5156 Benji Ave, Joshua Tree California
“future Present” by Brooke Hodge
Films such as Blade Runner, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many others, promised us a dynamic, dramatic vision of the future. On film, the future was both more real and more surreal. Interiors were stark, minimal, and high-tech, and characters wore monochromatic clothing that resembled uniforms. The future portrayed was often dystopic and slightly menacing, yet we were mesmerized and intrigued by it. The twenty-first century beckoned. And it was alluring.
Now that we’re two decades into the twenty-first century and living in that future, architecture has yet to truly answer the clarion call of the future that has fueled the tech industry. Visionary ideas and concepts are challenging to construct, not to mention expensive, and many people are not yet ready to fully embrace the future’s promise and uncertainty. How will we live in the next decade? The next century? What do our homes mean to us in a world now shaped by a pandemic? What will life be like? Change can be scary, but it is also liberating and exhilarating to let go of the past and embark on a new adventure.
That new adventure now awaits dreamers, explorers, and independent spirits in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. There couldn’t be a more perfect place to stake a claim to the future than the high desert, which is often called for its elevation of 2000 to 4000 feet above sea level. Land is expansive, evocative, and elemental in the high desert around Joshua Tree National Park. Scrubby chaparral, earthy creosote, and otherworldly yuccas and Joshua Trees have thrived for centuries in the boulder-strewn, lunar-like landscape cradled between low mountains and mesas. Hawks soar overheard, bobcats stalk their prey, rattlesnakes slither across dusty trails, and sometimes the only sound is the howl of coyotes. Nature intensifies at dawn and dusk, as the sun paints the endless sky in vivid colors, and a seemingly infinite array of stars and planets appears as night falls.
Who dreamt & designed this futuristic new home in Joshua Tree?
Erika Stahlman and Omar Nobil, a pair of visionary designers, have thought a great deal about the future and about the role architecture can play in shaping it. Erika, an ambitious and adventurous architect, inspired by other innovative women designers like Gae Aulenti, Zaha Hadid, and Jeanne Gang, and Omar, a fashion and product designer and creative director who has worked with numerous renowned global brands, met five years ago in New York. Over several trips to the high desert, they got excited about the idea of designing something new from the ground up. They talked for hours about how they could build on Erika’s deep knowledge of the region’s architecture and landscape while taking their partnership and their ideas to the next level. The pandemic provided the opportunity that propelled them into forming their own creative, collaborative practice: Unincorporated Associates, a lifestyle brand that is a unique marriage between fashion, design, and architecture. They now work together full-time on building their business and their brand and have “leaned deep into the possibilities of sustainability, living off the grid, and renewable resources.”
The high desert has always been something of a new frontier for nature lovers, artists, independent souls seeking an escape, and people just looking for a place to relax and get away from it all. Erika and Omar are also intrigued by the idea of a new frontier and its potential as a blank canvas of sorts that gives them carte blanche to dream up visions of a new aesthetic and reinvent what desert life can mean. “What could living off the grid look like for us?” “Can we still enjoy high-end conveniences?” “Can we innovate and push the boundaries of luxury to create something new?” “How can we inspire creativity, peace of mind, and joy?” “How can architecture meet and shape the demands of what ‘home’ means now and in the future?”
These questions, and more, were part of Erika and Omar’s process as they gave their imaginations free rein and exercised their prodigious design chops. The result? The first fully immersive residential design concept, ingeniously tailored to the magical terrain of the high desert. The minimalist concrete compound they created offers both cutting-edge technology and complete sustainability. The stunning sculptural interiors are like a stage set, inviting and inspiring various creative, culinary, or clandestine activities. Cook a gourmet dinner, jam with your musician friends, or use the creative space and energy of the house to write music inspired by the desert or the novel that’s been simmering on the back burner. Bask in the beauty of nature and breathe in the clean, clear desert air while meditating in the morning or skinny dipping by starlight. The possibilities, like the sky and the sweeping views, are endless. The composition is completed with sophisticated amenities, including a bespoke clothing collection and a vintage Land Rover Series III with an electric engine.
About The home
The 3200-square-foot partially subterranean concrete residence appears to emerge from the desert floor against the backdrop of stunning mountain ranges, bringing a gentle sense of order to the vast landscape. The sculptural compound, enclosed in a courtyard and powered by state-of-the-art solar technology, includes a three-story main residence, a two-bedroom guest house, mineral water swimming and reflecting pools, and a three-car garage with EV charging stations. The main residence features spectacular views, a wet bar, a media room, and an expansive primary bedroom suite with a dressing area, water closets, and a soaking chamber. The compound’s custom furniture, cabinetry, high-end appliances, lighting, and integrated audio-visual system are all part of Erika and Omar’s Unincorporated Associates lifestyle concept.
The project, entirely inspired by desert modernism but propelled by innovative contemporary thinking, presents a unique opportunity to create the next Southern California architectural landmark in the high desert. Not only will this secluded hideaway take its rightful place alongside such area masterworks as Ken Kellogg’s Doolittle House, Lloyd Wright’s Institute of Mentalphysics, and Oller & Pejic’s Black Desert House, it will inspire the next generation of architects, and their clients, to imagine the future in new and different ways. Unincorporated Associates’ visionary project promises to turn dreams into reality and create the future in the present.
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