Honor award

High Desert Retreat

Architect: Aidlin Darling Design

Project Location: Palm Springs, California

Photographer: Joe Fletcher, Adam Rouse

Sited on a rocky desert plateau outside of Palm Desert, this home is tightly nestled within a constellation of boulders overlooking the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountain Range. The residence performs as a simple framing device for the occupant to observe the dynamic surrounding terrain. The home’s diagram is a triptych of elements: a floating roof plane, a collection of wooden volumes, and two concrete anchor walls.

“An impressive zero net energy residential project with broad overhangs in dialogue with the vastness of the high desert; a well executed design and a stunning home. Noteworthy performance criteria include:

  • Water reuse system
  • Energy savings
  • Consideration of well-being
  • Construction material use.”

– 2022 Design Awards Jury

Design for Integration

The residence was initiated to be as energy efficient as possible, by necessity of its remote location. Power outages and water interruptions necessitated an off-the-grid approach. A 15kW solar array was split into three sections, two on the main roof, and one on the detached garage. A battery array in the garage incorporates solar energy storage. Two 5k-gallon water tanks were discreetly installed on the property, allowing for an ample potable water supply. An on-site septic system and low-flow plumbing fixtures keep all waste contained and managed on-site.

Design for Equitable Communities

Design for Ecosystems

The project was designed to be an integral part of its natural environment, with the least amount of disruption as possible to the existing ecosystems and wildlife patterns on site. In addition to keeping all ancient pinyon trees and rock formations in the design, the pool and courtyard water feature, in addition to providing evaporating cooling for the clients, also serendipitously serve as watering holes for location wildlife. The wild site, a large percentage of which was untouched, directly meets the constructed site and become one moment.

Design for Water

Two 5k-gallon water tanks were installed discreetly on the property to allow for an ample potable water supply in the case of utilities going out of service for an extended period of time. An on-site septic system, along with low flow plumbing fixtures, truly keep all waste contained and managed on the site.

Design for Economy

Shared common spaces in the main structure are used by the client when only they are occupying the space, leaving the guest wing dormant until needed for guests, helping reduce energy needs when only the two clients occupy the home.

Design for Energy

The residence was initiated to be efficient in concept, by necessity of its remote location, while providing livable shelter in a diurnal harsh environment. The goal was to use the least amount of power as possible from the municipal grid. Frequent power outages and water interruptions necessitated an off-the-grid approach. A 15kW solar array was split into three sections with two on the main roof and one on the detached garage roof. A battery array in the garage stores solar energy throughout day, which contributes to the building’s performance at night and during extended power outages.

Design for Well-being

The entire house was designed to open up to fresh air, and use minimal to no artificial lighting during the daytime. Every room has access to operable windows with views, with skylights in the single powder room that does not have a window. As the building was seamlessly integrated with the natural boulder formations on the site, as well as preserving every old growth pinyon tree on the property, it’s connection to the natural environment was the driving factor of the floor plan.

Design for Resources

The project was designed with long life cycle materials in mind — concrete, charred and acetylated wood from Accoya that comes with a 30-year warranty, robust steel windows and framing elements, and aluminum windows and doors for long working lives. The house used all water-based sealants, stains, and paints; low to no-VOC products; and has multiple operable windows and doors to allow ample fresh air to cycle through.

The materials of the home were chosen to quietly contrast the lighter palette of the desert landscape. The blackened wood siding is pine wood that is acetylated, burnt, wire-brushed, stained and sealed. All of these treatments are intended to provide a highly textured finish that is bug and rot resistant, and minimizes movement within a climate known for its large diurnal temperature swings. The interior is a collage of concrete, wood, stone, and steel, each responding to its immediate application to maximize durability while providing the home with warmth and a soulful nesting quality.

Design for Change

The project runs on a 15kw solar system, that powers the house throughout the day, along with battery backup storage, in case of blackouts. As every room has operable windows, if power does go out, and the battery backup is expended, cross ventilation can be employed to continue to live in the spaces with comfort until power is restored, or evacuation is mandated. 10k gallons of water storage allow for extended lengths of potable water for drinking and cooking in the event of a water outage. The materials used on the project were selected for their robust nature and durability over time, to mitigate the need for maintenance involving paints or replacement.

Design for Discovery

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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