13. July 2014
The harsh sun of America's Desert Southwest leads architects to varying design responses, from the vernacular use of mass that absorbs the sun's heat and radiates it during the cool nights to elements that filter the sunlight. Eric Strain of assemblageSTUDIO has combined these two approaches to dramatic effect in the Tresarca residence in the Mojave Desert. A mesh-wrapped upper floor cantilevers over a predominantly solid base, creating a shaded patio and sunken courtyard in the process. The architect answered a few questions about the house.
Front of house at night
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
Client called after seeing our work in the surrounding environment. We met on site and instantly formed a united design aesthetic for the project.
View of cantilever from front yard
Please provide an overview of the project.
The Mojave landscape maintains an inherent beauty of textures, stratifications and materials, as well as protected oases of color brought to life under the play of shadow patterns of a harsh sun. These environmental realities can be used as inspiration for design to create a sense of place and character regionalism.
View from the pool
At Tresarca, the materials develop a layering of mass as you move from the basement to the private realm. Each layer is representational of the stratification of the nearby Red Rock Mountains. Changing of materials provide the variety of textures associated with the rock formations. Crevices between the mass' form oasis where landscape and water cool the space. The mesh screen provides both a protection from the harsh sun on the interior spaces and a play of shadows among the forms.
Entrance underneath the cantilever
Design simplification is often misunderstood, but the richness lie’s in exactly that ... the simplification of forms and materials. They are not verbose, over done or processing add-ons for the stake of add-ons. The forms represent a simple life, not one adorned with the glitz and glamour favored by the gaming establishments of this valley or the large overdone homes that line our streets, but one in which every detail matters. Building upon each other until they come together in the piece de resistance - the mesh screen.
View of bridge over courtyard
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
The mesh screen provides both a protection from the harsh sun on the interior spaces and a play of shadows among the forms. An analysis of the desert floor and nearby red rock mountain formations gave inspiration to the mesh screen. The screen form became an important juxtaposition to the simple rectilinear forms hidden beyond.
How would you describe the architecture of Nevada and how does the building relate to it?
Nevada is a state of two worlds, one the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, which seeks to transplant imagery from around the world to memorize the minds of 40 million tourists, and the other a rural lifestyle which develops its architectural forms from materials on hand. Their forms represent function over form where the Strip imagery is entirely devoted to form. Materials are man-made, derived from the earth, not lathered with implied memories of a distant land environmentally insensitive to the Mojave Desert.
If we are to develop an architectural form which represents this specific environment we must understand how those in rural Nevada designed to connect to their land. We need to understand their handling of materials and forms which will allow us to create a sustainable architecture for Las Vegas that doesn't rely on advanced technologies but on a passive approach to design which respects this place.
Tresarca has been developed around a simple expression of forms and materials. Separated into functions, the forms create opportunities for protected courtyards, cross circulation within all the spaces and the penetration of indirect natural light. Glamour and glitz have been substituted with meaningful purpose.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, NV
Eric Strain, AIA
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