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The human desire to bring a connection between the indoors and outdoors began to show up in the designs of the architects of the 20th century. Looking at the history of housing during that period reveals a story of architects who worked toward designing a home that was truly American and worked to bring a connection to the outdoors from the inside out.

Frank Lloyd Wright Brings Nature into Architectural Design:

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was instrumental in this movement and held a true affinity for the Arizona desert. He was well known by the time he set up Taliesin West as his winter camp in the Arizona foothills of the McDowell Mountains in 1938. Here he worked and taught architecture with a love of natural and local building materials to create designs that were truly ‘of the desert’.

According to historical architect and architectural historian Don W. Ryden, AIA, ‘Wright rebelled against dark, cluttered, claustrophobic, boxlike Victorian-period houses. He wanted to bring indoors the light, space, air and life of the outdoors. His lifelong crusade to “break the box” began in 1900 with his Prairie Houses. This design was his expression of America as a new democratic republic. His houses provided a renewed sense of connection with the various American landscapes. With intertwined openness, harmonious flow, and seeming weightlessness, Wright’s houses symbolized the idea of personal freedom and the radical ideals of America itself.’

Wright explained six years before his death in 1959 that, ‘the spirit of democracy- freedom of the individual as an individual- took hold of the house as it was then, took off the attic, the porch, pulled out the basement, and made a single spacious harmonious unit of the living room, dining room and kitchen with appropriate entry convenience.”

Wright developed a plan that was more than open, it flowed, and it floated. His was not like what we now call an ‘open plan’ as it is really more of a large ’empty plan’. When you walk through one of Wright’s houses, no matter what size, you experience surprise and delight. You get a feeling of openness and freedom and light that is somehow greater that the building itself. It embraces its setting.

Ranch Style Homes Added Private Outdoor Spaces Like Courtyards and Covered Patios:

‘The Ranch-style house, as we know it today’, says Ryden, ‘was developed during the 1930s in California by Cliff May and architects working around San Francisco. They used the local vernacular building materials found in barns, sheds, and other farm buildings such as split shake roofs, board-and-batten siding, used brick and concrete slab floors to shape their designs’.

‘Informal and honest’, Ryden says ‘the Ranch-style house replaced the big neighborly veranda with a small front porch, added a garage or carport as an important part of the house design and offered private outdoor living in the backyard. Often decorative features from earlier romantic house styles were added for variety. But, Ryden adds ‘no matter what decorative features were applied to the house they offered:

  • An attached carport or garage
  • An open floor plan, usually combining kitchen and family room
  • Large glass sliding doors
  • Covered patio in the backyard.

Contemporary-Style Homes Incorporate Walls of Glass and Open Floor Plans:

Ryden offers yet another development of design that offered big views and open living space, ‘During the 1950s, an upscale alternative to the Ranch-style house was the Contemporary House built with post-and-beam construction systems. This method of building consists of large framing members (posts, beams, and planks) which are spaced farther apart than the standard balloon framing and prefabricated truss roof system.

This framing system coupled with open, flowing plans, and walls of glass became the signature character for Contemporary-style houses because of the distinctive architectural effect achieved by exposing the ceiling beams and the underside of the roof planks. The Contemporary style of the 1950’s combined the best characteristics of the upscale Wrightian houses and the rustic Ranch Style houses.’

Modern Day Living Benefits from Design Development of the Past:

What better place than Arizona to enjoy these design features that soften the line between indoor and outdoor living? Homes that join interior to exterior well, make it comfortable to move between the two.

Home improvements to accomplish this union are more practical than ever as we learn more about how to protect our homes from heat gain. From the inside tinted glass, sunscreens and window treatments provide windows with inviting views and limited heat gain.

Stepping into outdoor patios, courtyards, and pool or game areas can be made comfortable any time of the year. In the summer the thoughtful addition of heat resistant surfaces, shade, fans and cooling systems, like mist and evaporative cooling, make outdoor living a pleasurable experience. The rest of the year, when heating may be needed, easy solutions include built in fireplaces, firepits or propane heaters.

These new features and products bring us to another plateau of the comfortable Arizona Indoor- outdoor lifestyle.


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