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The design concept is rooted in early settlement vernacular, where components of the compound are “pulled” apart and placed within the landscape. The in-between spaces emerge into focus as protected outdoor rooms, nestled within the surrounding environment, encouraging exploration and immersion into the outside environment. Our design embraces this concept of connection through separation. The distinct functions of the home are spread across the site, the resulting exterior ‘voids’ are as much a part of the home as the interior volumes. Under the mantra “Las Vegas means meadow”, the site’s landscape lushly fills the spaces between with natural vegetation, returning the site to a past presence. The selected materials not only echo the surrounding Black Mountains, but they are also seemingly created of them. Massive, rammed earth walls, formed of the site’s excavated soil, anchors the home as it emerges gracefully from its site.
The design of custom single-family residences should still hold an important typological pursuit for architects today. The type’s past encourages an investigative component to the design process from the Case Study Program to the Mid Modern style found in Palm Springs. Explorations into how one lives are more personal than many other project types. The closeness between client and architect forms a long tern partnership, level of trust that allows research and thought into materials, construction techniques, energy conservation and spatial experiences not always encouraged in other project types or schedules. Opportunities discovered/reinforced in the single-family custom home design process often find their way into other project types that address larger communities from affordable housing to schools. We approached this project with a mind set to explore and learn from the vernacular history of Las Vegas that is overlooked. Most of us are familiar with “Learning from Las Vegas,” but little is known nor discussed about the architecture existing before 1950 yet alone before 1905 when the city was formed. The physical environments created by the Paiutes, Mining, Agriculture, and Ranches are seldom recalled or used as inspiration. Was David Hickey right when he said, “Las Vegas is not interested in history because one can not bet on it,” or is Brian McCay Lyons more applicable when he said,” Vernacular is what you look at when you can’t afford to get it wrong?” We desired to understand the early vernacular through ranches and their way of dealing with the arid environment of Las Vegas pre 1900 before air conditioning. How did these structures deal with the environment they encountered? Dealing with a lack of forestry products, the early ranch structures were crafted through adobe block. Made from the earth, they understood thickness of mass (walls), protection of openings and a lighter material (wood) used to form a roof element with large overhangs to shield from exposure. These approaches to creating a life in the desert where the past we did bet upon when starting the design process. Vernacular inspired us to look at present day opportunities in materials, construction and sitting to develop a design that at its beginning tried to design without air conditioning in mind. The design embraces the landscape, creating spaces protected from the sun, to engage with nature. The idea of room, not just an internal function but one in which protected space is the intention was explored. While the program is large, the vernacular offered clues in massing to form a collage of structures forming a singular ranch/compound. At the Black Mountain Residence, we broke the program into functionally related components that enable a conservation of natural resources through the compartmentalized systems that are individual controlled. Black Mountain Residence relies on our past without a copy of the traditional. It merges past and present to create an imagined way to live in the Mojave Desert today.
Sustainable Design & Materials
The selected materials not only echo the surrounding Black Mountains, but they are also seemingly created of them. Contextually representative of the material, form, and texture of the mountainside. Massive, rammed earth walls, formed of the site’s excavated soil, anchors the home as it emerges gracefully from its site. These 3’-0” thick walls form the thermal mass top protect the home from the environment. Large overhangs, shade and protect the triple pane glazing used throughout to connect the home to its landscape and the views of the Las Vegas valley beyond. The material palette has been selected to create an integration of home and landscape, minimizing the transportation/resourcing of materials, increasing one’s well being through a physical engagement with site, while delivering an energy efficient home respectful of the native ecosystems of the Mojave Desert. The home is designed to reflect an economy of values through its resilient ability to withstand changes in the environment and consequences of natural resources limitations. The design creates the opportunity for a long-term relationship between the owners and their home.
Green Building Designation(s)
Date of Completion
Henderson, NV, USA
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