Set on a prominent ridge in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, this 250 square meter (2,700 square foot) home is a lens through which the clients – recent transplants to Arizona – can experience the magic of the Sonoran Desert.
The architects, Victor Sidy and Nick Mancusi, devised the plan as two rectangular blocks intersecting at an oblique angle, positioned just below the ridgeline of the hill. The first block runs parallel to the contours of the land and serves to house the carport, workshop, and study functions. The second block – containing the main house – is oriented on axis with the view of a prominent butte nearby and at an angle to the hill slope, allowing the structure to be anchored deeply into bedrock on the south (bedroom) end, and to cantilever over the desert on the north (living room) end. The entire complex is sited to preserve a stand of saguaro cacti and rock outcrops unique to the area. The builder, Repp+Mclain, took great care to excavate and build on the site with surgical precision, allowing the native desert to gently meet the house.
The two rectangular blocks are connected to each other by a shaded walkway and linear water feature. This choreographed outdoor transition from the car court to the home is a touch-point to the desert that happens multiple times each day. Halfway along that transition is a concrete bench built against the slope of the earth, situated at the place where the clients said during their early site visits: “this is the view we want to look at for the rest of our lives.”
To further evoke the exhilaration the clients felt when they first explored the site, the building itself allows movement around and through it, encouraging the clients and their guests to walk around, beneath, above, and into the house in multiple ways. A recessed breezeway provides access below the house to the western terrace. Anchoring this western terrace is the stone foundation of an old water tank – thought to have served the original ranch homestead below – which was carefully adapted into a fire pit.
The home itself is clad with mill-finished steel sheets, intended to match the patinated quality of the local stones. This cladding is anticipated to richly weather over time. The concrete walls upon which the structure sits are doweled directly into the bedrock, and the main site wall is patterned by vertical indents that activate shadows as the sun travels from east to west during the course of the day. In contrast to the more roughly-wrought exterior, the interior of the house is clean and white, a spare frame to house the life of the residents within.
The Sonoran Desert is an environment that on the surface might seem inhospitable, but upon closer inspection is abundant with plant and animal biodiversity. With this house, its residents are able to tune into the more subtle qualities of the desert, both through the curated framing of the views and through the home’s interaction with the sun, wind, water, and terrain – elements that define life and death in the desert.
“One can sit in the living room watching hawks soar across the desert, or be in the bedroom looking at layers of rock, or walk from the open-air court either through or under the house to the east terrace and fire pit. The architecture helps one experience the beautiful Sonoran Desert in a multitude of unique ways while being sensitive to the desert ecology.” – Nick Mancusi, AIA