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.
The online post includes Sex Pistols and Tarantino clips that I think really enhance the read, see it here- http://www.abitare.it/highlights/robert-stone-design/
Here is the text by Fabrizio Gallanti-
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 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.
Rosa Muerta by Robert Stone Comes to Life in California by Danny Hudson
“I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside.
and if I seem a little strange, well that’s because I am.”
– The Smiths
Following Acido Dorado in the arid landscape of Joshua Tree, LA-based architect Robert Stone has erected the symbolic antithesis to traditional dessert architecture. a structure classically massed and proportioned at times skewed with rebellious eccentricities stands boldly contrasting its natural surroundings. A rich palette of dark hues and textures breathes life into the open air structure offering an endless discovery of tones and reflections in what is otherwise a home rendered of a single color: black. In breaking from expected conventions, the dark residence in a light desert fuses the highest standards of contemporary finishes with a strong almost subversive undertone of social commentary.
The architect explains his thought process to designboom:
“I think Rosa Muerta gets a lot more interesting once you notice that it isn’t just a normal modern house painted black. It is black to the bone. I used black to negate the house as a figure in the landscape.The desert is seen as a void by many- so the house goes further and voids itself. A desert within a desert – it inverts figure and ground and makes the surrounding desert the focus, the figure, and the color. That is just the surface though.”
“Once you get past the color, and your eyes attune to the details, the house reveals a mix of textures and ideas that one wouldn’t normally accept together- classic modern lines stretched horizontally beyond reason, funereal flowers overtaking structure, limousine glass and lava rock, silk rope on rough wood beams and polished stainless columns that run off into the desert, mirrors secreted under deep overhangs, a heart shape removed from the center of a concrete wall. It is as highly finished as any jewel of modernism, but perhaps most closely resembles a burned-out abandoned house.”
“I see the tension between these things- and their uneasy resolution under the coat of black paint as the thing that makes the house interesting and meaningful over time. It adds up to a portrait of Southern California desert culture and its complex relationship to nature. The house puts you in the middle of that and you have to figure your way out. some people like this house and some don’t- I hope it is beyond that and can be seen as a true representation of a larger cultural condition that no other architecture gets close to. . and that truth is beauty to me.”
“The question of how we relate to nature has been at the core of California modernism for 60 years, but the answers being proposed to that question haven’t changed over that time. Mass production, pre-fab, and clinging faith in technology remain the published response of the architecture world, while the cultural condition that surrounds us has transformed entirely. Nature is no longer simply revered- it is also feared. Technology may save us or kill us. I am interested in the full complexity of our relationship to nature and finding some truth in it whether negative or positive.”
Here is the text –
About four years ago, something unexpected happened on the eastern edge of Joshua Tree. Down a dirt road, on a large swath of rugged, untouched desert at the base of the mountains, architect Robert Stone began building two houses that recalibrate the notion of what new desert architecture can mean.
“I started as a musician and the worst insult you can give someone in music is to say, ‘You sound like that other guy,’” Stone says. He thinks there’s a perception among many people that it’s risky to build forward architecture that isn’t already accepted in the mainstream. “But my experience is exactly the opposite. It’s really rewarding to have a house that plays a part in a bigger cultural dialog and moves the art forward. It’s not a risk. The real risk is building something like everyone else and limiting everything to real estate comps and dollars per square foot.”
What everyone else does not have is a home like Acido Dorado. While at first glance, this house – and the one Stone built next door, Rosa Muerta – might appear monochromatic, you soon realize that their monochrome backgrounds bring the houses’ rich layers of texture to the foreground. This especially surfaces in the rough gold-painted block, the smooth fence dotted with metal flowers, and the reflection of the water in a shallow indoor reflecting pool at Acido Dorado.
”When I was in graduate school, I began noticing that there were a lot of foregone aesthetic conclusions being reached- the style of modernism was bankable finally and no matter what ideas were the claimed starting point – the work all looked the same.
My model of an ‘honest practice’ was more about asking questions that I didn’t know the answers to. It was about finding your own personal truth through that search; the same way, in a sense, a musician has to find their own sound. If you put three musicians together in a room and they’re each playing the sound they hear in their head, you’re going to get a band that sounds like no other band and it will have its own kind of beauty. That’s what real musicians are chasing, what they hear inside their heads, and I think the way to make architecture that’s compelling is to do that same thing – kind of find something that you can work with on a poetic level.”
Stone grew up in Palm Springs, where his father was a builder. “We’d move every two years after he’d built a new house,” Stone says. “He copied the modernism that everyone loves, and I grew up around that. It obviously forms a kind of background vocabulary for me, but at the same time, I never saw it as the end.”
While studying architecture at UC Berkeley, Stone minored in art history, and spent about 10 years working as an artist, making sculpture that he says had a social component to it: “It was all about how people relate through objects, in a sense. Then, at some point, I realized I was really thinking about architecture with the art I was making, and I needed to bring the intelligence and breadth of current art and the complexity of that practice to architecture.”
“Part of why it’s gold is because I like tight color combinations that resonate with each other, and this house has about five really close colors of gold in it,” Stone says. “It’s also a color that contains everything that I wanted my architecture to do- ‘Gold’ has so much cultural baggage that it’s impossible to consider it as an abstract. It’s inseparable from the meaning we assign to it. By doing a house that’s gold, I’m saying, ‘Let’s deal with these associations and make architecture that accepts those kinds of connotations and makes something more of them’ -instead of pretending they don’t exist- which is what architecture has done for decades. When you hear about a gold house, you think, ‘that’s going to be garish’, but out here in this raw space, once it becomes sort of a monochrome, it becomes a natural color in a sense.”
He has a tougher time explaining the big heart on the front of the house. “I think it was an intuitive gesture in the beginning,” Stone says with a laugh. “Notice I said, ‘I think.’. . I was drawing sketches of houses 10 years ago, and I thought it was funny but interesting how if you put a heart on a drawing it completely changes the meaning and opens up questions that are not being asked in architecture. It was a figure I was doing partly because it is so anti-heroic. I’m not anymore. I don’t want people to think I’m the ‘heart guy’. But again, these houses are the product of someone who was bored with the narrow conceptual range of sculpturalist architecture, and I was putting this thing out there as a big challenge in a way. The houses come across as kind of sweet on the surface, but it‘s kind of an aggressive thing. They’re sort of saying, ‘I dare you to fold this house into the canon.’ It makes people question what it means, and nobody ever asks what a Gehry building ‘means’. I am just asking different questions that have never really been asked in architecture, and that at least leads me someplace new, that is my own.
Equally intriguing and nonconformist is Rosa Muerta. “I’m sure it sounds crazy – a black house in the desert,” Stone says. “But when you see it, it makes all of the color around it pop. The block walls don’t really look black, because you’re seeing a bunch of tan on them that’s reflected off the desert.” As you walk into the house, you experience the inverse of a classic modernist design where you come into a low space and the roof gets higher. Here, the roof is as low as possible when you walk in and the whole horizon is in view, and then you drop down into the house and it is larger on the inside. The home is completely open to the exterior, which Stone says gives it a magical air. “It seemed like it would be sort of an amazing experience to be in this space that’s finished to this degree but open. It’s kind of like camping – you’re connected to the outdoors the whole time.”
While Stone is the first to admit that the houses aren’t for everyone, he says they’ve opened up his world. “These houses bring people from all over the world who have a common interest in aesthetics and ideas.” And they have also found legions of fans in the worlds of fashion and design. Vogue, Roberto Cavalli, and Marie Claire, among many others, have shot photography with Acido Dorado and Rosa Muerta as their muse. The houses have taken on a life of their own, and the fashion world has really embraced them and presented them in this different way,” Stone says. “That kind of made it OK for the mainstream architecture world to like them, and over time the depth of understanding of this architecture has grown and grown. It’s been really amazing.”
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.”
This story is online with more photos at http://www.wearedesignbureau.com/2010/10/robert-stone-design/
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.”
Robert Stone’s Golden Acido Dorado in Joshua Tree California by Danny Hudson
On 5-acres of high desert in Southeastern California, the golden yellows of the landscape are continued and reflected in ‘Acido Dorado’, a vacation home designed by Los Angeles-based architect Robert Stone:
“My work looks different because I think differently about architecture. It is designed for a different “function” – to engage the cultural context on a conceptual level. For the last century up to and including the present avant-garde, architecture has strived toward abstraction – focusing on shape and form while suppressing the cultural meaning that we attach to things. It has followed an old idea of what sculpture is and how it functions, while other artistic disciplines (including sculpture) moved beyond this long ago consider conceptualism, performance, representation and figuration, engaging “meaning” by any means necessary. I am simply pushing forward architecture in that direction, in the way i know how. i hope there are others.”
Taking a unique approach to the design process, the one story structure is almost a mirror of its surroundings, interpreted in it’s own way. reflections present throughout the project both literally and metaphorically offer a new experience and meaning to the home in the arid climate. from glass-like reflecting pools to opposing parallel mirrors, mirrored ceilings, and the peculiar use of materials and colors, the project not only serves as a backdrop in which the user can perform daily activities but also responds to the user and seems to engage in a deeper dialogue with a sense of time and place- with a distinct message.
“So this means that rather than a collection of boxes and planes, I use a wider palette and combine ideas and materials into a poetic whole that gets its meaning not from the architect but from the world around it. it doesn’t pretend to be a big “timeless” abstract sculpture. It is designed to engage current fashion, art, its time and cultural context, to modify it and question it- then reflect it back charged with different meaning. this isn’t the old argument about symbolism or ornament – it’s deeper than that. it is about considering things in their full conceptual circumstances and finding the meaning there.”
The design reinterprets the classical elements of wall, roof, and floor, manifested through different materials. the vertical envelopes are made of hollowed concrete block creating a perfectly permeable yet room-bounding partition, embedded with the archetypal heart and rose. sections of opaque blocks provide the necessary privacy in the bedrooms from the external world. the floor plane sinks into and out of the ground, forming a sort of internal stepped courtyard with a pool and built-in planters, while the canopy floats gracefully above the entire construction moderating the amount of light let into the spaces beneath.
“The house sits in the middle of a natural environment but it confidently projects the opposite of nature- a “cultured” meaning. some of the strongest elements here are things that are so loaded with cultural connotations that they are impossible to figure into architecture as we have defined it for so many years. Gold is impossible to separate from its connotations and consider abstractly- same with flowers and the heart. I came up through the same architectural education and practice as everyone else, so I am well aware that my aesthetic vocabulary is “different” – but with it I can do things that I could not do with abstract sculptural minimalism.”
“Acido Dorado is designed with a series of meshed ideas that constantly modify each other- so it never really settles into a static statement. The dead flowers are representational of a living thing, but that kind of romantic and lush flora is relentlessly contrasted with the real (but dead) desert surrounding. the mirrors reflect the emptiness of the desert with their own infinite space, and their glass is the same material and chemistry as the glittering silica sand that they reflect. Gold is a color, a material, and an idea. all of these elements fold in on each other conceptually which makes for a certain “unreality” to the place as these associations modify each other continuously. I am pursuing ideas about time, death, reality and hallucination and I develop these unusual aesthetics to get us there. . to get to “meaning” by any means necessary.”
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, and sensual 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.”
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