Our proposal for the design of multi-family housing in Marfa, Texas, consists of three rammed earth dwellings that are integrated into the landscape. We are proposing to combine local building techniques with a formal language which alludes to the carved rock formations and smooth transitions found in the indigenous landscape of the Chihuahuan desert.
The primary building material is rammed earth, a natural raw material used since ancient times as a sustainable building method. The walls are simple to construct, noncombustible, strong, and durable, and provide heat-absorbing thermal mass. The natural hues and layered variations of the compacted earth walls, meanwhile, bring visual warmth and texture to the open-plan interiors of the units. The site topography draws on the geological and topological conditions of the desert.
Parametric tools were used to create undulating surface contours and unit subdivisions. These operations generate vertical variation, allowing structures to become embedded into the groundplane to take advantage of the cooling properties of the thermal mass of the earth and creating a dynamic public space within the housing block. The central plaza steps down from the dwelling units at the perimeter to form an informal outdoor amphitheater for gatherings, presentations, and exhibitions. Striations of succulents integrate with the paved areas. At the north end, the contoured levels merge with the surrounding ground plane and frame views of the landscape beyond the town limits. Entry into the units was designed as an inwardly projecting stoop that creates a shaded exterior space facing the public plaza and which leads to a sculptural skylight that illuminates the front door from above. Living spaces are raised a half-story above the entry and overlook the plaza through large shaded windows, while bedroom spaces in the larger units are accessed through internal stairs leading down to the lower level.
The master suites are located toward the rear and open out into private yards in the internal courtyard. The courtyard is spanned by radial steel struts that funnel rainwater toward a central cistern.
There are three dwelling sizes designed for three different demographic groups of the area – three one-bedroom units for artist’s studios and student housing (500 square feet), three two-bedroom units for professionals and smaller families (1000 square feet) and three three bedroom units for larger families, for example those of border control employees (1500 square feet).