If your idea of the perfect vacation retreat involves adventure in the rugged wilderness, prepare to fall in love with this off-the-grid refuge in Arizona’s San Rafael Valley. Tucson-based architecture firm DUST designed the modern self-sustaining home, named Casa Caldera, which was almost entirely custom built, and takes on an earth-hued monolithic form to blend into its beautiful and remote surroundings. Despite its bunker-like appearance, the blocky home boasts a chic and contemporary interior with a zaguan that opens up on both ends to views of the Madrean Archipelago’s vast desert landscape.
In a nod to the volcanic activity that largely shaped the mineral-rich landscape, the 945-square-foot Casa Caldera was constructed from poured lava crete containing scoria, a porous lava rock made from lightweight volcanic cinder with a color matching the surrounding terrain. The 18-inch-thick scoria walls, which are backed with foam insulation, act similarly to rammed earth and help offset thermal activity to allow for natural cooling. As a result, the structure is almost imperceptible from afar and appears as if it were naturally occurring alongside the native grasses.
In contrast to the modest facade, the interior sports a contemporary design influenced by the traditional Spanish Colonial Zaguán houses. The home is organized around the centrally located 10-foot-wide zaguán—a passageway-turned-living area that leads from entrance to patio commonly found in Southwestern homes—that separates the kitchen from the bedroom and provides a pressure differential to pull cool air into the home. Bifold weathered-steel doors bookend the zaguán and open up to the outdoors to bring natural light in and natural ventilation. Reclaimed sassafras wood lines the interior to add a touch of warmth.
The off-grid home is powered by a small solar system on-site, while an existing well pumps water to the home. Only low voltage LEDs are installed in the home. Propane gas is used for the cooking, water heating and refrigeration. The only sources of heat for the house are the wood burning stove and fireplace. As a result, the low-maintenance home can be easily shut down and left empty for long periods of time.
Images © Cade Hayes