Ellsworth Residence - Cave Creek (AZ), USA

A desert residence

Geometric and material rigour, and a contrast with the wild force of the surrounding natural landscape are the key features of the residence of an American art and design collector
Katrin Cosseta
Bill Timmerman
Michael P. Johnson
Artisan Tile
Arkim Collection
Imperial Tile Imports
Year of completion

A glass monolith stretching out in the Sonoran desert at Cave Creek, Arizona is the refuge of an art and design collector who commissioned architect Michael P. Johnson to design a residence with a rational layout to house his minimalist art collection. The architecture is itself minimalist with a focus on linearity and negative space, a sophisticated simplicity based on a wealth of cultural references. The building appears to be an intruder, an almost surreal presence in the contrast between the geometric and material rigour of the construction and the wild force of the surrounding natural landscape. The house has the structure of an “inhabited bridge” spanning a 9-metre-deep natural arroyo. Sliding glass panels run along the entire length of the north side (where the main entrance is located) and south facades of the house, allowing for perfect osmosis between the interior and exterior. This visual permeability proceeds not only horizontally but also vertically via the terrace, which consists of a metallic grating platform that juts out over the arroyo.
Lightness is the unifying theme of the project on various different levels: structural, material, spatial. The longitudinal layout of the residence is accentuated by the maximum fluidity of the interior passageways. The central nucleus of the building is devoted to the living, kitchen and dining areas, which merge together ; two simple perpendicular walls screen the kitchen without interrupting the circular continuity of the passageway from the daytime area, accentuated by the absence of doors. The private spaces, two bedrooms with their respective bathrooms and wardrobes, are located at the two ends. The interior design reveals a skilful management of empty space, the construction of a neutral receptacle that enhances the interaction between two elements: nature and the works of art. The perspectives are consequently modulated to assure maximum enjoyment of the view while enhancing the scenic function of the paintings and sculptures.
The furnishings are measured and minimal, consisting of elements that either merge mimetically into the structure or stand out for their iconic power, as in the case of the Mies van der Rohe chairs. The spatial continuity is emphasised by the choice of absolute white as the colour standard for walls, floors and ceilings, a white palette in which ceramic tiles play a key aesthetic and functional role due to their materiality, versatility and resistance.
White large-format porcelain tiles (Time series from Arkim, a Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola brand), laid on the floor in a 60×120 cm size, enhance the lengthwise extension of the volume and at the same time have an important thermal function by absorbing the sun’s heat that enters through the south-facing windows and releasing it gradually during the evening, resulting in a considerable reduction in energy expenditure. The use of natural air conditioning resources is also reflected in the building’s bridge structure, which during the summer months exploits the natural circulation of air in the arroyo. The residence also has a sophisticated remote control system for operating the sun shields and an air-conditioning system which, hidden in the false ceiling, runs around the entire perimeter, where integrated track lighting further emphasises spatial depth and clean styling.

Arkim (Cooperativa Ceramica d'Imola), Time series
porcelain stoneware
60x120 cm
Technical characteristics
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): 0,05%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): 140 mm3
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): 50 N/mm2
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): R9
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
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