The landscape of northern New Mexico is starkly magnificent, particularly in the region of Río Chama and the Cerro Pedernal. This is the rugged high-desert country where Georgia O’Keeffe worked and lived from 1949 until her death in 1986. In 2013, when we were asked to build a house overlooking the Chama on a five-hundred-acre site, we were captivated by the prospect of working in this extraordinary setting.
The climate of the high desert is one of extremes. In considering how to mitigate such harshness, we were motivated to design a house that would be apprehended as part of the terrain. Inside the main house, we created a comfortable, open living space, using brick to pave the floor and stone (which is wrapped inside from the exterior) for the walls. The rough-hewn stone walls of the exterior are constructed of traditional dry-set masonry techniques in a “battered” profile, with the largest stones at the bottom, forming the load-bearing support for successive layers applied in decreasing sizes so that the walls slope inward as they rise, mirroring the shape of the plateau on which they rest.