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Minimalist desert house by Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

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Contemporary new home in desert with long, low profile, bridge walkway, pool, open-plan living by Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

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There is a magical beauty about the desert that is hard to pin down. But it is probably a combination of elements – the relative sense of isolation, the way the light changes during the course of a single day, the unique topography and the flora and fauna that have adapted so well to the climate extremes.

All of these things came into play in the design of this house, by architects Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects.

The house is in a subdivision, but on a large section of almost a hectare. Privacy from the neighbouring properties was just one aspect that helped to determine the architecture, however.

Rosano says the topography was also a key factor. The buildable part of the site was split by a natural tributary channel where water drains away to a wash on the western side during the infrequent rains.

"We decided to literally bridge the channel by positioning the garage and carport on one side, near the road, and placing the living spaces on the other side.


"We added a covered bridge to link the two. The orientation of the house was another consideration – we needed to minimise the exposure to the west where the sun's heat is most intense. At the same time we wanted to maximise the views to the south, southeast and north."

Rosano says the solution was to turn the house perpendicular to the natural contours of the site. This provided the right solar orientation and captured the views. Tall slot windows on the west side of the house minimise the sun's heat, but are positioned to frame views of the native saguaro cacti on the hillside. They are also placed to ensure privacy.

"Height restrictions in the subdivision meant the house needed to be low," says the architect. "This worked with the owners' desire for a single-level residence that would suit them in retirement, providing good accessibility. And in terms of the aesthetics, the design works with the location, and the way you view the horizon in the desert – there is a strong horizontality to the view."

Designing a long, low house with the maximum possible ceiling height also meant the architects were able to cantilever part of the house over the desert, which creates shade for the numerous desert animals in the area.

"The cantilevered elements help with the flow of air across the site as well," says Rosano. "The deer and javelinas leave tracks in the dirt, so we know they are sheltering beneath the house."

The architects separated the main wing containing the living area and master bedroom from the guest wing, and linked these with a narrow bridging element that forms a library.

"This gives the owners the option of closing down the guest wing when it is not required," Rosano says.

Transparency is another key feature of the house – the design provides a visual axis right through the main living pavilion and out though a sculptural, steel-framed viewing portal beside the pool.

Rosano says having openings on both sides of each pavilion also makes it easy to cross ventilate the house during the cooler months when the air conditioning is not as essential.

The interior reflects an appreciation of Mid-century Modern design. The architects introduced built-in cabinets in rift-cut white oak. For visual continuity, these include an entertainment cabinet in the main living area, cabinets in the kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms.

In the kitchen, a freestanding bank of cabinets accommodates the ovens, a coffee centre, refrigerator and pantries. Additional pantry storage is provided in a scullery behind these cabinets. Air vents on the top of the rear wall of the kitchen push air right out over the top of the freestanding cabinets, which makes the air conditioning more effective, Rosano says.

A large island serves as a divider between the kitchen and dining area, concealing any clutter but still allowing the owners to socialise with guests. The raised bar top on the island incorporates a series of cabinets with lift-up doors, which provide an extended appliance garage.

The cabinets in the living room also offer plenty of storage, helping to keep the interior streamlined and uncluttered.

Visual continuity is further enhanced by concrete flooring throughout – the slabs that form the base of the house also form the floor.

Not surprisingly, outdoor living is an integral part of the desert lifestyle. The architects consequently designed an outdoor room between the two wings. The wall beside this area is clad in steel with a pre-rusted patina that has been sealed to avoid rust residue leaching. A modern gas fire brings warmth to cool nights and winter days. Rosano says the wall provides privacy, but is not so high that the view of the hills is blocked.

Views to the city lights are maximised with the elevated deck of the viewing portal, which also forms another outdoor room for intimate dinners under the stars.

First published date: 31 December 2013

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Credit List

Architect Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano, Ibarra Rosano Design Architects (Tucson, AZ)
Structural engineer Harris Engineering Services
Builder Process Design-Build
Cladding Custom rust patina steel panels; plaster
Roofing Single membrane
Doors and windows Bronze anodised aluminium by International Window Systems
Skylights Solar Industries
Paints Dunn-Edwards
Lighting Flos Castiglione chandelier; Nora track and recessed can lighting; WAC InvisiLED tape light under deck
Flooring Concrete in Davis colours
Living room rug Kasthall Doris hand-woven wool in Champagne Citrine
Sofa Montis Axel wool flannel
Coffee table Cassina Mex
Chairs Anna from Cattelan
Outdoor furniture Janus et Cie Versa Collection
Audiovisual systems Crestron
Kitchen cabinets Rift-cut white oak; lacquered white oak
Hardware Häfele
Benchtops Quartz
Bathtub Wetstyle from Westar Kitchen & Bath
Vanity sinks Wetstyle
Taps Grohe