Honor award

Desert Palisades

Architect: Woods + Dangaran

Project Location: Palm Springs, California

Photographer: Joe Fletcher

This residence is deeply connected to the desert environment and its context in the hills above Palm Springs. Surrounded by boulders and spanning a natural arroyo, the home is lifted above existing site features while maintaining its connection with the earth. The design celebrates the hallmarks of classic desert modernism—horizontal lines, the use of natural materials, and expansive glazing. The open, shared areas and intimate enclosures allow individuals to experience several spatial environments.

“The building siting, organic natural materials both indoors and out, and expansive glazing strongly ground it into its surroundings and integrates it in a responsible, environmentally sensitive way. Noteworthy performance features include: 

  • Meets 2030 target goal
  • Use of FSC certified wood
  • Abundant access to natural daylight
  • Use of natural ventilation and +L5 thermal mass”

– 2022 Design Awards Jury

Design for Integration

Set in Palm Springs, this home emphasizes natural materials, and visual and physical linkages between indoors and out. Spanning a natural arroyo, the home is lifted above existing site features, preserving natural waterflows and original boulders. Burnished CMU blocks flank the ends of the main pavilion, grounding the home to the site. The home is clad in unfinished patinaed brass that will naturally weather over the years. Sliding glass doors provide natural ventilation.

Design for Equitable Communities

When designing this home, we wanted to consider the delicate surrounding landscape native to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Being one of the first homes in this environment we wanted to set the standard of design quality and care. The materials and tone are consistent with the native landscape. Identifying natural boulders and two arroyos helped us to site the building without disturbing the native terrain and to maintain original drainage channels. The residence is a new classic Palm Springs vacation home, while still being extremely of its place.

Design for Ecosystems

The landscape design uses a wide variety of 100% native plantings including cacti, shrubs, perennial desert flowers, and trees (where strategic shading is most needed). Boulders native to the site have been repositioned to flow seamlessly into the home’s design and in some cases act as architectural features all their own. These actions preserve the micro-climate of the site, and the home becomes an inhabitant of the site rather than an interloper.

Design for Water

The home spans over the sloping site, floating over two natural arroyos. By carefully forming the building around the site, we were able to preserve the functionality of the arroyos and leave the natural watershed undisturbed, preserving the delicate balance that is crucial to this region. Low flow water fixtures are also utilized in the home, minimizing the overall water usage of the residence. The landscape is designed to be extremely drought tolerant and appropriate to the climate. This was achieved with the use of various native plants including barrel cactus, desert spoon, and Mojave yucca.

Design for Economy

The architecture emphasizes horizontal lines, natural materials, and visual and physical linkages between indoors and out. The materials palette is tonal to the landscape, won’t fight the harsh climate, but was selected to weather well with over time. Exterior walls of brass panels float over concrete masonry units that are carefully selected to match the color of the sand on site. Floors inside and out are an unfilled travertine. Teak detailing is found throughout the home, wrapped in brass panels, they will naturally patina over time.

Design for Energy

Several passive energy cooling techniques are utilized. Trellises overhang every western exposure and offer shading to much of the outdoor living space. High performance, thermally broken doors and windows provide thorough insulation. An abundance of glazing throughout the home eliminates the need for artificial lighting during the day. A VRF mechanical system zones the temperature control of the home, ensuring that energy is not spent to cool unused spaces. The residence takes additional advantage of the harsh desert environment and utilized onsite renewable photovoltaic panels to power the home. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and fittings are used throughout the home.

Design for Well-being

Users can interact and connect to the habitat from nearly every space in the home. Floor-to-ceiling windows on each side of the great room provide natural daylight and ventilation. A glass atrium formed by the bridge connecting the two wings of the home provides a moment of transition and calm as one enters the main pavilion of the home. This space is unencumbered by fences or border walls, so swimmers can engage directly with the environment beyond. The master suite also offers sweeping views, as the secondary master contains a private deck, to provide its own moment of quiet connection.

Design for Resources

As a practice we aim to provide the most efficient designs while reducing the need for excess material. The materials chosen for the home will wear well and age over time as it adapts to its surrounding environment, including the brass paneling that will patina over time and CMU blocks that will never need replacement. These are high investment cost materials but will provide a long lifetime of use.

Design for Change

The biggest threat to this site is drought and materials of the structure becoming brittle. The materials we selected are not synthetic will patina over time rather than deteriorate. Flash flooding is also of concern – the home is lifted above the site and natural water channels are well managed. The floor-to-ceiling window/door fixtures provide ample access to light and natural ventilation. This makes the home very survivable in the short term of natural events.

Design for Discovery

The process of completing this project provided many opportunities to learn and adapt to designing in a delicate landscape. This home is very contextual. We learned lessons regarding scale, adjacencies, and function when designing the home to be part of nature rather than fighting against it. Lessons learned from the project have been shared with our team. We reference the scale, floor plans, photographs, construction submittals, etc. to build upon our portfolio and continue to influence better and better practice for each new project we take on. Additionally, the homeowner has opened up the residence to architectural tours to share our learnings with the public.

AIA California
AIA California
Celebrating over 75 years of service, the AIA California actively promotes the value of design and advocates for the architectural profession. AIA CA is an association of 11,000 dedicated and passionate members who share a commitment to design excellence and livability in California’s natural and built environments.

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