ALL THAT GLITTERS- Robert Stone conjures a golden mirage in the high-desert landscape of Joshua Tree by Mayer Rus
Forget midcentury modern. Forget deconstructivism, expressionism and all the other convenient "isms" that have traditionally been applied to the discussion of architecture. Robert Stone is far more interested in the stories buildings tell, the personal and cultural iconography they manifest and, yes, even the feelings they evoke. "I'm proposing something a little more demanding than a new aesthetic. I'm not saying, 'This shape is cool' or 'Stacked boxes are in, and slanty walls are out.' I'm asking people to think about how architecture works and what makes it meaningful," says the LA-based Stone.
Acido Dorado is a trippy place. With its gold-mirrored ceiling and walls, heart-shape concrete-block cutout and gilded cage of twisted metal rods strung with wrought-iron flowers, the house seems an alien-albeit strangely congruous-presence in the parched high-desert panorama of Joshua Tree. Think Guns N' Roses and Lost in Space...or 2001: A Cocaine Odyssey...or Zeus visiting desert Danae in a shower of gold. Think golden showers.
In fact, think whatever comes to mind. Stone eschews fixed meanings and revels in multiple interpretations and gut reactions. "Architecture should support what people bring to it," he insists. "My work asks viewers to look inward. I'm telling people that they already get it-they just need to be open to it." Acido Dorado-"golden acid" in Spanish-is Stone's second rental house in the Coachella Valley, a short distance from Rosa Muerta, his black-shrouded groovy-Gucci-goth fantasy. The architect gave these seriously alluring follies Spanish names both as an earnest nod to the pervasive Latino culture of Southern California and a tongue-in-cheek riff on the common practice among developers of using foreign names to ennoble their often shabby properties with a gloss of romance and mystery.
When pressed to describe the physical form of Acido Dorado and the materials he employed, Stone instead weaves a tapestry of personal inspirations: military hardware, burned-out houses, Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, preppy, BMX, Versace fall 2009, Gordon Matta-Clark, Ed Ruscha, Hedi Slimane, lowriders, sandstorms, macrame, drugs, roadside death shrines, classic desert modernism, evil corporate modernism, Robert Smithson's Mirror Displacements, Robert Morris' brutal minimalism and empty pools.
"Everyone has their own obsessions. I admit mine and try to incorporate them into my architecture rather than dressing them up in abstract language," Stone says.
While many architects disparage fashion as a frivolous discipline lacking the gravitas of the heroic builder, Stone celebrates couture without apology. "I think that capturing a moment in time and transforming it into something profound is the hardest thing to do. Fashion designers talk about their work as a personal response to the world around them. Down the road, we see some of the things they create as era-defining," he avers. "Architecture is a person's life-a lens that opens up new possibilities. And yet architects aren't trained to trust their gut."
If Stone sounds skeptical about traditional architectural education and discourse, it's because he is. Rather than taking the established path of internship and enslavement in a professional office, followed by the opening of an independent practice and the requisite hat-in-hand courting of clients to build a portfolio, he decided simply to go to the desert and make architecture-with his own two hands. "I appreciate the directness of building by hand," he says, "whether it be digging ditches or fashioning metal roses. The DIY thing raises the stakes. If I'm going to take three years and put in my own money, then I have to ask myself, What is it going to be?'
This, of course, begs the question, Exactly what is it? Manifesto? Pleasure dome? Provocation? Stone believes it's all of these things, plus whatever anybody else decides to bring to the glossy, mirror-topped table.
Architectural Digest Special Edition
Acido Dorado x Mert & Marcus Mert & Marcus shot Mariacarla Boscono, Heidi Klum, and Angela Lindval at Acido Dorado for Roberto Cavalli.
. . . and the behind the scenes video
Dior shot by Jack Pierson for Another
Taschen Architecture Now features Rosa Muerta
Pools by Kelly Klein Acido Dorado pool photo by Jimmy Cohrssen in a two page spread of this folio size book
Lo'real paris spot by Jean-Pierre Phillipot Jennifer Lopez and Laetitia Costa at Rosa Muerta
Julia Galdo and Cody Cloud for The Lab Magazine
...and the video
Interior Design Magazine on Acido Dorado
A Machine for Dreaming In by Greg Goldin
The environs of Palm Springs, California, can cause architects to abandon structural rigor in favor of insouciant fantasy- picture the buxom assassins Bambi and Thumper pouncing on James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, under a daisy-wheel John Lautner dome. Now drive half an hour north to the wind-whipped high desert of Joshua Tree, and the fantasy becomes an acid trip. Imagine a golden house, both sharply angular and wildly ornamented, and what you've got is Acido Dorado. Built by Robert Stone, a desert native, it’s swankily modern yet suggestively operatic, with 900 gold-painted iron roses, 1,200 mirrored tiles, and a concrete screen with a heart-shape cutout. Mad Men, meet the Ring des Nibelungen.
"Architects see composition and space. Designers see surfaces and textures. I see all of that and more, like cultural connections such as roadside death shrines made out of flowers and Mercedes-Benz parts," Stone adds. And business opportunities. Acido Dorado is Robert Stone Design's second Joshua Tree house for Stone's own vacation-rentaI initiative, Pretty Vacant Properties. Each house begins with its name. Rosa Muerta, his first one, is a dark homage to punks partying in burned-out houses in the 1980's. At Acido Dorado, those two words are neatly stenciled in white block letters on one of the sloped concrete-block walls that serves as a bulwark against the Mojave Desert's sandstorms and searing sunlight. Besides being an unabashed reference to an acid trip, a desert rite of passage, Acido Dorado is a send-up of the names chosen to lend cheesy real-estate developments a romantic grandeur. There's also the literaI meaning of dorado. Inside and out, the house is awash in three shades of gold automotive paint. The sensibility is lowrider.
A single story with a rocky hill rising behind, the structure is surrounded by elaborate steel grilles interrupted by a concrete-block screen. Most of the actual exterior is composed of sliding doors in the gold-coated glass found on anonymous office buildings. Opening these doors creates a pavilion under a flat canopy. It’s held aloft on nine pencil-thin poles of polished stainless steel partially wrapped in gold-glitter vinyl, the kind that BMX riders use on their handlebars. Though the reference is almost comically sexual, ifs undermined by the way the shiny steel disappears into the sandy earth.
Alternate interpretations and optical illusions abound. At first, the gold color overwhelms. After the eyes adjust, it becomes just another shade of the surrounding desert. Much depends on the sliding grilles and doors as well. When they're closed, the house becomes a solid glittering object.
When they're open, the line between indoors and out doesn't just blur. It inverts. Since the floor is sunken nearly 4 feet below grade, and 12-inch mirrored squares cover a large portion of the ceiling and the huge overhangs, the desert becomes a bodily presence hovering above.
The flowers on the grilles have a split personality, too. Obviously, they are phony-metallic gold roses appear in dreams, not nature. But welding wedding-cake decorations onto a strict grid, as Stone did with his own torch, "somehow, irrationally, conveys life," he says. "In the same way that fashion is not afraid of exploring high and low, neither am I. Something that looks tacky today can look Gucci tomorrow if done right. And after that, who knows? Maybe it will look tacky again." Of the 10 butterflies welded onto the grilles, amid the roses, one is situated perfectly on the building's center axis. Stone is wrestling with the ghost of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Modernism exemplified, the floor plan is a 1,400-square-foot rectangle divided into two squares: an all-in-one living area, dining area, and kitchen and a pair of bedrooms. The latter two rooms, in turn, are twin rectangles sparsely decorated with platform beds and mirrored built-ins. Of course, to butterfly is to split something symmetrically in two. The literaI and the figurative converge.
At first sight deserts look empty, pure and intact. But the freedom they enjoy from the stricter controls imposed on cities and “colonized” places really means that they are areas where the remnants of our civilization accumulate, the weirdest of social and cultural experiments are carried out, and widely differing images and imagery clash and interbreed in the glaring sunlight. America’s deserts in particular are ones where this untidy otherness is most evident – the most extreme military experiments, introverted communities of obsessive fanatics. These deserts are places that many people escape to and then isolate themselves in. They are also places where relics of modernity accumulate, lime-encrusted surfaces where the weirdest mirages settle over time.
Not long ago Enzo Mari, Giovanna Silva and Gianluigi Recuperati travelled through California, Nevada and Arizona searching for relics of modernity dumped among the rocks, sand and dust. In “Scenes in America Deserta”, Reyner Banham’s vision was more naturalistic and sublime, though punctuated by encounters with human architecture and activity (Frank Lloyd Wright, Paolo Soleri). The desert’s visual richness and infinitude has appealed most of all to filmmakers – the Coen brothers, Wim Wenders, Michelangelo Antonioni, David Lynch and others, not to mention hundreds of westerns. Though technically in Mexico, the “Titty Twister” strip club in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s “From Dusk till Dawn” typifies the hallucinatory character of the American desert.
This is why Robert Stone’s designs epitomize the kind of aesthetic fusion made possible precisely because there are no traditional and contextual constraints. Stone is building a set of week-end houses called Pretty Vacant Properties a short distance from the Joshua Tree national park in California. Commercially speaking, the development is similar to the house in Vals: you rent an “extreme” landscape along with visually unusual house fitted with all mod cons (in Vals the landscape is more normal and the house more original; in the desert it’s the other way round). To date Stone has completed two houses: “Rosa Muerta”, a dark-punk apparition under a scorching sun, and “Acido Dorado”, a golden dream perhaps inspired by the LSD that folks quaffed by the gallon in the psychedelic years. The story so far seems to be born out by Stone’s brief account of why this precise spot was chosen.
"Joshua Tree also has a storied history as a rock and roll retreat and spiritual tabula rasa. If you are tuned in you will also see glimpses of a d.i.y. cultural utopia that is a hotbed of electronic folk music, rock and roll rebirth, new age naivete, military-industrial complexities, burnouts, high art, low art, and everything in-between. Whatever you find out here, whether it is amazingly good or so wrong it’s right . . . it was at least somebody’s godhead at some point in time."
“Rosa Muerta” has been widely reviewed (most recently in ArchDaily). “Acido Dorado” has been used for fashion shoots (in the Russian edition of Glamour Magazine) but also deserves to be assessed as architecture.
The house blends the layout of Californian 1950-60s modernist houses with sensitive use of rough-and-ready DIY-type materials – the concrete blocks in the yard are similar to those used for all low-cost building in California and Mexico. The house is designed to be thrown wide open – sliding walls eliminate all distinctions between inside and outside – and a number of small indoor atriums planted with ocotillos further accentuate the “geographical” ethos. Decoratively speaking, the use of colour and floral wrought-ironwork evokes Mexican imagery, tattoos and rock culture. There is also a heart set in the façade (how many architects would have the courage to do that?). The slick interiors and furnishings draw on the ideals of modernist comfort and withdrawal from the world sometimes associated with sophisticated bachelordom. All in all it’s an intriguing house, part abandoned bunker and part Palm Springs villa. “Pretty Vacant” is also the title of a Sex Pistols song.
Mark Architecture Magazine on Acido Dorado
Here is the text by Katya Tylevich-
Just east of Joshua Tree National Park is the location for not one, but two of architect Robert Stone's latest historical reincarnations of modernist pavilions. Last May, I visited the first completed pavilion - Rosa Muerta (Mark #21) - a “stripped down” black structure barely dressed in hearts, wrought-iron, roses and rope, sandwiched between a mirrored ceiling and as many chrome columns as Stone's wild fantasy marriage of references (Mies meets Mongoose BMX bikes) could accommodate. While at Rosa Muerta, I took an “off-the-record” tour of Stone's neighbouring project - the Acido Dorado. At the time, this gold pavilion's furnishing still consisted of Stone's sleeping bag (evidence of his hyper hands-on method), but its spatial signals were already triggering an immediate physiological response in me. The front steps, for example - 46 cm deep in one direction, 61 cm in the other - physically slow a person down. “Acido Dorado really engages your body”, says Stone. It also screws with your mind. “It will confuse people who like Rosa Muerta”, Stone continued as he was standing against a backdrop of gold-coloured twisted wrought iron dividing him from the hot, naked desert context. The Dorado project, however, is an improvement over the Muerta project in terms of having more navigational cues; like where to sit and where to eat.
When we talk again in November, Stone discusses some of the details of Acido Dorado. For instance, the abundance of gold. “The ultimate symbol of luxury”, Stone says. “But, the house: it's just gold paint! It contains its own undermining principle.” The other detail he explains are the mirror tinted windows: “Corporate office towers”, “Slick American Psycho avarice”, “Surveillant stare through mirrored sunglasses”, Stone says: “I feel I'm going behind the giant architecture machine, picking up trash it throws out its windows, and holding it up to say "Check this out", He insists comparing Muerta and Dorado is “like comparing your children”: unfair. Stone designed Dorado before Muerta, and built the two simultaneously, but I tell Stone, Dorado will be received as the second child anyway. “I'm completely fucking ready for the scrutiny”, the architect responds. “I believe this house can stand up to anything anybody throws at it."
Elle Germany Katrine Thormann shot by Joshua Jordan
When you look at his body of work and his refreshing, original design ethos, Robert Stone is more of an artist than an architect. While many other architects might have you believe the same about them, Stone’s work — bold, raw, engaging, and unapologetic — steers far clear of convention and hip architectural trends that muddy the marketplace with tired tropes. Rosa Muerta was not built for a client, nor did it have any real budget. It was built because Stone had an idea and wanted to share it with the world.
“I want to establish to possibility of an underground architecture that is meaningful in it’s own time and place,” Stone says. “Architecture that matters, if even just to a few people. I want to make work that is every bit as beautiful, sunny, depraved, dark, exotic, familiar, trippy and fucked-up as Southern California is.”
Elements like the fake flowers, mirrored ceilings, and tinted glass are a reaction to the Cholo culture of SoCal, bringing the supposed low-class aspirations of local residents to high design, reinterpreting them into architecture. It’s an acknowledgment, validation, and warm embrace of all that surrounds the house. And because no one lives in the house full-time, Stone has been able to rent it out to hundreds of people — yet another step in the organic process of living, creating, and sharing.
Stone designed and built the house entirely on his own, without help from any other construction workers or contractors. It speaks to Stone’s close emotional relationship to the house, the land, and the culture he grew up in. Rosa Muerta brims with personal touches and humanistic flourishes, like the concrete hearts that adorn the home. Says Stone, ”The heart initially reads as perhaps a pop gesture, but it’s own connotations of love and sincerity bring the next question: ‘does he actually mean it?’ Yes, I mean it.”
BG Magazine on Rosa Muerta BG BG is a gorgeous large format fashion and design magazine from Spain. Photos by Brad Lansill.
Robert Stone – The Dead Rose of the Desert
(Translated from Spanish text by Adriana Argudo)
Under the hot and relentless desert sun in Southern California we find a black silhouette that contrasts and complements its flat brown landscape.
Covered with a mirrored ceiling and surrounded by a screen with black fake flowers composed in strict geometric patterns, it blends with the warmth of the sand and gives life to the dead Southern California desert. Like a lost vernacular that developed over the generations after Manson killed the 60’s, the desert became over-run with dirt bikes, and the California dream rotted in the sun, Robert Stone designed a project beyond words with significant architecture that brings feelings from all who know this desert rose. The simple concept and complexity of the spaces result in a consistent and clear style.
Rosa Muerta is buried four feet into the ground with interior ceilings that are ten feet tall while the exterior appears to be too low to be a habitable structure. It’s walls are open to the surrounding natural elements, but it’s design carefully uses solar shading, thermal mass and breeze catching to regulate the temperature in a place that is an endless summer most of the year. For it’s creator, Robert Stone, Rosa Muerta is a perfect aesthetic for it’s time and place, a natural expression of the living culture of Southern California.
“Conceptually, I have a really different idea from most architects about where meaning resides in the subject-object relationship. Rather than thinking the meaning resides in the architectural object, or it’s abstract form, I consider that it is negotiated anew between the subject, the object and the context.”
Building elements of tile, glass and metal are monochromatic black to contrast to the beige view that dominates the area. The most striking and decorative element is the black rose metal work that that contrasts both visually and conceptually with the arid landscape.
Robert Stone is an architect who looks for meaning in the context, not simply in the trends but in the deeper expressions of the surrounding cultural context
“I am interested in the way that a monochrome space makes the building all about texture and sheen. I use flat, gloss, and satin blacks very carefully to create a rich palette of textures. I use monochrome color schemes to make people more self-conscious of their role The buildings are simply backgrounds or frameworks for the meaning and action that people bring to them and act out in them.”
As we look at this amazing project, we cannot stop thinking about how Gothic fashion may have found it’s way into this great signature work. And, how this project so effortlessly moves this into a more contemporary context.
Stone has presented his work in very different ways from that of more conventional architects. Fashion has been a crucial part of this presentation.
“I don’t really identify personally with goth, but I admit that I really respond to the high level of craft in fashion that has a gothic edge to it- Olivier Theyskens, 2003 Gucci, Hedi Slimane. It isn’t surprising that the fashion world was the first to respond to my work either. They are used to looking at things that are all-black but are also carefully detailed. They are also used to looking at things that are new, and deciding for themselves if they are interesting. Architects strangely were slow to see the architecture in my work- the roof structure held together with stainless pins, the gravity defying structural tricks,or the concrete detailing, the spatial composition- the things that we architects get off on. They couldn’t get past the black color for a long time.”
“I think gothic as a style that favors the dark, irrational, andsensual over the rational and modern is a really different thing in different places. In my work I am finding expression for the “real” culture of Southern California- not the adobe fantasy, or mid-century modern fantasy, but the real culture that is both natural and fake, sunshine and noir, religious and godless. But, the gothic style in the Southern California desert is probably something different than it is in Spain or London.”
Luxury Home Quarterly - but of course!
Architectural Digest France on Acido Dorado
Eigenhuis (Dutch) Feature on Rosa Muerta and Acido Dorado
The UK Guardian on Rosa Muerta - top ten travel destinations
No surprise that this chic, gothic "pavillion" has attracted fashion photographers, but it’s also open to anyone who wants a suitably dramatic bolthole for exploring the astonishing landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park. At the end of a dirt track, 10 minutes from the park enrtance, Rosa Muerta features intricate black wrought-ironwork with hearts and roses, a plunge pool, fire pit, and no walls, just the desert breeze to cool you.
Few modern houses can claim to be the result of a truly personal manifesto. Even fewer can be attributed solely to a single person, from detail drawing through to concrete pouring, brick laying and plumbing. But the Rosa Muerta House, located on the fringes of Joshua Tree in Eastern California, is all of these things. Robert Stone is a singular architect, a man concerned not with following the architectural herd, but with infusing his work with a sense of theatricality, atmosphere and craftsmanship.
Rosa Muerta is a one bedroom house, a low pavilion that makes visual references to everything from Mies van der Rohe to Robert Smithson. 'My aesthetic basically started from nothing. Just an honest search for a way to make architecture that is more subtle and meaningful to me,' Stone says. As interested in sub-cultural design expressions like low-riding, ceiling-mounted mirrors and fancy ironwork as he is in minimal art, the house is a collision of craft and culture, entirely hand built by Stone himself.
As a result, the Los Angeles-based architect prefers to exist at the periphery of the modern art world. Stone embraces the complexities and contradictions of contemporary architectural design, creating forms and concepts that occasionally jar or conflict. For Stone, the more juxtapositions the better. 'Ultimately, my work is very much for others to experience and create meaning with,' he says, 'but it begins with personal references simply because that is the only way I know how to work with real subtlety and understanding.'
The plan exploits the arid desert location, focused around an outdoor living room with spa and fire pit, partly open to the sky and surrounded only by the combination of intricate metalwork mesh and black-stained concrete blocks. Above, the canopy roof initially appears to be a direct quote of the Case Study aesthetic, yet is actually carefully mirrored on the underside, reflecting the desert soil and scrub that runs right up to the building line. To be inside is to be outside.
By contrast, the solitary bedroom is a dark, mysterious cave with the bed flanked by planters and a small kitchen, utility area and bathroom located alongside them. There are no definitive reference points, no concessions to fashion and no desire to promote a hollow futurism. Stone seems genuinely aghast at the world of 'high class luxury aesthetics', and Rosa Muerta derives its sense of drama and place through a self-conscious theatricality and spatial games. The low culture references are reverential without being patronizing, the 'trash' aesthetic of hearts, flowers and mirrors quoted and reappropriated without irony. A truly personal space, embedded in its landscape and set apart from the rat race of modern design.
Monument on Acido Dorado
Here is the text- What was the construction process of Acido Dorado? If you are going to dig the ditches the work has to be new, it has to be meaningful, and it has to be your own. I did 100 percent of the building all by myself. Really, I am kind of self-conscious about this. I am coming out in the open with an aesthetic and conceptual approach that I have been developing for 20 years. I don't want that to be overshadowed by the novelty of the master degree wielding solo-builder story. Philip Johnson inherited his daddy's fortune and got his work built, I inherited a garage full of tools and got mine built. What is the difference to the architecture? I do think there's an aesthetic consequence to this though. . .I can't imagine this process would be worth it if you were doing derivative work, or just some new shape or nice finishes. Where does this house sit in the context of Californian case study houses and the desert works of Will Bruder and Rick Joy? I have a personal connection with the case study houses. They represent part of the marketing and lifestyle campaign that built my home town of Palm Springs, and their derivatives still make up much of what is now the vernacular of Southern Californian architecture. Modernism to me wasn't some special idea that I saw for the first time in an architecture history class at university. It was the vernacular that I grew up with, now part of a vast field of broken utopian ideals turned into marketing campaigns, occupied and detourned into the framework of everyday life. . . and somehow better for it. I played punk shows in the living room of a William Cody house, drained and skated the pool of a William Krisel. People actually live in these houses and change their meaning- they are much more interesting as artifacts when you consider them full of high teenagers 30 years later. That may sound crass, but l'm giving them more credit than those who hold them up as empty objects with no cultural consequences. Bruder and Joy require a different response. I think my 'desert' is really different from theirs. I don't think there is such a thing as nature separate from culture. I am quite sure their parcels had as many spent shotgun shells and bleached out beer cans on them as mine did when they found them . . . but my work somehow acknowledges that . . . and theirs pretends otherwise.
Mark Magazine article about Rosa Muerta
Here is the article text-
Architect Robert Stone and I are planning my visit to Rosa Muerta, a textured and reflective black mirage, which materializes just east of Joshua Tree in Southern California. In our initial correspondence, Stone tries to illustrate what I’m in for: “The house sits out in the middle of the open desert, overgrown with weeds and grasses like an exquisite burned-out Barcelona Pavilion from another, much sexier universe.”
Several days later, my car thermometer climbs 17 degrees in under three hours, ultimately perching at 40 degrees celsius. Congested Los Angeles freeways give way to dirt roads, steep grades and stretches of dry, uninhabited land. The setting is extraterrestrial, to be sure. And when I finally the integrated threshold from scorched sand to smooth black concrete, indeed I feel I’ve stepped through the looking glass in Barcelona and into Stone’s iridescent, heat-bent and handcrafted galaxy (where I experience and instant drop in temperature under the dramatic overhang).
Reflections of Mies van der Rohe bounce, distorted, from the structure’s chrome columns. They replicate again in the (outdoor) living room’s low, mirrored canopy, which reflects back at the reflecting pool (also a spa) and makes the desert floor a ceiling. But with a nod to the columns, Stone urges me to consider the chrome details of a Mongoose BMX bike as well. Later, the architect alludes to legwarmers (yes, the ‘80’s fashion staple) as he explains how the black rope around each column visually disconnects the straight line of the supporting structure, “to make it float a little more”.
“Clearly, I understand what it means to take a chrome column, and it’s the Barcelona Pavilion- but it’s coming out of the dirt,” Stone says. “It’s not sitting on a plinth; it’s in the desert. I know what the high references are for these things, but there are also ones that are just close to my heart.”
In this way, Rosa Muerta is welded of dichotomous orientation points. It simultaneously quotes from the architecture of textbooks and references the twisted wrought iron of Southern California’s barrios. It borrows heavily from the architect’s personal experiences growing up in Palm Springs. The sunken living room, for instance, is reminiscent of a pool’s shallow end, where Stone says he spent much of his young life “gabbing with friends while everybody was skating”. Stone remarks on the unique view of the world achieved while sitting with his head just above ground level, one arm up, level with the landscape.
“Think of it like language,” Stone says of his aesthetic approach. I can go to Japan and learn how to ask where the train station is, but here I can speak with a kind of poetry and understanding that is much more subtle. That’s what I am after – a way to make architecture that can work culturally in subtle and intricate ways.”
Throughout the long conversation, our voices are punctuated by birdsong, the skittering of a lizard on concrete, and the distant growl of an engine. “I hope you get the dirt bike in the background,” Stone says with a laugh. “That really is the context.” Later, the architect, who writes prolifically of his work, quotes from his notebook: “The desert is awe inspiring and serene in its emptiness. But, just as important is the detritus of modern culture, a bleached out Coors can, or a shotgun shell on the ground, that reminds you that nature and culture cannot be separated.”
I arrived at Rosa Muerta on the heels of a fashion shoot, the only evidence of which remained in thousands of footsteps still littering the desert sand. Rosa Muerta is a public space, but the fingerprints of visitors readily wash off the metal appliances and custom-cast concrete blocks. Physically, the structure does not allow for someone else’s baggage (save for some ashes in the fire pit). “There’s no parking, no garage, no storage.” The nearest neighbour is over 180m away.
And so, Rosa Muerta has seen celebrations that resonated from Joshua Tree all the way to YouTube, but it has also hosted a visitor who spent five days meditating and been the site of a marriage proposal. “There will probably be all these babies named Rosa,” the architect laughs.
Stone says the space was designed for “parties”, but he uses the word as shorthand for the disconnect a visitor might feel in a structure that offers no narrative cues. “The aesthetic being completely original to this place, you come out here and have to reinvent yourself,” Stone says. “Who am I in this little black house?”
Then, after a moment’s thought, he adds: “In America, every community that’s worth a damn has an abandoned house that all the kids know about. And that’s where they go and party. In some ways, I am building that,” he says. “An open space with no adult supervision.”
Apartment Therapy on Acido Dorado This article is the best yet at capturing what it is like to be there from a guest's point of view
Describing Acido Dorado can be an extremely complicated affair because at first glance it seems remarkably simple. The building is an amorphous chameleon of sorts, a minimalist pavilion whose appearance changes inside and out as the day progresses and light folds into the desert evening, reminding one of a beetle carapace: blending into the landscape one moment, then sparkling iridescent an hour later. 78% of the house can be opened entirely to the outdoors with sliding doors throughout, and every opportunity we had, we left these wide open. With mirrored walls, furnishings and ceiling everywhere, there happens a near hallucinatory experience in regards to perceived space, as everything is multiplied into infinity (making for some amusing "hide and seek" moments with Emily as I snapped photos). The 2 dimensional quality of photos only captures a tiny percentage of the light-energetic space as perceived in person, but each glance you find yourself staring at the world from a novel perspective. It's hard not to come to the conclusion the sense of the infinite reflected within is meant as an extension of the seemingly endless land and sky in the Joshua Tree desert.
But overanalyzing Acido Dorado would be a mistake, as its charm can be amazingly simple and comfortable. If one was to ask me what I liked about the home, I could only answer that it allowed me to be myself in solitude, quiet and introspection without any intrusion of "things". The possibility to do anything or nothing at all are afforded by a space that at first seems to provide the bare minimum, yet somehow proves to feel more comfortable than any luxury accommodation I've stayed at. Little touches like the choice of ornate bedroom light bulbs, welded butterfly and floral detailing on the exterior gates, and a smartly appointed fabric covered refrigerator keep the interior from slipping into the realm of austere, reflecting the minute beautiful details one often discovers while wandering the landscape around Joshua Tree.
Our favorite memory of Acido Dorado was turning off all the lights and allowing the moon to paint the room with a faint pastel glow, plugging in our iPod into the home's sound system and then drowning ourselves into the atmospheric Mysterious Skin soundtrack that echoed throughout the house with cinematic effect. There were quite a few moments listening to music and staring at ourselves in the ceiling that we couldn't decide whether we felt like we were drifting into outer space or sinking to the deepest depths of the ocean. And nary a drop of alcohol or any other recreational stimulant was involved to reach this state!
When prodded a bit about his philosophy behind building Acido Dorado, Robert shared, "My goal with the place is to let a community of people grow around it who sort of make it theirs. That really seems to be happening, and more and more people are coming out here who really appreciate the place for what it is and what they can make of their time here. Really, the place is completed by the people that stay there. Someday the hype will die down and all I will have is these people that really love the place coming back, bringing friends, and supporting it just because they are glad something like this can exist in the world.”
Elle Decor UK - Feature on Acido Dorado
Gold Standard Shimmering like a mirage, the surprising spectacle of this metallic house couldn't contrast more sharply with the surrounding wilderness of the Southern California desert by Jo Froude
A golden house would be impossible to ignore in any setting. But rising up from the wilderness of the Joshua Tree national park, Acido Dorado can't fail to inspire a reaction. 'Gold has so many cultural associations' says its owner and architect Robert Stone, who insists that the initial shock of the bling factor is short lived. 'After the first ten minutes, you get used to it. It isn't really that flashy at all.' Robert also designed the neighboring Rosa Muerta, a similarly configured but alI-black house which featured in ELLE Decoration last September. 'It's an architecture which fits the place,' he says. 'The design is inspired by some of the abandoned buildings from the 1920s that you see around here. Not some phony image of the American south-west.'
Honesty is central to the philosophy behind Robert's striking architecture, which has its roots in conceptual art. 'I don't want to create bad copies of someone else's work,' he says. 'If you're going to make the effort to do something, it has to matter.' So rather than working for a client and having to compromise on the design, he borrowed the money and now rents out the finished building as a vacation house to cover the costs. I don't really think of it as my house,' says Robert. 'More like the world's smallest hotel.'
With its mirrored ceilings and gilded interior, Acido Dorado oozes glamour but also has a remarkably close connection to the wilderness of its desert setting. 'Inside there are many reflective surfaces, but you don't actually see yourself. The reflections expand the space outwards – it’s not about narcissism.' Whatever brings guests to this corner of the desert, from untamed nature to dazzling design, the chances are they won't find exactly what they were expecting - and that’s the way Robert likes it. 'I love it when the experience of things goes against preconceived ideas.'
Invited by architect Robert Stone to stay over at his desert luxe-camping shelter, Rosa Muerta, Emily and I spent a refreshing weekend out in the outlying area of Joshua Tree where sparse development met the desert wilderness. The weather this weekend was brisk with a threat of showers, and we only had a single evening free in our busy schedule to getaway. But what a getaway it was, giving us an opportunity to escape the urban hubbub for the peace, solitude and grandeur of the desert landscape in a most unique dwelling. All in all, the two days we spent out in Joshua Tree was a refreshment to our parched souls, quenching us with an almost drowning sense of quiet and relaxation...
As I'm sitting here typing this I feel like part of me is still left in Joshua Tree wandering though canyons of gigantic boulders that seem like the forlorn ruins of an ancient gigantic race, exploring desert flora and fauna with Emily in the great expanse of the National Park, and also enjoying the relaxing solitude of the Rosa Muerta vacation rental. The home itself is part luxe accommodations and one part camping trip, as the structure is open in sections, allowing the desert air and sky to seep in. We prepared with plenty of blankets and warm wear, but being at least used to camping/hiking activities, a kitchen, a firepit, warm bed, open ceiling shower and most importantly, a jacuzzi made our stay less about "roughing it" and more about appreciating what this weekend getaway destination had to offer: tranquility.
Owner/architect Robert Stone greeted us upon arrival, and his friendly concern about the comfort of our stay was something we noted and appreciated (he was worried about the impending cloudy-cooler weather, but it only led to a more dramatic desert sky and stay). And how bad could it be when we could spend a good deal of our time soaking in a HUGE jacuzzi? The whole Rosa Muerta structure balances a sense of solitude and open exposure to the elements, something we certainly appreciated upon first glance upward into the star-laden skies (we even got to wish upon a falling star!). An outdoor firepit kept us warm for hours as we just listened to the occasional dogs barking in the distance and we shared a home cooked meal of roasted corn, onion and feta pizza.
With nearby Joshua Tree National Park just around the corner, we were torn between living it up and getting lost in nature, so we compromised and split our short time 50/50, appreciating both the creation of humankind and nature's hands offered us. The desert landscape is all about the dramatic sky, which can change in an instant from blue to black, and also the earthen pastiche of textures and colours just beneath your feet. We spied a family of adorable Antelope ground squirrels, a Loggerhead shrike, a regal looking American kestrel, a wandering coyote and the remains of one its meals (a half-eaten jackrabbit).
We had a fantastic time, thanks both to our stay at Rosa Muerta and the wondrous landscape of Joshua Tree. Rosa Muerta is an absolute steal of a rental if you reserve with a couple of other friends; the place is for all practical purposes designed with partying in mind despite our more reflective and placid time there and we're already planning to come back with a few friends during warmer climes.
Elle Decor UK - Feature on Rosa Muerta
The stark beauty of the desert is what inspired Los Angeles architect Robert Stone to build Rosa Muerta, a unique all-black retreat on the edge of California's Joshua Tree nature reserve. A shaven-headed, tattooed, former punk rocker, he lives here part of the year with his artist wife, Amy Wheeler, and their three-year-old son, Ford; the rest of the time the house is rented out for fashion shoots or to adventurous travelers. Here, Robert explains the idea behind his extraordinary home...
What's the significance of the name? Rosa Muerta is a cholo term for the 'black rose of death'. A lot of things in Southern California are named in Spanish to make them sound more romantic, but they're meaningless in translation if you speak Spanish - like the forgotten half of the population does. I use that pattern to a different end. It sounds romantic, 'Rosa Muerta', but it translates to a darker poetry about the inextricable nature of love and loss. The desert has this whole living/dead real/mirage dichotomy running through everything and the house admits that.
How long did the house take to complete? Three years. I was out here by myself the whole time; so it took a while.
Was there anything on the plot before you built Rosa Muerta? Empty desert. There's still no new landscaping outside of the house. It sits in the middle of the open desert and I am letting the desert grow right back around it.
Why did you choose an all-black scheme? It isn't black itself that interests me, but monochrome in general, as it focuses the attention on subtle variations in texture. Black also makes the house about the colors that surround it; at night it disappears and all you see are the stars. I'm currently finishing a house that's entirely metallic gold and my last design was electric blue. .monochrome makes color either everything or nothing depending on how you are looking at it.
Why have you chosen such minimal furniture and accessories? All the furniture is built-in - the steps, benches and countertops create a kind of terrain made of concrete. I even carefully removed all of the joints so that it feels continuous. It's really sexy- it engages your body in a very self-conscious way. People sit on the counters and steps and stand on the benches.
The property merges the indoors and out how was this achieved? I approached the blurring of indoor/outdoor space in somewhat the opposite way from modernism. I thought I'd build Rosa Muerta like an abandoned house, open to and overgrown by the desert. Do you remember (Los Angeles artist) Sam Durant’s Abandoned Houses? I had a lot of formative experiences in the real world version of Sam Durant’s Abandoned Houses. To me, entropy, culture, and nature can’t be separated from architecture. Some people try, but it leads to boring architecture.
Why did you put mirrors on the ceiling? I always loved Smithson’s mirror displacements for perhaps the wrong reasons; their simple material poetics. Sand is the main ingredient of glass and so putting mirrors where they reflect the desert floor is this simple and beautiful architectural conundrum. I also like to work with things that are so loaded with cultural baggage, that they defy the formalist trend that architecture has been stuck in for decades. Mirrored ceilings have this connotation of debased sexuality, there is even that Hotel California song that mentions 'mirrors on the ceiling' as a trope for some unnamed depravity. I accept all of that baggage, it’s more interesting than pretending architecture is abstract. And I try to make something new out of it.In this case it comes out to be this sublime phenomenon that outstrips language and even sex, like looking out at the ocean.
How does the space change according to the seasons? The weather here is really mild. It rains about once a year and it's amazing to see the effect on the surrounding plants. The sun angles were carefully considered so that the pool is in the sunlight in the winter and shaded in the summer. The house is designed to catch the breeze so that it continuously replaces the warmer air that sits below the ceiling. And it uses thermal mass to even out the temperature.
How do people react to the property? You don’t have to understand all of the personal and local cultural references in my work to be moved by the house. The meaning isn't located in the object anyway, but it comes out between the object, the viewer, and the culture. So all you have to do to 'get it' is to ask yourself questions and see where they lead. Of course, speaking a little Spanish and knowing the 2002 Gucci Fall collection helps.