Rosa Muerta / Robert Stone

North view
North view © Brad Lansill

After visiting his website, I got in touch with Robert Stone and exchanged a few emails… He is a reader of ArchDaily and was very excited to share his work with the readers, and I was also very excited about it after learning more about him and what is behind Rosa Muerta and other projects he has been working on in the California .

Robert was born and raised in Palm Springs, Ca. in a decent copy of a Craig Ellwood house and across the street from a real Schindler house. After his masters degree at UC Berkeley, Robert spent over a decade in a studio in Los Angeles making experimental social-sculpture projects that were exhibited internationally. I mention this because it’s a clear influence on Rosa Muerta and Acido Dorado, two projects that came out of Robert’s passion for art, his architectural background, and his D.I.Y. punk roots:

Instead of looking for a client, Robert went solo to the desert to build vacation houses for rent, turning into an entrepreneur with Pretty Vacant Properties and probing that independent D.I.Y. architecture is possible.

South view
South view © Brad Lansill

It is basically the American punk D.I.Y. approach that has engendered all contemporary independent music and film since the 1970′s. . .  now finally applied to architecture.

The passion Robert puts on his work is really inspiring, specially for young architects that debate between working at some else’s practice or kick start their own firm/business.

I hope to bring you more about Robert’s work in the near future. In the meanwhile, more about Rosa Muerta after the break:

Project Name: Rosa Muerta
Location: Joshua Tree, California- open desert site
Completed: January, 2009
Living area: 1300 sqf / 124 sqm
Site area: 2.5 acres / 12,000 sqm

Program: Vacation house – open to the elements: uses shading, thermal mass, solar absorbtion, and breeze flow for temperature regulation.

North elevation
South section

Scale: The house is set 4′-0« into the ground so that it’s highest point is 8′ tall and it almost looks like it is too low to be a habitable structure. The overhang at the front step is 6′-8. Once inside the ceilings are almost 10′ high.

I have developed a present, local, and personal aesthetic language that I find can engage its specific physical and cultural context in more subtle and powerful ways than the more universal and abstract approaches that dominate the scene. I am well aware that it is very different than the leading edge of mainstream architecture, and I am sure that some of the things that make it resonate so strongly here in the Southern California desert also make it difficult for outsiders to fully assemble, but I am going for depth rather than breadth.

To place this work among other approaches, imagine a corporeal post-modernism. . . without the irony, diagrammatic detachment or architectural tourist references. Imagine critical regionalism that works with the dirty and real cultural context rather than idealized archetypes. Imagine modernism that shows the pathology and scars accrued over a century of cultural use and misuse. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I have found a lot of possibilities for new architecture.

East entry
East entry © Brad Lansill

There is also in this architecture the application of a lot of lessons learned from the subject/object relationship fostered in contemporary art. This approach regrettably has no parallel in architecture today, but it makes possible a more dynamic conception of how people inhabit and perform in the space, how the wider culture can be engaged, and where meaning is located and how it is produced or discovered.

Patio south
Patio south © Brad Lansill

What I am proposing that is new, other than this particular desert modern aesthetic, is a way of working that is more exploratory in terms of meaning, personal in its inspiration, direct its execution, and meaningful to its intended audience. More than anything I hope to stake out a wider field for architecture to engage its context in more interesting and nuanced ways. This house is just one small step out into that expanded field.

North view © Brad Lansill
North view © Brad Lansill
Cite: "Rosa Muerta / Robert Stone" 09 Feb 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
  • Jason

    I like the project… a lot. Reading the description, however, makes me want to punch this guy in the face. What a pretentious, egotistical blowhard. Don’t we have enough of that in the profession already?

    • L Mitt

      A pretentious, egotistical blowhard, and in the field of architecture? How utterly shocking! By the way, if you can force yourself to wade through it, maybe you can tell us what Mark is trying to educate us about.

      • Jason

        Haven’t a clue. I was unable to force myself to care enough to finish his novella. My point in response to him, however, was that I understood the “big idea” Mr. Stone was trying to express – it is not profound.

  • yeah

    I like this building … but the pretentious,kitchy heart? …why?

    • David Basulto

      Why not?

      If the author wants to decorate it that way, it’s ok. Actually, I love that detail, I can’t tell exactly why but I think that it’s the kind of detail like when you sign the first page of your sketchook, or when you customize your laptop… something very personal.

    • steve

      i agree, the overall black is badass within the desert setting, but, the focaling heart, eh, terrible, what an upsetting insertion…

  • Cespur

    I like the overall design of it, but in combination with the abandoned dessert location it makes it kind creepy & scary.

  • mark

    The building is beautiful. But it’s not about the building only… its about how the building interacts with the land … spatialy and is rooted in the designers/architect personal story. As much as it may seem like an “object” building to the casual observer and eager critic… one needs to look at the images for the the space that is being made and how each element… building and landscape are working together… beautifully. As for the discription again i want to point you to the comment that this building is a small example of a much larger idea by the architect. This building actually has an idea beyond being a stepping stone to Dwell and Architectural Record Fame. Today, and idea alone is enough to applaud, any idea at all… even a bad one can be enough to seem intellegent. This project benifits the architect having a really good idea. It an open invatition to everyone to put yourself out there and make something… and don’t be afraid. Read what the architect’s interview again… and this time think about what is being said… this is an invatition to everyone to make something…of their own. This is a language of architecture that is personal to him but deals with the fundemental and universal qualities of any architecture. I think the scary thing to alot of people is that ideas expressed by mr stone show and openness to everything .. there is no secret club here that only a select few can belong. He is telling you that you too can make something beautiful… trust yourself, do the work, don’t be timid, acknowledge yourself your past and your passions and face what make you alittle uncomfortable… because when that happens you know you are on to something. Most importantly…don’t be afraid. really as i think about it… this project was concieved as an artist would concieve it… it just happans to be architecture… and i think most architects are deathly afraid of expressing anything vaguly personal and having to stand on their own.( let the computer do it… Look what we can do now!!! patterns, curvey stuff, things that defy the laws of physics!!! ya hoo!!!) i think as a whole architects feel so much safer in the club. What mr stone is saying goes against every moment spent in school, every dollar spent on the latest trend of the month magazine and coffee table tomb of our own preordained lords and collective saviors and every minute spent in that little office wishing to make it big with the next studio, garage and 2nd story addition… (if the client just understood me and my brilliance then, then it would be good and i would be good!… stupid clients!)
    As for the heart…what about it bothers you all…corbu never did one? maybe your on to something?

    • Jason

      I fully understand that it is not just about the building. I fully understand the idea, and I fully appreciate the idea. My criticism was of the way in which it was expressed.

    • peter .f

      Very well put and I totally agree with you mostly!…. I am of the opinion that the profession gains much these days by having the ‘skin’ …’form’ developing architecture that is in so many ways cutting edge (the club). Much like science a total dedication to mastering specialised sections of technology and ideas is totally beneficial to the world of architectural progress. Likewise this work offered by Robert Stone with a very personalised ‘artists’ evolution of an idea maintains the individual in works of architecture. I am really looking forward to what Robert will be offering in the future.

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  • Niebla

    From Dusk Till Dawn

  • eb

    love the picts, it has an ethereal quality to it for sure.

  • Nicholas Patten

    I Like: Rosa Muerta.

  • WPstudios

    RT @nicholaspatten I Like: Rosa Muerta.

  • alejandro

    the first thing I thought: tarantino moment
    the second thing I thought: tarantino
    the third thing I thought: tarantino

    • Franklin Romero

      same here lol

  • Vacation People

    Rosa Muerta / Robert Stone | ArchDaily: Instead of looking for a client, Robert went solo to the desert to build v…

  • Bix

    I, for one, would love to spend a few nights there with good friends, a guitar, and a couple cases of PBR. That is the point. D.I.Y. is doing what you love, for yourself, damn those that say you can’t.

    • David Basulto


      Couldn´t agree more (except for the beer) :)

      • Robert Stone

        I return from a day of work, log on to check out what is happening in the world of architecture and find this? I know it isn’t cool to comment on your own piece but I talk too much about the need for openness in architecture to sit back and pretend I don’t care about these few comments. If you already thought I talked too much you might want to stop reading now. I think there is too much at stake, and it is much bigger than myself or my work-

        On pretentiousness- This reaction really is a misunderstanding of my intentions and it saddens me. . . I hope this perception doesn’t make it impossible for me to still get my point across, but I will try because I think it is worth it. Frankly, I figure the fact that I borrow to buy materials, do all of my own labor, and then rent the house out at break-even to anyone who appreciates it . . . makes pretentiousness an unlikely charge. David called me an “entrepreneur”. . but that isn’t exactly right. Entreprenuer’s care about money. I care about architecture. I figured out that capitalism can easily be easily subverted to produce architecture . . you just have to not care about money. I am trying to make new architecture for all of the right reasons, and I truly believe that there is potential for a vital underground in architecture to counter a scene where the avant-garde position has been silently taken over by universal aesthetics, XL bigness, and corporate practices. My quotes taken here speak very little of the specifics of my own work for good reason, as I am truly attempting to share the potential I see for a lot of different aesthetics to happen that should bear no resemblance to my own anyway. I suppose that is pretentious.

        I find it surprising how unsympathetic some of the commenters are to an individual who is putting out an aesthetic that is so clearly not pre-approved in academic and publishing circles. My biggest push is to get people to consider that something can look this different and be just as serious, smart and thoughtful in its own theoretical and cultural framework as the work we are all used to seeing. I do believe strongly in the depth of my own aesthetic as I have been there working it out over the decades, and I hope people understand why I might feel that there is a little more ground to cover here to let people into it than there is for work that follows the canon.

        When I talk about the work, my language usually swings between art theory and expletive laden enthusiasm. I try to be as smart and thoughtful as I can be, I don’t shy away from big ideas, and I find the best words I can to honestly explore the issues I think are interesting. Often the most accurate words are culled from art theory as that’s where the roots of many of my ideas are. Often they are very plain and direct. But in any case, the very goal of my work is to get out beyond language and so if I am doing the most important part right, the difficult translation will always be there. Three years alone in the desert building a house, and it’s hard to come back and explain what it “means”. I actually think it is more interesting to talk about “how” it means because it applies to other circumstances beyond my own work.

        On “why the heart?”- The answer is this- love.
        I don’t have time for irony and I actually don’t believe in kitsch. If you look into my work a little deeper I think it is clear that classism isn’t my thing. The heart is a figure that found its way into my work and has continued to interest me in the way that it brings questions into architecture that rarely arrise in the current climate. I also really do like that some people instantly assume it is 80’s post-modern pop irony (as if nothing has changed in the world since Gehry met Oldenberg 30 years ago). . because they are so wrong. The meaning of the symbol itself undermines an ironic read and kind of balances it between disbelief and sincerity. . and the next question is usually a halting “does he actually “mean” it?” The answer is yes, I fucking mean it . . . and for me it changes everything.

        In some way I think it is also a bit of a stand against a world where it is more acceptable to claim that you want to “punch me in the face” on the internet than it is to stand up with a new aesthetic that nobody has seen before and say “this is meaningful and beautiful to me”. I choose the later.

        I hope you will continue to consider my work. And again, I thank AD for putting it out there. Most of the work that I have seen lately that gives me hope for architecture I have seen on this site so I hope there are some out there who find this work interesting.

        Oh and the link to my website in the article is broken- its

      • Jason

        Bix/David: Yes, the PBR is a poor choice, but I agree with the rest.

        Mr. Stone: Thank you for your response. Your position on the charge of pretentious is understood. Whatever your INTENTION was is frankly irrelevent… pretentious is what I got from it.

        What about the egotistical blowhard part? “I, I, I, my, I, my, my, my I, my work, my work, my work”… Honestly I like this project a lot… I truly do. I also “get it”…. I truly do, but listening to you talk about it is simply PAINFUL.

        It’s so hard to be sympathetic for someone who clearly thinks so highly of himself and his work… perhaps too highly. I’m sorry, I also have to call bullshit on your claim that this is not “pre-approved in academic and publishing circles”. That is simply untrue.. It’s good, but it and you are frankly not THAT special.

        As for the heart, I’m SO disappointed that you responded on that. It would have been much better to simply NOT explain it.

        This is all just my opinion of course, so take it or leave it.

      • David Basulto


        Thanks for taking the time to answer and keep the debate going.

        I think that in a project that is so personal, with you as the client, needs a project description like this. I´m very surprised about the critics on that aspect… You are the architect, you are the builder and the client. Project description SHOULD be this personal.

      • adrian

        you wrote an essay. I’m not going to read it.

      • peter.f


        thank you for voicing your opinion this is refreshing and provocative in a very good way, I went to your website and was very inspired particularly by the ‘altered parking block’ project.

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  • cedric

    paint in black :

  • Malcolm Y

    Ah Ah… the american guys !

    Mies Van der Rohe…. in the desert
    (“…you can´t remember your name…”)

    The project and the coments….habe a point of kitsch.
    Mirror ceiling pannels….? ah ah
    As a small in Dallas or Dakooooooooooota…!

  • mark

    What a great string of comments and criticisms. It is always interesting to read about what architects/designers perceive in other peoples work. Nice rebuttal by Robert Stone. Is it bad for the profiled project’s architect to respond?

    • David Basulto


      I don’t think it’s bad. Actually, I try to encourage it… isn’t it great that you have the chance to discuss the work with the author?

  • Jason

    We’re all adults here, perhaps we could do without the censoring of comments, David. Knowing that “unacceptable” comments that make a valid point are not allowed to be shown immediately discredits the entire conversation.

  • Vix

    I love this place… you can go to the desert and just spend a day hanging at this house or it’s sister Acido dorado. It’s not precious, it’sinviting, calming, there’s nothing to do but watchi the light play across the wall , soak in the hot tub, amble past the forbidden hill and then in the morning greet a six inch scorpion on the patio…it’s definitely a place to sleep, eat and play….glamping to the max. You should go….

  • Andrei P

    Is everyone aware that the internet is open to the very narrow-minded people too? I’ve seen a lot of these on archdaily and I got used to ignore the comments. But it’s great to see the architect taking a stance for his own work. I respect that.
    As for the house, it is a strong statement itself.

  • Michael

    Dear Robert,

    Bravo for putting yourself out there.
    I think your work is fantastic.
    And I think your writing is pretty good too.
    I have absolutely no idea where Jason et al are coming from.
    Your text is clear and legible and doesn’t smack of ego or pretense.
    (I sympathise with you, by the way. I have had work published on this site and it is very upsetting to read ridiculous personal insults that have nothing to do with the work.)

    Labelling someone a a ‘pretentious, egotistical blowhard’ based on nothing but a few paras of perfectly good text is pretty extreme.
    I look forward to the day when you have something published.
    What goes around comes around.

    • peter .f

      if Jason’s and others work is anything like their ability to give critique then not really worth waiting for! totally over these annoying simplistic comments with absolutely no understanding of what they are actually talking about! sigh……………………………………………!

  • Michael

    This is my second attempt at posting so forgive me if I repeat myself.

    Lovely work. Really.
    I realise you’re all grown up and stuff, but please accept my sympathy for all the foul personal attacks in this thread. They are unwarranted and contribute nothing to the debate.

    Why the personal insults? It’s one thing to criticise, but another thing entirely to label someone a ‘pretentious, egotistical blowhard’ based on some perfectly reasonable text. The writing is clear, legible and doesn’t smack of ego or pretense. I think you are way out of line. I look forward to the day when you have something published.

  • Miguel

    Personaly I like the project…
    Thanks Robert…
    looking forward to see another project from you here.

  • alejandro

    “El que se enoja pierde” dicen por ahí, on top of everything said I would just add that we don´t have to get angry on either side of the discussion, the author or the commentators.
    The architect, client, builder is obviously a very particular kind of person with strong motivations, feelings, ideas. I invite him to take comments as what they are: simple comments with first impressions of a project and not a 3 year in the making life experience. Commentators please relax, cut some slack, give your impressions but avoid angry criticism; it turns the discussion rather vulgar and mundane.

  • Ramon

    Robert, bad-ass my brother. I look forward to seeing Rosa Muerta someday soon. Go BEARS!

  • jacque

    I can see Jason’s frustration. It is a shame that the Robert’s choice of wording lets him down.

  • Raymond G Girard

    The desert literally flows THROUGH this stunning open house in Joshua Tree, CA (@archdaily)

  • rewFer

    I am really taken with this project and feel it is a wonderful amalgam of the local architectural heritage, the environment and professed DIY/Punk aesthetic. That last piece is something that a number of us who grew up in the scene will always try to grasp at as we age and I applaud Robert for his effort.
    A comment on pretention and ego. This is not some unbuilt and unbuildable, SCI Arch, exercise in mental masturbation, upon which the designer is heaping piles of bullshit rationalization. This is built. It is there. It was built to a budget, to a code, and to an inspired design. It’s not pompous if you’ve got the goods to back it up.
    Thank you Mr. Stone for your work and for engaging this conversation.
    And for the love of Mike, the heart is just a joyous expression, if you can’t deal with it, go sit in a dark room and listen to Bauhaus and drive it from your memory.

  • Eric Skiba

    Robert Stone's Rosa Muerta in Joshua Tree via @archdaily

  • Oscar

    Robert, great project and words to aspire by. As I mature in the profession I see more of what you tried to teach as a TA back in Berkeley some 16 years ago, hopefully more of us escape the blindness…

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