Brown Residence: 2011 Design Award Winner

The Phoenix area is rich in the tradition of masterful architects weaving eloquent designs into the powerful desert landscape. Wright, Soleri, and others have produced spirited designs, engaging their buildings in a dialogue with their austere settings. More recently, the Brown Residence by Lake/Flato Architects follows that same time-honored tradition.

Indeed, when asked about the “story” behind its design, Ted Flato, FAIA, replied, “It was about making the house and the desert work together.”

The site for the 3,600-sf residence is a long, narrow lot shoehorned between two existing houses within a large golf course-oriented development in Scottsdale. Although the site backs up to the fairway, that typically dominant feature is upstaged by a foreground of rugged topography, an arroyo, and abundant desert flora. The backdrop is a panorama of distant mountains.

The designers divided the plan into blocks defined by specific uses. The result is a subtle choreography that interweaves low-slung, solid masses with tall, visually lightweight pavilions capped by broad, overhanging flat roofs. This assembly of indoor and outdoor rooms, each oriented to views across the lush desert landscape, simultaneously embraces the occupants while expanding upward to the sky and outward to the jagged horizon. Herein lies the success of the design.

The path through these deftly interconnected volumes begins with a circuitous, descending entry sequence and terminates at a courtyard outfitted with a recessed fire pit and a swimming pool formed by raised walls of Cor-ten steel. Two guest rooms are sequestered at the property’s west side to ensure privacy, their combined mass shading the outdoor spaces from the afternoon sun while also framing additional vistas.

Flato says his firm’s simple philosophy of space-making allows for improvements to any project through collaboration. In the case of the Brown Residence, he gives high praise to the Lake/Flato project manager Brian Comeaux, AIA, as well as the contractor, Construction Zone, and its owner, Andy Burns. Trained as an architect, Burns has assembled a crew primarily consisting of Arizona State University architecture students and graduates.

This team effort, from design through construction, executed by people equally dedicated to a common vision, has yielded a project rich in detail and distinctively detached from its suburban context. What’s more is that the architects of the Brown Residence have upheld the long-standing local tradition of spirited experimentation and produced a building that achieves harmony with the desert landscape.

Mark T. Wellen, AIA, is a principal of Rhotenberry Wellen Architects in Midland. This article is featured in the 2011 Sept/Oct issue of Texas Architect magazine.