth was cast in place with one material throughout such that a wall, a floor, a ramp, a step, or a bench could be experienced as part of one contiguous stone. The Verde River eventually connects to the Salt River, which collectively tumbles some of the worlds hardest aggregate through the lowest point of the valley, where along with sand and cement, it is harvested for locally produced concrete. A “highway concrete mix” with oversized 1 ½” aggregate was specifically selected for this project and mixed with a small percentage of the earth pigment – raw umber. We wanted to work the surfaces of the plinth in order to reveal the composite qualities of the material, sand, conglomerate gravel, pebbles, broken stone, in a cement matrix, and consequently a window into the geologic time of this place.

© Bill Timmerman

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