Desert Courtyard House, Arizona


published in l'Arca International n. 125


Desert Courtyard House, Scottsdale, Arizona,United States, project: Wendell Burnette Architects



Project Team: Wendell Burnette (Principal-in-charge of Design), Thamarit Suchart (Project Manager/Chief Design Collaborator), Jena Rimkus, Matthew G. Trzebiatowski, Scott Roeder, Brianna Tovsen, Chris Flodin, Colin Bruce; Consultants: Leavitt – Weaver; Rudow + Berry; Associated Engineering; Kunka Engineering; Rick Engineering; Ljusarkitektur P&O AB; Debra Dusenberry Landscape Design; Wardin Cockriel Associates; Contractor: The Construction Zone; Photos: Bill Timmerman



Site is a peninsular of granite outcrops and towering Saguaro cacti surrounded on all sides by deep perennial washes. The land where the house stands, at the end of a long private drive, rises up towards the west where there are great views across layers and layers of mountain ranges in the distance. This is an intricate plot of land, full of indigenous vegetation and rocky outcrops, fractures, and volcanic formations, a microcosm rather like a primeval Zen garden.



The project concept comes from the idea of constructing the house around a central courtyard that seems to emerge from the rocky landscape. It was decided to use the traditional rammed-earth building method for construction purposes. The foundations were made from one single material, so that the walls, floor, ramps, steps and benches look like elongations of the neighbouring rocks.



Green River flows into Salt River at the bottom of the valley and that is where one of the world’s hardest aggregates can be found, which is collected for local concrete manufacturing. It was specially chosen for this project and mixed with a small percentage of earth pigment. The surfaces of the plinth were processed using a cement-based matrix to reveal the qualities of the composite material, sand, gravel, pebbles and broken stone, so that it ended up being the sort of ‘window’ into local geological time.



The building winds along an irregular monolithic spiral protecting the courtyard, which is open towards the west, and creates a sort of segmented frame outlining the sky above the garden.



Towards the outside the house structure is embedded with slits, coves and facets evoking the irregular shape of the fully-glazed contours around the courtyard.



In the interiors, blades of light flowing through the side apertures and fissures in the satin-coated steel roof combine with lighting coming from the garden to create plenty of interplay between shadows and reflections that only fade as the desert night falls.