The Downing Residence by Ibarra Rosano Design Architects is a carefully nested desert dwelling on a hillside west of Tucson organized between existing saguaros. The 3500 square foot design splits the floor plan into three smaller pavilion-like footprints in order to rest more gently between areas of dense vegetation.
From a distance, the Downing Residence is barely discernable from its east-facing mountainside backdrop. The structure blends with the surrounding rock outcroppings as each of its three volumes sit reverently within a grove of saguaro that dot the hillside.
All photographs are by Bill Timmerman, courtesy of the Ibarra Rosano.
Each pavilion of the house is a different living zone. They are linked by glazed transition spaces and are individually pivoted to optimize views of the city lights and the mountain surround. Ibarra Rosano placed the living, dining and kitchen spaces beneath a roof that sweeps upward in a butterfly-like fashion to maximize the view down the valley to the entirety of Tucson on one side and the towering mountains on the other. In the second pavilion, two guest bedrooms and a library occupy the second floor above the two-car garage, which is tucked behind the first pavilion in order to diminish the impact of its doors upon approaching the house.
The second pavilion also affords a small library balcony, which hangs in a two-story gallery space and capitalizes on the panoramic views. The gallery also features a cantilevered powder room that projects from the block wall and hovers over the underlying desert. The third pavilion contains the serene master bedroom and study. The master bedroom looks across a 66-foot long, knife-edged lap pool that reflects the surrounding mountains, the blue southwestern sky, and beams of nighttime starlight.
Ibarra Rosano chose durable materials to reduce maintenance and forge a kinship with the site. The materials of the Downing Residence are rustic and natural feeling, and each of the rooms has a strong connection to the exterior. The palette consists of simple raw materials that resonate with the desert: a deep brown textured block matches the site’s dramatic surrounding rock outcroppings, rusted steel, glass, concrete and various woods all compliment and harmonize with each other and the landscape.
Upon entering the residence, the split-face block transitions from an exterior to an interior surface creating a seamless progression between them. Windows thoughtfully frame vistas of cityscapes, mountain ranges and desert flora.
The practiced design maintains a comfortable temperature throughout the year, with southeast facing windows collecting warmth during the winter and west-facing glass being kept to a minimum to reduce solar heat gain. The house effectively opens to cross ventilation to maintain comfort passively and efficiently in order to live in concert with the surrounding desert environment.
It was of utmost importance to the clients and the architect to design a house for the pristine Sonoran desert with as little impact on the land as possible. In this arid region plants do not waste precious water and energy on big leaves, as seen in the thin leaves of the mesquite and the waxy coating of cacti protect against excessive transpiration during long dry periods.
Even the “horns” of the horned lizard are designed to direct rain to its mouth for drinking. The space beneath a desert tree, with dappled light shifting against the cooled soil at its roots, is matchless architecture in the heat of summer. Architecture exists everywhere, all the time. We used this knowledge to design for the land, our clients and ourselves. It is our strongest belief that architecture resides in the space created by the structure, and not solely on the form itself. Our design approach is to search for the inevitable solution, reducing elements to their essence without being preoccupied with being minimal. After understanding the site, the program and the client, the solution should always feel as though it could be no other way.
Project Name: Downing Residence
Type: single family residence
Architecture: Ibarra Rosano Design Architects, Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano
Contractor/s: Repp Design + Construction, Inc.
Date of completion of project: 2003
Location of site: Tucson, AZ
Site Area: 495,762 sq. ft.
Built-up Area: 3500 sq. ft.
All material courtesy of the architect