Gallery: California Desert Home Uses Passive Ventilation Techniques

Photo by David Harrison

Building a home in the desert is certainly a test of green building innovation — because in a climate where resources are limited, how do you build to ensure comfort and longevity? Architect Lloyd Russell offers a beautiful solution with his Austin Residence near Palm Springs, California. Besides its construction out of recycled materials, Russell gave serious consideration to the mechanics of passive ventilation the home during the hot summer months. He was also sensitive to the culture of the surrounding California desert when developing the home’s look-and-feel, creating a contemporary home reminiscent of an old West outpost that captures the essence of desert living.

Russell was inspired to create a simple design that would also pay homage to the cowboy can-do romanticism that envelops California. The resulting aesthetic is a combination of ranch house modernism and rugged-ness that according to its owner, Jim Austin, fits the neighborhood’s character quite well.

Keeping with the adventurous feel of the Old West, items used to decorate the home are a combination of items from architectural salvage shops or “stuff that’s going to last forever,” according to Austin. However, contemporary materials and innovations make the home feel unmistakeably up-to-date and inviting.

The home’s most distinctive feature is also its method for passive ventilation. A steel shade canopy provides continuous shade for the house. Other methods of passive ventilation include movable walls and windows around the home that can open to allow cool winds pass through.

Environmentally-sensitive and aesthetically-appropriate, this residence caught the eye of Dwell Magazine. and can be seen in their July/August issue. And who can blame them? The home is a to-be-envied mix of cultural references of the past and building techniques for the future. Russell’s use of simple geometric shapes and linear textures blend perfectly with the sublime beauty of the desert landscape.  Its elevated placement on a concrete platform makes a, perhaps accidental, reference to the iconic Eero Saarinen’s Miller House, which also sat on a platform to suggest a transition from nature to man’s world. Passive ventilation is integrated in a functional and customizable way that adds to the aesthetic theme of the home. And forgetting all of that, the house quite simply looks rather nice to live in.

+ Lloyd Russell

Via jetson green and Dwell

Photos by David Harrison

Illustration courtesy of Dwell


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  1. niels July 6, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    this is a technique that’s being used in African countries for over 50 or more years and it appears to work very well. A very decent natural ventilation is achieved this way and on top of this the roof also works to strengthen the spacial feel of the place so it’s win-win to me.

  2. Shropshire Architect July 6, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Looks great. I like the idea of the ‘metal barn’ with modern house underneath.

  3. Yuka Yoneda July 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Hi cocodear. The metal works to reflect heat away from the home. Here is a good article, if you’d like to know more.

    Hope that helps!

  4. cocodear July 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    How does that metal canopy, especially the part over the roof or top of the house, keep the air below it cooler? Doesn’t metal conduct heat? Is the wind/air in the desert really cooler, especially when it’s really hot?

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