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TOUCHING NATURE.

Encased in a carapace of weathered steel, a retirement house in the spectacular splendour of the Arizona desert appears part of its raw, elemental, landscape.

In southern Arizona, close to the Mexican border, landscape and sky collide in an exhilarating rush of space and light. This elevated desert area is known for its awesome summer lightning storms and very clear night skies (accounting for the presence of several astronomical observatories). Within this extraordinary natural arena, Rick Joy has built a house, a tautly graphic composition of glass and planes of hoary, rusted steel that sits lightly and low on the ground, like a lizard basking on a rock. His clients were a couple from Ohio who had spent their holidays in the Southwest and become seduced by its vast, primeval landscapes to the point of commissioning a retirement home. Covered with scrub, native mesquite trees and low wild grasses, the desert site slopes gently down to the south. In the distance, snow-capped mountains delicately frame the horizon. Apart from the usual living and guest spaces, the clients requested two studies, areas for entertainment and an optical telescope platform (the husband i s a former radio astronomer and the site was selected as much for its night-time view of crystal clear skies as daytime panoramas). All this had to be contained on a single floor.

joy's response was to carve a level shelf into the hill, defined by two U-shaped retaining walls skewed towards one another. This establishes a datum for the house. The retaining walls form the ends of two shed-like volumes (the main dwelling and a smaller guest house) that gently nudge into each other, with a linear courtyard occupying the intermediate space. From the approach road, only the glazed ends of the sheds are visible above the ground; at night these become glowing abstract forms, apparently hovering in space. A gravel-covered garden spiked with plump cacti flanks the entrance. To get in, you descend through a stair wedged in the cleft between the two retaining walls, to emerge in the tranquillity of the courtyard below. Pools of water and mesquite trees provide cooling shade and the fragrant vegetation attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. The very precise detailing of the courtyard - concrete paving, crisply rectilinear planters and cubic volumes of water - expresses the controlled, man-made ch aracter of the house against the rawness and unpredictability of nature. At the west end of the courtyard, a swimming pool extends the vista towards the far distant horizon.

The house's organization emphasizes the connection with the exterior, as internal and external spaces meld fluidly with one other. Flanked by the courtyard, the main living space is a long bar with a covered porch at its far end overlooking the swimming pool. To the rear is the master bedroom and bathroom and twin studies, which face the courtyard but also overlook a smaller private patio and pool, enclosed by the retaining wall. Each window exactly focuses and frames a particular view; some windows are set flush with the steel surface, some are box-like protrusions, some unglazed cutouts. The smaller guest wing also houses a garage and a platform for an optical telescope.

Joy likens the house to a geode, the coarseness of the rough steel exterior contrasting with the refinement of the interior. Used extensively in farm buildings and structures, rusted steel is a common sight in the Arizona countryside. Because of the intensely dry climate, steel weathers quickly but does not rust through, so it was not necessary to use costly proprietary types of oxydized steel cladding. From a distance, the rough, red carapace of the house is a strong yet familiar presence, resonating with the hues of the desert. Inside, white plaster walls and black polished concrete floors impart a simple, understated elegance. Pale maple, sandblasted glass and stainless steel complete the interior palette. Sliding glass panels heighten the connection with the exterior and assist in cross ventilation, although the dwelling is also air conditioned. Joy's house extends the Modernist tradition of domesticating nature, yet powerfully rooted in the landscape, it is also sensitive to nuances of a remarkable plac e.

Architect

Rick Joy, Tucson. USA

Project team

Rick Joy, Andy Tinucci, Franz Buhier, Chelsea Grassinger

Structural engineer Southwest Structural Engineers

Mechanical engineer Otterbein Engineering

Photography Jeff Goldberg/Esto
COPYRIGHT 2001 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:SLESSOR, CATHERINE
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:717
Previous Article:ATTEMPT AT ESSENCE.
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