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Madison House overlooking a dramatic mountain range

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The Madison House is located on a West facing knoll overlooking a dramatic mountain range at the eastern end of the Coachella Valley in La Quinta, California, designed by XTEN Architecture. The area is known for its extreme summer heat and severe winds. During the winter months however the area is paradise – clear, sunny and temperate days, with cooler nights perfect for the indoor outdoor modern lifestyle made famous in photographs by Julius Shulman.

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The projecting and sheltering roof planes of the house are designed to relate to the horizontality of the desert floor, connecting the house directly to its natural surroundings. The house is organized around two main concepts: to use the mass and materials of the house to shelter the inhabitants from extreme desert conditions; and conversely, to open the house to the mountain views and clear desert light.

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The house is organized as two volumes around a central courtyard, bridged by a series of large cantilevered roof planes on two stories. To the South, the solid mass creates a thermal buffer to the massive solar heat gain. This volume contains the garage, offices and service spaces, culminating in a media room with a covered terrace facing the mountains. To the North, a long rectangular solid mass containing guest bedrooms and two story fireplace block create a windbreak to Northern winds that can reach 100mph.

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These closed volumes in the North-South direction are counteracted by layers of transparency in the East-West direction. Deep cantilevered overhangs protect these large openings from the sun and allow them to open completely when weather allows.

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Projecting horizontal roof planes rest on two long fieldstone walls that frame, in succession: patterned metal entry pivot doors, a courtyard and reflecting pool, glass entry pivot doors, a large cross-axial living/dining/ open kitchen area, a sixty foot wall of sliding glass panels, a covered outdoor terrace, and outdoor swimming/ entertaining area.

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Environmentally, the house is designed with Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) walls that create super insulated R60 walls. The thick stone and concrete walls, deep glazing recesses and large cantilevered overhangs shelter the house from the sun.

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Concurrently, the house opens in every direction to passively cool the interior spaces. The courtyard reflecting pool also serves as an evaporative cooling system for the ground floor areas opening onto the courtyard. High performance glass, high efficiency mechanical systems and fixtures further reduce the energy profile of the house.

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Like the desert climate itself, the house is a study in dualities. Large open and fluid spaces are framed by massive solid and fixed elements. Light white terrazzo floors and countertops and bounded by dark rift oak wood cabinetry. Rough stone walls frame openings of delicate metal and glass doors.

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Materials continue from interior to exterior and back again, furthering the connection between inside and outside spaces. From inside the house panoramic views open dramatically from every room, and nature becomes an integral part of the house.

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Photos: Steve King, Art Gray, Jeremy Bittermann

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