International project: Scottsdale, Arizona

In his seminal book, La Casa Eivissenca, Rolph Blakstad dedicates a chapter to the architecture of dry climates. While much of his studies centred on the ancient architecture of the Levant, he also noted similarities with the equally ancient Pueblo style found in the American Southwest, which shares a comparable climate. It would be fun to imagine an exchange between the two cultures, but it seems farfetched to think the ancient people of the Mediterranean made landfall in the US. It is, however, interesting to see how two very different peoples developed parallel design solutions. This is why when clients from Scottsdale, Arizona contacted the Blakstad Design Consultants office, our team jumped at the chance to bring the Mediterranean to the Sonoran Desert.

After scouring social media in search of the right fit, the client’s contractor – Eric Linthicum, a specialist in high luxury residential developments in the region – contacted us through Pinterest. Having worked on a previous project with his client, Linthicum had been entrusted with finding an architect to create a Mediterranean style home no matter where in the world they might be located. “In the States, a Mediterranean style is perceived as something more Provençal or Tuscan but Eric was looking for something more true to form,” says Rolf Blakstad, the key designer on this project. “He was a pleasure to work with and very dedicated and passionate about his trade.”

As with all international projects, the process began with a series of video calls to define the relationship. “We answer every enquiry and are accustomed to working with overseas clients,” says Blakstad. Once the various roles and responsibilities were outlined, Blakstad visited the site twice – firstly to see the plot and meet the clients, local architect, engineers and other key contractors and secondly, to supervise progress. Everyone involved found the Blakstad style to be a breath of fresh air in a region where adobe dominates.

The pre-Colombian style of the American Southwest is known as Pueblo architecture and dates to 750 CE. While the Ibizan vernacular developed a few thousand years before, the shared climate led to the same conclusions. In both locales, roofs are flat and supported by rough-hewn wood beams with smaller perpendicular wood lathes, structures are semi-fortified and have small window openings. Both regions developed spiritual connections to design, with the Puebloans linking architecture with their cosmology and ancient Ibicencos dedicating sacred niches to the gods as well as employing spiritual symbology in fixtures such as balustrades and door handles. The evolved Ibizan style developed by Blakstad both complements and differentiates from the local Puebloan-influenced architecture, bringing a freshness and simplicity that will no doubt be much admired by neighbours when construction is complete.

The aforementioned video calls helped both parties develop a relationship and define a shared design language. “We get a feel for who they are and how they want to live,” says Blakstad. “Then we propose an initial concept and work on it from there. With Scottsdale, we were pretty accurate from the start. There was a definite affinity between all the people involved and the design process became more about fine-tuning.” The clients made their first trip to Ibiza to discover the history their new house would carry for themselves and to finalise the design with Blakstad.

The Scottsdale plot is situated in a residential development and while Scottsdale’s building by-laws are quite relaxed, the residential community itself has some strict guidelines which were easily incorporated after meeting with the managing architect. As with all Blakstad projects, materials are repurposed and recycled as much as possible and in this case, the stone excavated to create the basement will be reutilised elsewhere in the project. Now that construction has commenced, the Blakstad office is called in when and if needed.

One of the defining features of the brief was to integrate the client’s lifestyle. With grown-up children and a bevvy of grandkids, they wanted a space that could be at once intimate and flexible enough to accommodate their extended family during visits. Sleeping quarters extend into wings from either side of the living room and kitchen. A pergola-covered porch reaches out from the central space towards the swimming pool on one side and a lush green lawn on the other.

Aficionados of the Blakstad style will spot some signature elements such as wood beams, smooth stone flooring and simple yet elegant interiors. The sunken living room is based around the concept of a Greek megaron or four-pillared throne room, with the hearth replaced by coffee tables over which a large square skylight directs the sun’s rays into the space. While most homes in the Southwest are plastered in classic New Mexico red and in Ibiza in whitewash, it was decided to leave the exterior walls unrendered. There are examples in both cultures of leaving the stone exposed and the result in Scottsdale lets the house merge with the landscape and still retain a direct link to the local and Ibizan heritage.

This is just one of many international projects Blakstad Design Consultants is involved with and is an excellent example of how the Mediterranean vernacular and specifically the Blakstad interpretation of it can be transferred to other regions. “Our style suited Arizona really well,” concludes Blakstad. “We’re very excited to see the house when building is complete.” Make sure you follow the Blakstad Design Consultant’s social media to catch images of the final product soon.