When architect Michael P. Johnson prepared to design his wife’s dream home in the middle of a saguaro cactus forest outside of Phoenix, Arizona, his first thought was the desert. “My early practice was in Wisconsin and when you come to the desert unlike Wisconsin where you can destroy a bit of the land and it comes back very very quickly, if you design a building and you destroy the desert it takes 50 years to recover”.
He first built a retaining wall so as only to disturb the earth directly beneath the home. He then lifted the home to lighten the footprint and take advantage of the special views. To fully appreciate the saguaro cactus- they grow up to 70 feet tall and may live over 150 years- that surround their home, the walls are mostly window.
For temperature control, the north facing wall is mostly buried into the mountain and has the least windows. The windows at the east and west have long eaves and sunshades. The south wall is all window and in the wintertime the light hits the far wall and the cement acts as a heat sink to provide heating.
Johnson is a professor at Taliesin West and like the school’s founder Frank Lloyd Wright, Johnson believes in organic architecture, that a home should be in harmony with its environment. He also feels strongly it should be tailored to its particular occupants. Since he and his wife Suzanne don’t have children of their own (Michael has some from a previous marriage), they left everything open, there are no doors in the home except for the bathrooms.