Thursday, February 6, 2014

Phoenix: living with or against nature

My trip to Phoenix left me with a lot to think about; architecturally that is! Of course my visit to Taliesin West had a lot to do with this; Frank Lloyd Wright's summer camp and architectural school. When an architect or builder decides to build a house, fundamental decisions are made as to how one approaches the land or nature as I'll call it. Are you with it or against?
In the top photo is a very glamorous example of going against nature The house is walled in, keeping the desert nature out as well as any desert critters I would suppose.  Everything inside the compound is presumably lush and green as if in Connecticut. This is not exactly what I'd call 'embracing nature' or what is natural to the area.  Around sprawling Phoenix (why must they live so FAR apart?) one sees the opposite example in rather comic ways such as decorating ones lawn with a rusty tractor and overgrown cactus.
You know I'm a classicist but modern architecture works so well in the desert landscape. I love how this very modern house seems to rise out of the rocky hillside. In the low hills surrounding Phoenix one has wonderful (if somewhat smoggy) views of the city and desert plains while at the same time affording romantic views up into the fabulous mountains and hills.
To my eastern eyes already accustomed to our frigid gray winter these exotic landscapes were a joy; Reddish soil, green cactus and interesting plants not to mention the wonderfully warm dry air.
It was rather hard to judge which were good neighborhoods and which were poorer ones as the city suffers from a block to block character which stretches off rather endlessly into the sunset. At the foothills of the mountains north of the city were some of the more interesting gardens and houses and so I'll assume that these were among the more affluent neighborhoods of the city.  How people chose to live here was interesting.
Located at the foot of the mountains one has scenic views upwards while views south sloped towards the city which seems to lack any skyline. However the sprawl stretches out uninterrupted in a way which I found rather scenic and beautiful in its own right in the way it mimicked the flat desert floor.
Rare pockets of green were to be found on a lot per lot basis such as this interesting house which probably feels like living in a tree house surrounded by these gorgeous Palo Verde trees.
The tale is often told of how Fallingwater came to be, the well known summer house of the Kaufmann family outside of Pittsburgh designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr Kaufmann approached FLW to build his family a summer retreat near his beloved stream and waterfall so he could enjoy it more fully. FLW famously decided to build the house ON the waterfall in order that the family would always be surrounded by it and the sound of the falling water would be a part of their daily life.
In a similar fashion many houses around Phoenix were not nestled around the hillsides but actually built on the crests of them. While it was hard to get a close look at these houses, many appeared to have been actually designed in the style of Wright. While the desert landscape is arguably a complete 180 difference from the lush rural Pennsylvania highlands the idea remains the same.
These hilltop houses blend in so well with their surroundings they are often nearly invisible such as this house above (which appears to be Noah's Ark! look for it on the left).  Contrast this relationship to the sprawl at the foot of the hills and their interaction with the landscape. I'm sorry if this is perhaps overly theoretical but it gives one something to think about no matter which section of the world you find yourself living.
I must say that I found Phoenix to be a pretty wonderful part of the world! Join me in my next posts where I'll bring you Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and you can see how one architect chose to deal with building in the desert for himself.


Woodside Park said...

In an environment like the desert, going against nature seems expensive. Like having a lush green lawn.

Eric H said...

I really like the ultra-modern house. I would suspect that the hilltop houses were built there for practical reasons like the view and to catch breezes. They're lucky they don't have to worry about snow on a steep driveway in the winter!

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Dear Stefan,

The houses at the top of the hills remind me (as any hilltop house will) of Monticello. I've read a number of books on Monticello, and the huge impracticality of getting water to it. Are concerns like that no longer an issue in a place like Phoenix?

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why there is not more earth-sheltered designs and/or roof overhangs that allow winter sunlight into the homes yet provide summer shade. The area is ideal for designs that allow almost off-the-grid living with just a bit of forethought in design and construction. That said, we still live in a 60's ranch structure on an acre of desert land - and love it!

Richard Sinclair

Deana Sidney said...

I'm kind of crazy over those spirit trees around that house –– they are like a green foam... love it.
I do think soon we aren't going to be able to fight nature out west. It will have to be planted for a desert not for an English countryside. NO WATER!

Love your tours and I agree that modern works in the desert... modern or pueblo style that blends into the land.

Omar bangun rumah said...

Greetings , The problem with building a house in the desert is to supply the water needs ...