architecture

9 architectural oases in the middle of the desert

Published 11th January 2019
Villa D, Studio Ko 136, 2013, Al Ouidane, Morocco.
Credit: © Dan Glasser
9 architectural oases in the middle of the desert
Written by Stella Ko, CNN
Isolated, desolate, lonely -- these are just some of the words you might use to describe desert dwellings. Yet, more than a billion people -- or one-seventh of the world's population -- live in desert areas, with the American West and Southwest among the planet's most heavily populated regions.
Designed by I-10 Studio, the Amangiri resort is made of thick concrete and sandstone walls.
Designed by I-10 Studio, the Amangiri resort is made of thick concrete and sandstone walls. Credit: © Joe Fletcher
While traditional desert architecture stretches back millennia, it was transformed in the 20th century by air conditioning and new materials such as coated glass. These technological innovations helped make arid regions more habitable, while offering architects a new typology to experiment with, according to Izabela Anna Moren, author of the new book "Living in the Desert."
"The harsh conditions of the desert seem to stimulate human yearnings for discovery, challenge and freedom," she writes in the book's introduction. "The tremendous sense of emptiness and the never-ending horizon paradoxically prompt feelings of possibility."
Moren's book spotlights 50 houses whose designs react in different ways to the unique challenges of desert life.
Some of the featured buildings, including a house in the Saharan city of Agadez in Niger, offer examples of how architects make use of desert materials. Known as "House to Watch the Sunset," the structure was built of straw and locally-made mud bricks, with its external staircases giving it a pyramid-like appearance.
Futuristic pods provide the perfect view of the desert sky
Elsewhere in the book, oasis environments counter dry climates using plants, irrigation and swimming pools. "The Desert House" in Alice Springs, Australia, is strategically built into layers of hard rock to cool the building in summer and warm it in winter.
And while many of the buildings exist in spite of the harsh conditions, others actively embrace their unique environments. Deserts may be defined by scarcity but Moren suggests that there are "life-giving forces that exist in the desert in absolute abundance."
A house in Tucson, Arizona, offers views in all directions from sunrise to sunset.
A house in Tucson, Arizona, offers views in all directions from sunrise to sunset. Credit: ©2005/Jeff Goldberg/Esto
One such force -- light -- is crucial to buildings like "Desert Nomad House" in Tucson, Arizona. Designed by Rick Joy Architects, the house's windows offer stunning views in all directions (including vistas of the neighboring Tucson Mountains) from sunrise to sunset.
Scroll through the gallery above to see more desert house designs. "Living in the Desert," published by Phaidon, is available now.