Lacey Residence

The Lacey Residence, by Jones Studio, is a 4,000 sq ft private residence located in Paradise Valley, AZ.

The site slopes in three directions; it is a desert knoll. Linear forms, assuming they are long enough, will inherently emphasize the shape of the landscape by contrasting a level parapet with the sloping topography.

Fortunately the program included a lap pool. This linear permission slip completed the third topographic axis, and finds directional purpose in its alignment with the 6 million year old Papago Peak three miles away; and the centerline of the main entry door!

According to the architects, there is a beautiful honesty in relinquishing architecture to the uncompromising reality of nature. If the intentions are sincere the architecture will only get better.

Windcatcher House

The Begay home is Design Build Bluff’s first project since opening the door to more universities. The students of architecture of the University of Colorado Denver designed a home that responds to a sustainable ethos by using local clay and soils for rammed earth walls and compressed brick for a wind catching chimney which cools the temperature inside during the high summer temperatures. The Windcatcher House, which is totally off-grid and harvests all its water, features an innovative wind tower designed to capture the wind to cool the house.

The Windcatcher House includes local clay for its hand-built compressed brick, as well as the south- and east-facing wall facades. Thermal mass cools the home during the hot, dry summers, and soaks up heat during the very frigid winters. Rainwater is collected from the adjacent carport’s roof and gets reused for the garden.

As with all Navajo Nation homes, this house is nowhere near a power grid, which makes relying on the surrounding earth even more useful and important. The Begays don’t have a car, so they plan to use the carport for an animal barn.

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Brittlebush is an experimental Desert Dwelling designed by Simón de Agüero, a recent graduate of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Taliesin, Arizona. The open-air living space incorporates tensile fabric structures into its design to shelter occupants from the sun. A fireplace provides winter heating.

The majority of the material used for Brittlebush were recovered or found on site: 90% of the steel was salvaged from the school scrap yard, all of the wood used for the formwork was waste from a local renovation project, and the earth used for the walls was from on-site.

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Weddle Gilmore Rammed Earth

Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio has developed a specialty in trailheads over its 10 years in business. The architecture firm has designed this building type for several municipalities near its Scottsdale, Arizona, base, and it has realized three for Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve alone.

The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Arizona

The Gateway was designed to celebrate the entry and passage into the 36,400 acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve while minimizing the impact on the native desert. The Gateway is the point of access to over 45 miles of trails within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for hiking, bicycling, and equestrian enjoyment. The project site design achieved the complete preservation of the existing network of arroyos and minimized earthwork alterations of the natural habitat. The building walls are made of rammed earth, recalling a tradition of indigenous desert building while meeting all of the performance requirements of modern use. The roof is covered in native desert cobble so that it blends into the desert when observed from the mountain trails to the east. The Gateway incorporates numerous strategies for resource conservation. An 18 KW solar system generates as much solar electricity as the Gateway consumes to realize a ‘net zero’ of energy consumption. Up to 60,000 gallons of rainwater is harvested through roof collection and storage in an underground cistern–providing 100% of the water needed for landscape irrigation.

Lost Dog Wash Trailhead, Scottsdale, Arizona

On the perimeter of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead is an example of commitment to environment through its preservation of native habitat, choice of sustainable building materials, and natural resource conservation. The structures are nested into the landscape and incorporate materials that blend with the natural desert environment. The rammed earth walls of the structures utilize earth material that was excavated during foundation construction. The trailhead restrooms incorporate a composting system which minimizes water consumption and saves approximately 200,000 gallons of water annually over a conventional system.

Gray water and rainwater harvesting provides 75,000 gallons of water a year for landscape irrigation. Solar power is provided to the trailhead facilities by a roof integrated 3,000 watt solar electric array that allows the trailhead to be completely self-sufficient and independent of the electric grid.

Pre-History Meets Modernity: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande ruins 1902

Perhaps nowhere is the blending of modernity and tradition more evident than at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Casa Grande was constructed between AD 1200-1450 by the Native American Hohokam near Phoenix, Arizona. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison created the Casa Grande Ruin Reservation to protect the one of a kind “Casa Grande”, or Great House, thus becoming the first prehistoric and cultural site to be established in the United States.

Protective covering 1925

The significance of the Casa Grande ruins to contemporary architecture lies in the combination of a prehistoric past and the actions taken towards the building since its preservation. Many attempts had been made to preserve the structure since the ruins institutionalization and in 1903 a protective cover was built over the pre-historic earth structure. The cover was a large galvanized, corrugated iron roof with a six foot overhang supported by 10″X10″ redwood posts embedded into the ground. The entire structure was then anchored to the ground by cables attached to each corner of the structure. This act radically transformed ones perception of the ruins. For centuries it remained an abandoned, hulking mass of solidity and suddenly, the historic structure became an introverted and fragile piece of history, wrapped within the security of modernity.

Protective Canopy under construction circa 1932

In 1932 Congress appropriated funds to construct a new shelter over the ruins to protect them. In 1928, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of Frederick Law Olmsted the landscape architect most famous for the earthwork of Central Park in New York City, was acting as an adviser to the National Park Service. Because the desire by the National Park service was to allow a shelter that both protected the roof, yet allowed the ruin to have hierarchical presence it was suggested that a flat roof on a light steel frame be considered. The steel frame, it was thought, would be “as far a departure from the design and material of the ruin as can be obtained” and was meant to be seen apart from the ruin, rather than blend with it. Olmsted sketched a design for a new hip roof with a guy wire system much like that used on a circus tent, to secure the structure to the ground in order to protect from uplift of the structure due to wind.

Olmsted canopy complete 1932

Completed on December 12, 1932, the final Olmsted Jr. design was realized with the exception of the guy wires. The hip roof supported by leaning posts was consistent with Olmsted’s design and the tensile roof structure incorporated glass skylights and angled columns and stands forty-six feet from the ground to the eaves, painted sage green to harmonize with the mountains and vegetation as well as provide contrast to the ruin.

Casa Grande today

Yet, contrary to the goal of creating a hierarchical relationship with the ruins taking the foreground, the liberation of the earthen structure from the cocoon of modern materials had emerged a singular form and a new type of architecture—one fusing historical and contemporary building traditions. This creation was the beginning of a metamorphosis of modern architecture in the southwest.

House of 5 Dreams


House of 5 Dreams, by Jones Studio is a 30,000 square foot residence/private museum created to serve the needs of a pair of prolific art and artifact collectors. Knowing that much of their collection had been excavated, the decision was made to place exhibition space below the horizon and contained within 4-foot thick rammed earth walls. Above the gallery, a floating residential pavillion is spatially composed of translucent light.