This format allows you to walk through the house and see it from viewpoints marked on the plan.
Go here to walk through http://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/interactive-floorplan-rosa-muerta-house/3443
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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.’
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.