‘Build a house like a shadow’ was the brief creative director Marc Atlan gave architects Oller & Pejic for Black Desert House. This had particular relevance in the stark, arid landscape of Yucca Valley, near Palm Springs, where the light is often so dazzling that the eye seeks refuge in dark crevices.
Atlan and the architects worked together on the concept for the three-bedroom home, now for sale via Crosby Doe for $975,000. They looked at mid-century precedents by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Schindler, who strove to integrate their projects into the landscape, as well as the European Modernist examples of Mies van der Rohe, whose designs often served as a counterpoint to their sites.
Given the rocky plot had been flattened for development in the 1960s, they decided to lean more towards the latter. Say the architects: ‘While on a completely virgin site, the lightly treading minimalist approach would be preferred, here we decided that the Western American tradition of Land Art would serve as a better starting point, marrying the two tendencies in a tense relationship with the house clawing the ground for purchase while maintaining its otherness.’
Completed in 2012, Black Desert House fills the void left by the missing boulders. Instead of mimicking their appearance, however, it acts like a shadow or negative of the form. At night, the building dissolves into the sky.
Its internal layout is designed to reflect the experience of traversing the landscape, with rooms arranged in a linear sequence around an internal courtyard. Black walls give it a primordial, cave-like feel, while curtain glass walls eliminate indoor-outdoor distinctions.
The living room is recessed into the hillside, so that you can lean your back against the solid earthen wall and look out over the dramatic landscape.