The Ultimate Modern Desert House


The July/August issue of Dwell brings us this beautiful desert home in Pioneertown, California (not too far from Three Junipers, actually).  The home was designed by architect Lloyd Russell for Jim Austin, an entrepreneur who wanted something simple.  The functional home of 1,600 square feet is what Austin calls, “the ultimate desert structure.”  It’s built with recycled and durable materials, as well as a prominent steel canopy that shelters and shades the home.


In the desert, there’s wind and sun, and the canopy is an obvious solution to use both elements to keep the temperature down inside the house.  When the sun hits the canopy, some of that heat is reflected back into the sky while the rest is absorbed by the canopy.  And since there’s a wind buffer, the design creates a cooling mechanism to keep the house relatively shaded and cool.

Jim Austin's home sits on a ten-acre parcel of land called Rimrock Ranch.  With a modest combination of windows, weathered steel, and concrete, it seems to suit the desert perfectly.  The roll up garage-style door is a nice touch, too.  These are showing up all over the place (see Logical Homes and Buzz Lofts).

[+] Operation Desert Shed by Dwell.




Photo credits: David Harrison; illustration: Dwell.

  • Bman

    No water catchment off that big canopy? What gives? OK, so it’s the desert… that doesn’t mean you can’t catch what little rain occurs there.

  • Cambridge Homes

    Very cool looking house – the night view is dazzling.

    I just went through a home inspection where the subject of proper roof ventilation (or more specifically – the lack of) became a big focus. This is an excellent illustration of the ultimate in roof ventilation – makes the concept much easier for me to grasp.


  • alex.zhuang

    It is a good idea. some of methods to be suit china building in the desert , as well as china should study more from America.
    Let us together to make the world people live comfortably for indigenes. said.

  • Brian N.

    I REALLY like this concept. It is so simple, but the possibilities for that outer shelter are limitless. Solar, wind, rain collection could all be integrated into the shelter without having to be part of the design of the house underneath it. The house could be as modern or as simple as someone desired!

    Very cool!

  • j

    Wind and sand storms?

    • Brian N.

      What about them?

      • bill

        What do you think? :B

        • paul

          well you don’t need to move in to the desert.

    • youwillneverknow


  • Martin

    If there is a curb on the house roof, what is to keep the sand from collecting and adding significant loading to the structure? Sand is very heavy was this considered when designing the houses’ roof? If you are getting air movement between the canopy and the roof you will collect sand.

    • Brian N.

      If you look at this photo from the architect’s website, you can see the roof of the actual home is flat:

      It’s also worth noting that the Native American mission tribes were living in that very same desert, building thatched roof homes under the desert palms, basically creating the same effect of shade/ air circulation.

    • Brian N.

      Sorry, the link to the specific pic doesn’t work, but it is the photo on the far right, with the snow covering everything….

  • Ben

    When are they going to get around to the landscaping? And where’s the shed?

  • jtb

    why wouldnt you make the canopy out of solar panels?

    • Clayton Colleran

      Cost probably… but great idea.

      • Keith

        Judging by the fact the house was built in the desert, I’m sure solar would have been a cheaper route than running a grid line to the facility. Also, while you’re already shelling out large sums of cash to build a home, tacking on an extra $10,000-$20,000 for solar isn’t really too big of an issue.

        His reason for no solar panels must have been from an uneducated or NIMBY standpoint.

  • Clayton Colleran

    I love the garage door style concept – A much more cost effective version of the NanoWall sliders, but I’m concerned about the insulation qualities… I wonder how tight those roll-ups are???

  • Anna Cesario

    Love this! Great idea using the steel canopy to protect the house from heat. Minimalist design is perfect for the desert, less is more when it’s hot!

  • Portland Real Estate

    Completely brilliant design. A perfect example of the way we should be thinking, the homes design matches the climate. I think I have a few family members in Phoenix who would love to have a place like this rather than a cheap suburban home that has to have a massive air conditioner going all the time.

  • Sagar

    I am wondering how it handles sand?? all the windows could become dirty in a couple of hours, cleaning the windows with water does not seem to be a logical solution considering that it is a desert….

    • Brian N.

      They might have a water well. The native Americans who inhabited that very same desert managed to successfully drill shallow wells for water.

  • dj41326

    might have included solar

  • somedude

    what no solar panels on the roof PSHHH

  • somedude

    What no solar panels on roof PSHHHH go greeen bitches


    Thats genius! I really like the idea of the roof over the concept.

  • Ben
    Read the article, it should answer some of the questions posted here.

  • bill

    Oooooh, I see. It looked like it was all open on the inside, but that wall slides down like a garage door and the there’s a real roof on the house under the separate roof thing. I’m guessing the other open spots I see close up too. I was worried about the sand+wind thing, but this is looking like a really cool idea now. Good and simple and solid. But yeah, definitely needs solar panels, since that extra roof has pretty much no other job than to cook in the sun.

  • Hrishi

    Living in the middle of a desert can be overwhelming. But this house looks too cozy for anyone to feel overwhelmed to stay in the middle of a desert. The idea of the ventilation not only makes the house look classy and spacious but also psychologically makes one think that the house is in shade and is cool.

    I would love to go out in My new MUV Mahindra Xylo to this house and spend a vacation out there. The Xylo color contest is going on. If you like to win yourself a great Holiday Package, just go to and choose your best Xylo color.

  • She who does not love cleaning

    I love this design in theory. I wonder about the practicality though; I think this place would be impossible to keep clean. I’ve lived in a desert climate and I know from experience that the sand/clay dust from outdoors will find its way indoors no matter what. Having that giant roll-up door would, it seems to me, just add to the problem. If we’re talking about making homes more environmentally-friendly, why not take into consideration the resources involved in keeping a place fit for human habitation? Perhaps we need more mothers who do their own cleaning as architects or consultants!

  • Sprachreisen Südamerika

    Interesting design and making use of a natural resource for cooling is quite clever. Building something new & modern in the desert and not using solar panels I cannot understand (although I understand the cost factor for the initial purchase and installation).
    One thing that I couldn’t see here is if the canopy is made of steel or an other material. As for steel, it will also pass a lot of heat below its surface between canopy and house. Wouldn’t an other kind of material be suited better?

    • Keith

      I really don’t see how solar can be a cost factor. Solar prices have declined to the point you can expect a payoff in about 4-5 years. He probably spent 100K+ building that house, and it won’t be paid off for 10-20 years I’d imagine. The difference between 100K and 115K isn’t much considering that extra 15K would have paid for itself within a few years.

      I just don’t get why he didn’t go solar.

  • znakomstva

    But what about insects or birds are the same, because they can fly

  • robbintina


  • treader

    Not really new….people have been building these type of structures over their trailer homes for years in the desert southwest. At first, I thought that’s just what I was looking at.

  • Joe

    if he only put solar panels instead of the canopy…

  • nobbywebfoot

    Why do we see so many brilliant ideas and virtually none are adopted generally? Yet the world is full of very expensive and horrible mistakes.

    • Gary Spencer

      Unfortunately most places today have regulations *against* this sort of thing. The whiney neighbors will complain that its negatively affecting their property value. Another thing to consider, the cost of the canopy roof is in ADDITION to the normal roof on the house and with wind loading it is not inexpensive. This is not really a clever idea, just an abuse of a construction budget.

  • Dr. Obligatory

    Top of canopy should be painted tan/white or other light color to reduce the heat absorption from sun rays. This would maximize the cooling effects of flow through winds,

  • Xed

    This is great.. If I’m living in a desert, I would most probably choose this kind of home. Besides, it’s very environment friendly because it’s made from recycled materials..

  • Markus Merz

    Awesome #desert #house #design. I like the usage of the sliding garage doors:


  • tom

    what about the cold?
    where is the heat sink so that the house stays warm at night?
    deserts are very cold at night.

  • John

    In the Australian tropics this type of second air gap roof has been used very successfully on mobile/demountable homes and on cargo containers used for secure storage at an acceptable temperature to the contents. Containers converted into living sections then joined into groups to make up a home which is virtually fire proof (from the outside) have been fitted with the extra roof for cooling. In my experience this has been used for at least 20 years. It works. Likewise cars with carry racks on the roof. Same…

  • w4ni

    might work well for summer but also puts house in shade in winter too –
    also exposes house to north winds in winter – designer somehow ignores
    the SUN – must be an architecture school graduate – any rectangular building
    that is the same on the north and south sides is a gross mistake – “stumble upon” found this absurdity but then it was a stumble was it not ?

  • Peter Brumis

    This is pretty sweet – but I couldn’t take living in the desert. Got a good design for the mountains? (Tahoe/Sierra)
    Check out for similar green posts (ecotourism, etc)
    Thanks for the great article, Pedro

  • Mario Tube

    should have put on a 40 arce parcel so no one could see it, oh my GOD this is embarassing

  • Edward Crooks

    The shape of the space under the roof and above the home will slow the flow of air and encourage particles in the air to lose their velocity and fall. In sandstorms more sand will accumulate on and around the home than would normally be the case. To increase the air speed that space needs to be narrowed, for example by fitting a convex cover over the home instead of a simple flat roof. The increased air speed will help the cooling effect and encourage the dust particles to carry on moving right along.

  • Rikka

    chuck some solar panels up on that canopy, and water collection too while you’re at it…

  • Events

    Overall the idea of the canopy is brilliant! It would be a good idea to put some PV solar modules or a solar hot water system on the canopy to make better use of its large surface area.

    • fridgychick

      Hey there from Australia, Driest continent on Earth. Go under ground. The surface is the last place to be!!!!!

  • deuda

    I like the design of the house, but I am wondering, if theory is working in practice.

  • Anonymous

    I saw this design for the first time in Auroville – India, 10 years ago..

  • Anonymous

    Why not paint the roof white?

  • Anonymous

    Actually this roof-over-the-house concept is farily common in Southern CA, especially as an add-on over an existing, older mobile home. They call them “ramada roofs”, and they really, really help. As long as there is free space between ramada and structure roof, the air circulation counters the radiant heat from the metal or wood ramada. Birds must be discouraged from nesting there though.

    As for dust on windows and in the house…..some sort of ground covering is the best remedy for prevention, like pavement or concrete, or stonework for something more attractive. But if dust bothers someone that much, the desert may not be for them.

  • BBob

    Wow this is so brand new like all the eco house designs… oh wait that’s right the third world gets by without much electricity or fuel already…

  • Anonymous

    This is the beginning of a great design. I think the solar panel and water collection comments are the next step. The structure appears strong enough to easily support the weight of a PV system.

  • Ian

    Just wanted to post to help start conversation of this. I live in the Socal dessert also. This seems like I new way of thinking.

  • Desert Raton

    The idea is simplicity. Zeriscaping eliminates the need for mass water retention. Just sloping the ground properly and strategic planting are often times all that is necessary to satisfy the H2o requirements.

  • Robert

    Cool looking house!!! Great idea. It is also right step towards energy conservation. Energy can be conserved in many ways

    • Barbarajdesantis

      We also have a house right near RImrock. I love the ramada roof idea, but have a few concerns regarding the ( undeniably beautiful) garage door entryway. We were told to leave all doors closed, always, to discourage rats, snakes and birds ( all of which we have had as “guests”, despite our best efforts at keeping the doors closed. ) How do you leave a giant garage door open and not offer entry to rodents , birds,scorpions, insects and bats, not to mention the dreaded “Mojave Green” snake?
      We also have a property in Joshua Tree that has a decaying roof. Because the places where the roof is crumbling offer entry points to desert birds, which are plentiful in the area, the house has become like the aviary at the zoo, complete with MUCHO guano and the accompanying stench. The birds draw predators ( snakes, coyotes, bobcats, etc). I would be wary of anything ( like the space between the surface and the ramada roofs) that could offer shelter to birds. Shelter, as well as food and water sources are hard to come by in the desert and animals take advantage of whatever they can find.
      To address some previous questions about water sources,yes, there are wells in the area , but it is also common to purchase hauled water, which mostly comes from Barker Dam.

  • Cagaandoro

    no over hang, as the sun sets it will fall on the roof of the under structure as well as the west wall, no thought to it’s east west orientation of windows,  totally overbuilt.

  • Selena Kam

    A home built in the desert is certainly a test of green building innovation — because in a climate where resources are limited, how do you ensure comfort and longevity? This home offers a beautiful, eco-friendly solution because it is constructed out of recycled materials. Its most distinctive feature is the steel shade canopy that provides continuous shade. The use of simple geometric shapes blends perfectly with the beauty of the desert. This home is environmentally sensitive and aesthetically appropriate.

  • Jizelle

    You do know that they would have to be nocturnal(they move around a lot) because no house can stay permanently in the desert. The sand would eventually give away and they house with it. I don’t want to be all ‘I know everything’ because i don’t. I’m only 12. But i have enough knowledge to know that house won’t/didn’t last very long.
    Jizelle :) xxx

  • Debbie Lashinsky Leavelle

    I’d just add sides to the roof….that roll up too…;)

  • Debbie Lashinsky Leavelle

    I’d just add sides to the roof….that roll up too…;)

  • Jeff Thompson

    Mexicans have been doing this for years. They build a pavilion roof over their mobile homes.

  • SEPCO-SolarLighting

    Beautiful design. Love the use of shade and winds to keep the house cooler. Making use of what nature gives you is a great way to live sustainable.

  • SEPCO-SolarLighting

    Beautiful design. Love the use of shade and winds to keep the house cooler. Making use of what nature gives you is a great way to live sustainable.

  • SEPCO-SolarLighting

    Beautiful design. Love the use of shade and winds to keep the house cooler. Making use of what nature gives you is a great way to live sustainable.

  • Noura Ossama

    what material did you use to build the house and what type of wood did you use to build the canopy

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  • you killin me

    I’ve been studying this canopy concept for a while. It makes building the living exterior structure so much simpler and lower cost. Plus you do not have maintenance from rain and solar exposure. So many advantages here…

  • you killin me

    With the garage door you could park the car inside also! Almost like drive in movies!

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