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SERRA RESIDENCE / PHOENIX / ARIZONA



CLIENT: Richard Serra

SITE: Flat corner lot in suburban outskirts of Phoenix

PROGRAM: Single-person residence: two volumes (one mobile) housing bedroom, studio, bath, kitchen, dining; detached carport

SIZE: 1,400 sq. ft.

COST: $210,000

COMPLETION: Spring 2006 (design)

NOTES: Structural steel tube truss with type V lateral construction; aluminum sliding glass system; mobile unit riding on four bridge crane end trucks on sixty-pound rails on concrete stem walls

PROJECT TEXT: The client for this project is a painter, whose canvases swirl with emotion; alight with vivid colors and vigorous brush strokes, the paintings demand attention. The client’s personal life is the opposite. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he has spent the years since living quietly, in simple spaces with little adornment. For this small house on a flat rectangular lot on the outskirts of Phoenix, the client wanted only the essentials: room for breathing, a place for living and for painting, and a view of the nearby mountains.

The project consists of two self-contained prismatic volumes—essentially rectangular tubes, glazed on each end with sliding doors—mounted on bridge crane end trucks. The two volumes house the living areas and painting studio and are free to shuttle the length of the site on sixty-pound crane rails. In the future a third stationary volume may be added as a carport on the inside end of the site. The power for the synchronized motors (one for each end truck) is supplied to the moving volumes via a third-rail system positioned along the crane rail in the sideyard set-back on the interior side of the lot. Water and waste are handled with aircraft hoses in this same area. The rest of the lot is apportioned into a variety of landscape treatments and activity areas, including a rock garden, reflecting pool, and barbeque area. The moving house volumes are themselves divided (at the panel points of the trusses that span the rails) into three primary zones, separating the support spaces from the central activity area. The support spaces accomplish their supplementary roles as discretely as possible, with all fixtures and appliances built-in and no loose furniture. The central space is similarly free of elaboration. When the two volumes mate, three parallel “shotgun” rooms are created: along one side are the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry activities; the opposite side houses the kitchen and possible dining activities; while the middle is left empty, still. The partitions between the central space and supporting areas are finished in complementary materials, with a single flush-framed door of the same material, so that the wall may serve as a monolithic surface for hanging art.

Though the house moves, it does so quietly, with little fuss. The movement is unscheduled, discontinuous, willed. The movement completes the house, extending its domain to the entire lot. As the volumes sweep across the site they change the relationship between themselves, the landscaping, the position of the sun, and the views of the surroundings. Between them they enclose different amounts of exterior space, or they transfer it from side to side or eliminate it entirely. All this occurs at the command of the occupant, since he controls the movement, but from a strictly functional point of view this movement is useless. The point is not flexibility or convenience but experience, though the experience of flexibility is embraced and convenience is welcome. That the painter can “commute” to his studio, or that he can position his studio remote from the living areas to control the odors of the paint or tweak the solitude of the creative process is not simply a matter of utility but of the quality of the engendered experience. And to an artist experience counts. Everything that contributes to a deepening of experience counts.