The 7,800 square foot Desert Courtyard House by Wendell Burnette Architects of Phoenix, Arizona is more than just a stunning contemporary home. It has been constructed from soil excavated from the site in the form of ‘rammed earth’, one of the oldest methods of construction.
Desert Courtyard House Made Of Dirt
The Exterior and Surroundings
Wendell Burnette Architects are the same folks behind the incredible design of the Amangiri resort in Utah, which, like this structure, blends seamlessly into the natural surroundings.
The earth-packed walls are complimented by a steel roof, concrete, open floor plan, two stunning stone bathrooms, a beautiful reflecting pool, screening room, wine cellar, sophisticated interior design and a private courtyard visible from within through large pivoting glass windows and sliding glass doors.
The architect explains that the form for a serene desert courtyard slowly began to emerge. The courtyard concept intrigued their client as the comforts it offered – air, light, privacy, security, and tranquility – were the ones universally desired in a home. For Wendell Burnette, it also offered the chance to corral a piece of ancient time unencumbered by the recent development and to do so with a form that evolved from the surrounding landscape, its natural power, its geologic mass, its delicacy, one which would feel as though it had always been there.
Inside The Home
The Master Bath:
Large and sumptous, the master bath has two open showers, stone flooring and illuminated Alabaster wall tiles
The Master bath opens directly via a large pivoting wall into a private courtyard so you can shower outdoors in private:
The Guest Bath:
Frosted sliding acrylic doors hide the open shower and step-down sunken tub in which has a clear lounger sits.
The Screening Room:
The Wine Cellar:
Other Interior Details:
Using The Soil For Rammed Earth Construction
It was discovered through sample testing that the soil from the site was uniquely suited for employing rammed earth construction. Wooden molds held wide apart accept 3 foot high layers of earth in lifts, then a dry mix of dirt and cement (3-8%) is compacted down with pressure pounding into a 12 inch layer of dense thermal mass, lift by lift until the height of the wall is achieved. It requires a stable footing at the ground and a hat for protection from rain and erosion. They raised the requisite foundation just above the flood plane as a base and then expanded it into the courtyard as a piano nobile, beyond the thick perimeter earthen walls, as the most elemental form from which to view the expansive qualities of land and sky – a massive land based land scaled – plinth.
A few pics of the building process:
The construction of the unusual home was done by The Construction Zone, Ltd., an Arizona based corporation who employs a group of committed architects, designers, and craftsmen, who design and build the finest contemporary architecture in the state. Many of the wonderful, lesser-seen and detailed images in this post come from them.
The firm describes the project on their site as follows:
As Ocotillos march across a private drive that descends a ridge following a natural wash, this project’s form emerges amidst towering Saguaros and geological outcroppings as the depth and complexity of the desert floor is revealed. Constructed from soil excavated from the site, the house is a mass of concrete and rammed earth walls that meet the sky without termination. The battered walls envelop and protect conditioned spaces that surround a central courtyard. During the daytime, the courtyard is defined by a continuous ribbon of glass, the desert floor and sky. At night, the glass dissolves and the steel plate ceiling of the interior spaces merges with the dark sky. The roof is clad in weathered steel and, when seen from above, recedes into the landscape as a deep shadow. Experience of place is prioritized by means of the project’s configuration and materiality allowing for a primordial understanding of the desert landscape.
THE PROCESS (as described by the architect):
Mass, hollowed mass, faceted mass, fissured mass, and mass that cracks open and hinges apart informed how we proceeded to give this home its defining qualities all the way down to the fittings and fixtures that one touches with the hand or the eye. For instance, all the millwork is volumetric concealing its thinness until a bronze void is touched with the fingertips revealing its smooth, contoured surface allowing the mass to be cracked open revealing contents within. Fissures in the steel ceiling reveal light while maintaining the quality of nothingness at night. One can also push open a massive translucent stone to take an outdoor shower in a private faceted court. Mass and the improbability of delicacy discovered within, is what gives the Sonoran Desert its remarkable presence.
Architects: Wendell Burnette Architects
Design Team: Thamarit Suchart (lead design collaborator), Jena Rimkus, Matthew G. Trzebiatowski, Scott Roeder, Brianna Tovsen, Chris Flodin, Colin Bruce
Contractor: The Construction Zone, Ltd
Interior Design: Leavitt – Weaver, Inc
Structural Engineer: Rudow + Berry, Inc
Electrical Engineer: Associated Engineering
Mechanical Engineer: Kunka Engineering, Inc
Civil Engineer: Rick Engineering
Lighting Design: Ljusarkitektur P&O AB
Landscape Design: Debra Dusenberry Landscape Design