The desert seems to be a constant inspiration for the most impressive architectural constructions, from Burning Man artworks to a dune-like golf clubhouse in Jordan, an avant-garde star-gazing retreat in Spain, and a mirror-clad “invisible” house in California. For this article, we explored residential desert architecture: privately-owned modern and traditional homes that are actually listed for sale today. And we were impressed.
Modern desert architecture
While Arizona and California are, without a doubt, the go-to destinations for buyers in the quest for modern desert houses, you can also find some impressive constructions in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, Spain’s Andalucia, and throughout Morocco.
The best examples of modern desert architecture fit into one of the three most sun-and-dust-friendly trends: sophisticated mid-century modernism, bold futurism, or Pueblo-style minimalism.
Mid-century desert modernism
The community of Palm Springs (located in Southern California’s Coachella Valley) once was called a desert utopia for its stunning modernist houses masterfully integrated in desertscapes.
Today, some of these Frank-Lloyd-Wright-inspired homes built in the clean aesthetic of mid-century modernism are available not only for viewing but also for sale.
Kaufmann Desert House designed by Richard Neutra, 470 West Vista Chino, Palm Springs, $25,000,000:
one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century is now available for sale. An award-winning restoration by Marmol Radziner and the highest standard of care and maintenance by the current owner renders the property a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both a family and institution. View Listing
2481 Cahuilla Hills Drive, Palm Springs, California, USA, $2,195,000.
This modernist home built by the city’s socialites in 1964 is considered one of the Palm Springs trophy properties. Located on a private road, it features panoramic city views and perfect mountain sceneries as well as a large grotto-like pool and spa. View Listing
House designed by James McNaughton, Palm Springs, California, USA, $1,599,000.
The property boasts panoramic views of Mount San Jacinto and the Indian Canyons Golf Course. The new owner will also enjoy such details as Kenyan Marble and Limestone floors, circular skylights, and a pass-through window from the bar to the pool area. View Listing
The Desert House designed by famed California architect Jim Jennings and built in 2019 is one of the newest examples of Palm Spring modernist architecture.
Transitioning from California to Arizona, you’ll spot the modern-day versions of mid-century modernism. The concrete-and-glass houses in Paradise Valley and Scottsdale built in the 2000s are definitely inspired by the iconic buildings of the 1950s and 60s.
A steel, glass, and concrete home designed and built by Construction Zone, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA, $4,975,000
. The property sits high in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, within the gated community of Clearwater Hills. Its Green Earth Energy Solar panels bring its total electric bills to zero. View Listing
House designed by David C Hovey, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, $5,300,000
. The property is situated on Desert Mountain, one of the finest homesites in Saguaro Forest. View Listing
Burning Man-style futuristic homes
There is no place like the desert. Where else would you find a futuristic cuboid construction playing the role of a family house, a two-story dome home, or a lodge with vernacular climate control? These avant-garde houses rarely come to market and mostly can be found on the pages of architecture magazines. But we were lucky to find a few perfect examples of desert futurism.
Starburst, a shipping container home in Joshua Tree, California, USA, $3,500,000.
The home’s exoskeleton of cuboid forms emanate in all directions and are oriented to capture the sheer beauty of the vistas, sky, and desertscape. View Listing
320 Bear Mountain Road, Sedona, Arizona, USA, $2,300,000.
This small but extravagant dome house was fully remodeled in 2013 by Greg Van Dam & Dwell Well. The property was built with metal and concrete and is perfectly insulated for the desert climate; it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. View Listing
Contemporary masterpiece designed by C.P. Drewett, Scottsdale Arizona, USA, $20,000,000.
A house with a private helipad, perfectly situated on a 16.4-acre (2.6 Ha) mountaintop estate lot within a gated community. View Listing
This mirror-clad house in Joshua Tree, California created by designer Tomas Osinski and film producer Chris Hanley is one of the best desert futuristic projects. The privately-owned property is available to rent for filming, photography, and events.
Desert minimalism: homes that blend into landscape
As Frank Lloyd Wright said once, “If we build in the desert, let the house know the desert and the desert be proud of the house.” This is perfectly true when it comes to the latest desert architecture examples. These minimalist constructions mimic the surrounding landscapes–and sometimes, seem to merge with it completely.
Black Mountain, Carefree, Arizona, USA, $3,300,000.
The home seems to blend in with the landscape; mountain boulders are incorporated right into the home. The property has panoramic 270-degree views of the valley below. View Listing
Modern finca designed by Antonio Bonet Castellana, Villaricos, Almeria, Spain, approx. $2,284,426.
This “House between the Desert and the Sea” built in the early 1980s is located on 17 Ha (42 acres) of rock and sandy beaches. View Listing
Casa Niparaya in Querencia, Baja California, Mexico, $3,250,000.
This minimalist lodge named after an all-powerful local deity is an example of “organic,” sustainable architecture; it uses not only natural materials but also wide open spaces–and a sequence of architectural details that breeze through accomplished landscaping and outdoor lighting. View Listing
Talus at Troon North, Scottsdale, Arizona, $3,500,000.
This property overlooking the Troon North Golf Course was once voted the Best custom home of the year by the Home Builders Association of Central AZ. View Listing
Modern Desert Contemporary, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA, $5,250,000. The home aesthetic is based on the extensive exposed concrete, raw steel, and ground concrete floors softened by natural wood. View Listing
130 Hidden Valley Drive, Moab, Utah, USA, $1,995,000.
This house designed and built by Marmol Radziner sits on an open, 71-acre (28 Ha) site punctuated by red rock formations and cliffs in the arid desert of Moab. View Listing
Black Desert House was designed and built by Oller & Pejic Architecture in Yucca Valley, near Palm Springs in 2012. The architects wanted “to build a house like a shadow. This had a very specific relevance to the desert area where the sunlight is often so bright that the eye’s only resting place is the shadows.”
Traditional architecture: desert castles and neoclassical mansions
Having searched for the top examples of desert architecture, we discovered not only modern constructions but also castles, palaces, and neoclassical houses.
Medieval constructions can be spotted in Spain within the Tabernas Desert, located on the Costa Brava, within the province of Almería. Another place to consider is Morocco: from the Marrakesh-Safi area and Agadir to Souss Massa National Park to inland locations with views of the Atlas Mountains.
But we digress. Let’s briefly return to the North American continent. Among the desert houses of Utah and Arizona, you’ll definitely find a few exotic mansions built in neoclassical style: masonry homes, Mediterannean-style, and Moorish-style estates.
Kasbah Eco, Souss Massa, Morocco, price on request.
The historic house combines authentic Berber heritage and the sustainable philosophies of ecolodges. View Listing
Villa Rama, Agadir, Morocco, approx. $4,099,383.
This 3000 sq.m (32292 sq. ft.) private palace built in a traditional Islamic style has a landscaped garden of more than 7000 sq.m (75, 300 sq. ft.) and a private beach. View Listing
18th-century castle, Cabo de Gata, Almeria, Spain, approx. $3,865,132.
A former fortress facing the deserted Playa el Playazo de Rodalquilar with a stunning roof garden and numerous sea view terraces. View Listing
Mediterranean-style house in Tucson, Arizona, USA, $2,969,000.
Solid masonry home captures the Old World charm and ambiance of Tuscany with integrated color stucco and gorgeous stone and wood flooring. View Listing
House in Leeds, Utah, USA, $2,450,000.
This 7-bedroom property has a pool of impressive size with a waterfall, a spacious pool area, and features breathtaking views over the most gorgeous area right outside of St. George. View Listing
House in Sedona, Arizona, USA, $3,600,000.
This stunning, classic home built in 2018 is located in one of West Sedona’s most exclusive areas: Soldier Pass Trail. View Listing
House in Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA, $3,300,000.
This property built as a European-style villa boasts first-class interior and exterior features, such as Clive Christian cabinets with Carrera marble accents, a wraparound negative edge pool, and outdoor star gazing deck with an open fireplace. View Listing