Desert architectures: dwelling in the uninhabitable

Nine dwellings in some of the most forbidding territories on the planet testify to the value of resilience in architecture, in respect of nature as an omnipresent and constant interlocutor.


For those who, in the words of José Saramago, believe that “deserts are not just deserts without men” and that indeed “it is not uncommon to find deserts and deadly aridities among the crowds”, the choice of secluding oneself in remote places where one can reconcile with oneself and the world amidst the sand, rocks and the mere sound of the wind does not seem so bizarre. For this reason, works signed by talented architects are not unusual. All over the world they create, in harsh and impervious territories, the buen retiro for clients who, rather than congested cities, prefer the solitude of immense open spaces, or dwellings for those who find work and therefore a future in these contexts.

The desert architectures then equip themselves with design and technological devices – from passive solar energy, to the study of orientation, cross-ventilation flows and shading systems, to the use of natural materials found locally and endowed with thermal inertia – to cope with extreme climates, starting from the bivalent need to reduce the ecological footprint on the one hand and, on the other, to provide those who live in them with a safe, comfortable and cosy refuge.

Thus, from Nevada to the Great Karoo, from the Australian to the Indian desert, from Peru to Namibia, there are many architectures that populate deserts: from those that, inspired by the material, chromatic and geomorphologic characteristics of the site, seem to have always belonged to the landscape (Openstudio Architects, Ro Rockett, Barclay & Crousse Architecture, Nina Maritz Architects), to those that more decisively emphasise their own identity as “artificial” works (Dunn and Hillam Architects, Kendle Design Collaborative, Sanjay Puri Architects, AGI Architects, Studio OPA’s).

In any case, the protagonist is always one and the same: a Nature vibrant with life that, amidst rocks and dunes, dazzling lights and gusts of wind, incessantly penetrates from targeted glimpses, patios and inner courtyards, terraces and belvederes, almost as if not even in the desert, after all, one is ever truly alone.

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