“Sol” is an infill house in the Willo Historic District in midtown Phoenix, Arizona, an area known for its museums and growing collection of businesses. Inspired by the southwestern urban vernacular of the courtyard house, local architecture firm The Ranch Mine designed a modern home that both embraces and escapes the sun and the city.
“Sol” sits at the crux of development in Phoenix, just 300 yards from a light rail station in a rapidly urbanizing core, yet surrounded by an early 1900s historic district. This 2300 square foot, new build home built by Boxwell Southwest not only had to gain approval from the Historic Preservation Office, but it had to navigate the reality of a growing metropolis. Although urbanization and historic preservation may typically be at odds, The Ranch Mine team chose to look to the past in order to design for the more urban future.
The style of the courtyard house was first introduced to the region in the late 17th century and is ideal for urban living in a desert climate. It provides an escape from the bustle of the city while also creating a shaded, naturally cooled outdoor room. “Sol” is a U-shaped courtyard house with a cantilevered roof projecting towards the open, fourth side. The cantilevered roof creates a generous, covered outdoor living area, sheltered from the sun, while the open side allows breezes to flow across the pool where evaporation cools the air before it cross ventilates the main living space with help from the Venturi Effect. Steps away, the added touches of a custom curved concrete bench and firepit provide a place to warm up, whether by lounging in the sun during the day or by the fire at night.
The house embraces the city primarily in 3 areas that are carved out of an otherwise efficiently designed box. First, the front porch is recessed with walls that flare out towards the street, as if to open its arms and welcome the neighborhood. Once inside, the beams in the open living space extend through the glass and angle up towards the developing midtown skyline. Finally, to get a better view of the skyline while soaking up the cool night sky, an integrated exterior stair leads up to a hidden roof deck, a nod to sleeping porches that are native to the southwest.
The courtyard house originated as an attempt to create an oasis, whether from the sun and heat in desert climates, or the public in populated areas. As the cities of the desert southwest continue to infill, we hope to see the local vernacular form of the courtyard house return to prominence and the potential of their modern interpretations fully explored. Homes should be a refuge: a place to not only hang one's hat but, if you will, rejuvenate the heart and "Sol".