Design: Wendell Burnette Architects
Photos: Bill Timmerman
Phoenix offers a handful of signature designs that define contemporary Desert Modern Architecture; this home designed by Wendell Burnette is one of them. A superb balance of mass, materials, light, scale and perforation perfectly placed on a gentle, native landscaped, hillside slope. Wonderfully executed details; a wealth of minutiae to delight the connoisseur in a simple design that offers a carefree and comfortable plan that defines our desert-lifestyle. Stunning City-views anchor you to the urban hub; the nearby Mountain Preserve panorama calms the soul. The private pool is a sensory experience; providing an enclave that is both dramatic and serene.
The Dialogue House
The home was carefully renovated and restored in 2012; the new owners painstakingly following the Architect’s vision and direct oversight to co-create the final work as it is today. The gardens were updated and recreated to naturalize the setting and to allow a seamless connection to the site. Well published and celebrated, this remains a signature design for Mr. Burnette and is widely considered to be an outstanding example of his work.
The Dialogue House was conceived as two volumes of light – one warm and one cool – one focused outward to the expansive horizon and one upward toward the canopy of the desert sky. A five-sided box of light with no apparent thickness floating above and within the dark desert landscape with only the apparent thinness of light supporting the space to be lived in. The home is projected south toward the South Mountain and Sierra Estrella Mountain ranges far across the Phoenix basin and the downtown skyline. The exterior surfaces of the pinwheel walls as well as the main volume absorb and reflect light akin to the “desert varnish” that coats the volcanic geology of the Phoenix Mountains turning silver, red, purple-brown-black during the day only to collapse into silhouettes at night. Thus, “life after work” is simultaneously supported by the apparent thickness and thinness of light. The interior of the street volume is plastered cool white, half terrace – half cool water as a retreat from the city within the city where one can only see sky. Wind and water activated light is refracted onto the interior surfaces by day and most dramatically at night, which provides an animated foreground to the skyline and distant horizon beyond.
Begun many years ago, the Dialogue House has an interesting history and was finally completed in April of 2012.
Vicenza stone adds textural and visual interest to the design
During the course of renovation, the owners leapt at the chance to create an illusion of more space by cladding walls in Bianco Avorio limestone. Thomas Hyland named more reasons for the choice of material: “First, we wanted to use natural stone as we felt this would add more warmth to the space. Second, we felt the color – and importantly, the consistency in color – of the Bianco Avorio stone would add lightness to the space. And lastly, we really loved the surface/texture of the stone… It has a beautiful tactile feel”. Natural stone was also used as flooring in the living room and around the pool in two hues of Gascogne Blue lime stone.
“With this renovation – said Wendell Burnette – we sought a product that would work in harmony with the existing wood and stone floors in the rest of the house and at the same time add textural and visual interest to the design. Bianco Avorio – with its nuanced, refined character – proved to be that product. The slot skylight reveals the tactile quality of the stone. And its natural beauty and calm, uniform color expand the sense of space within a relatively small footprint”.
Wendell Burnette Architects is an internationally recognized architectural practice based in Phoenix, Arizona. Their portfolio of work includes a wide range of private and public projects. The specific focus of the practice is concerned with space and light, context and place, and with the environment and landscapes in which we live. The architecture of the firm responds to the specifics of site and client needs, is resourceful in regards to budget, takes a pro-active approach to the craft of building, and strives to create spaces that engage people.
The architect’s website includes reference material of his sources of inspiration. „The Desert – Further Studies in Natural Appearances“ by John Dyke (1907) was one such source. It describes light in the desert and how different it is from luminescence in other landscapes, hot light looking straight ahead during the day and cold light at night when gazing at the stars, and „colored air“.