This first post of 2013 will be a look back to some the earliest days of collaboration between Bill and Carol Byrne and Will Bruder. One of my first posts talked about the requirements Bill and Carol described in a letter they created in December of 1993 and ultimately submitted to several architects they’d been introduced to, including Will. I thought I’d expand on what I said last March, as well as expand on several related points I made in a subsequent post discussing clients, courage and listening carefully.

One early reminiscence I’ve heard described by both Bill and Carol, as well as by Will, recounts one of his first visits to the 5 acre site they’d purchased. While other architects who had visited this site were quick to point out why it was going to be hard to build on, Will carefully studied the sloping terrain, walked out into the desert, stooped down, scooped up two handfuls of earth and exclaimed “…this is the color for the walls!”.

Within minutes Will was describing attributes of the structure to Bill and Carol. Knowing he’d orient it to the south and west to take full advantage of the majestic views, he described canted walls, expanses of glass, a sloping roof line and incorporating building materials like copper cladding and corten steel which are entirely consistent with this rustic location. Here, in one of the earliest recorded sketches, (below), you see how artfully Will renders those concepts in his design. When I study this sketch, I see the notion of a desert “slot” canyon, I see hints of framing those expansive views with walls of glass and I see Will extending the experience with outdoor living spaces projecting both east and west from the structure itself.

You have to admire a person who isn’t going to be intimidated by the so-called “challenges” a particular building site may present. In the case of the Byrne residence, Will enthusiastically embraced the topographic elements and sought to blend the requirements Bill and Carol had so carefully captured in their letter a few months prior with the realities of the surrounding terrain to produce a design for a home that truly “fit” its location.

As I was writing this post, I glanced at one of the definitions associated with the word topography – it reads “…the features, relations, or configuration of a structural entity.” – and thought it accurately described what Will was interpreting during those early visits to the northern reaches of Scottsdale. The features of the site, how this site related to surrounding parcels of land and the structures found on those parcels, the configuration of the building envelope, the path of the sun overhead, the flow of rainwater – all of these factors had to be understood – and most importantly reconciled – in the final design. I am continually struck by just how much of this early sketch is preserved in the building which has graced the site for the past 14 years since completion…

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