15 miles north of the Mexican border in Arizona rests the Casa Caldera, a quaint and serene marvel in residential modernism that doesn’t rest on the ground so much as it disappears into it. Tucson based architecture firm DUST have painted a nostalgic desert masterpiece that carefully measures materiality versus ecology, protection versus exposure, man-made versus natural. It carries with it an intimate relationship with the land it occupies, and is a contemporary case study of how good residential architecture can be.
At first glance, there’s nothing truly remarkable about the dusty stretch of land the Casa Caldera decided to make home. The dry, sometimes unforgiving nature of the Sonoran desert has been known to turn off a passerby or two. However, within this harsh climate lies great opportunity – and to those who’ve developed a close personal relationship with the desert – no other climate on the planet comes close in terms of beauty, sacrifice, and habitability. The question remains: how do humans thrive in such a climate without relying on megawatts and central air conditioning?
The answer lies within this off-the-gird cabin, where the difficulty of habitation isn’t met with forced air, but with an understanding of how the local vegetation and animal life have thrived before it. Through use of passive cooling techniques such as thermal mass, solar orientation and natural ventilation, the home and its dwellers become intertwined in the natural flow of the surrounding land. It does all this while maintaining an aesthetic and curb appeal that can only be achieved with an intimate understanding of materiality, form, and spatial composition.
Upon entering the home through a single, wide glazed opening sank deep into the building’s front facade, and you immediately understand the designers deep-rooted relationship with the desert. Rusty browns and subdued reds mirror the dry brush and clay-ridden dirt that envelopes the Sonoran countryside. Complementing the material palette are the strategic views that have been poked through both public and private spaces. It’s a careful exposition that does well to let in only enough direct light to illuminate the interiors, but keep a majority of heat away.
DUST has taken their experience – both professional and personal – and poured it into their effort with the Casa Caldera. Calling it a labor of love doesn’t quite do it justice. This home is a physical manifestation of the relationship between the designers and the land they grew up on. Calling it anything less would be to miss the point entirely.
Photography: Cade Hayes