Step inside the desert architecture of Will Bruder.
When Debbie and Scott Jarson decided to build a house on the land they’d owned for 13 years, they were surprised that many architects didn’t understand the building site, and some told them it would be impossible to put a home there. Then they met Will Bruder – whose work Scott had been a fan of since the 1970s – and they found their match. “We invited Will to the site and he sat on a rock and drew the house,” says Scott. “That’s the house we built.”
“We’d wanted a smaller house,” adds Debbie, “but we loved what he drew so much that we went with it.” While some modern architecture puts demands on the inhabitants, this house is easy to live with and it suits the couple and their sons perfectly.
The Jarsons use every room in this home but the place where they spend the most time is the large open area on the first level, which includes the kitchen, dining area and living room. “It’s the anchor of the house,” says Scott. With floor-to-ceiling windows, you’d expect this room to be hot, but Bruder sited the house so that most of the light is from the north, which the Jarsons say is the best for light quality and passive solar. “The harshest light in the desert comes from the west,” says Debbie, “and we don’t get any of that.”
Will Bruder is known as a great desert architect and his built projects include the Phoenix Central Library, SMoCA/Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, residences and commercial buildings. The Jarsons are known as modern real estate experts and their specialty is architecturally unique homes. Translation: it’s unclear which party was more excited about this commission. I’m guessing it was a mutual infatuation.
In desert architecture, the line is more horizontal with a strong vertical thrust, and what makes the Phoenix area so interesting is that the climate and landscape give architects new problems to solve and thus, the freedom to experiment. The climate naturally plays a huge role in shaping these structures, and the use of adobe and stone evolved out of materials that were available and needed for protection from the desert.
The Jarson’s house is made of wood, steel and copper. Unlike stone that tends to hold the heat, metal releases heat extremely quickly after the sun goes down, making it a great desert material. “We also love this palette,” says Scott. “It blends with the landscape.”
In addition to a beautiful, comfortable home, Bruder has also given this family a connection to the desert and sky. “The light is always changing inside and we know when the solstice and equinox occur,” says Debbie. “We’re connected to the stars and phases of the moon.”
Nelson Bubble Lamp over the dining table. Photo: Gwendolyn Horton
It’s a small world: When I interviewed Michael P. Johnson a few days later, he shared with me that he’d given Will Bruder his first break in architecture. “He was 19 and needed a summer job,” says Johnson. “That was back when he was known as Bill.”