Katrine Thormann shot by Joshua Jordan for Elle Germany
Katrine Thormann shot by Joshua Jordan for Elle Germany
Acido Dorado pool photo by Jimmy Cohrssen in a two page spread of this folio size book from Rizzoli
BG is a gorgeous large format fashion and design magazine from Spain. Photos by Brad Lansill.
Robert Stone – The Dead Rose of the Desert
(Translated from Spanish text by Adriana Argudo)
Under the hot and relentless desert sun in Southern California we find a black silhouette that contrasts and complements its flat brown landscape.
Covered with a mirrored ceiling and surrounded by a screen with black fake flowers composed in strict geometric patterns, it blends with the warmth of the sand and gives life to the dead Southern California desert. Like a lost vernacular that developed over the generations after Manson killed the 60’s, the desert became over-run with dirt bikes, and the California dream rotted in the sun, Robert Stone designed a project beyond words with significant architecture that brings feelings from all who know this desert rose. The simple concept and complexity of the spaces result in a consistent and clear style.
Rosa Muerta is buried four feet into the ground with interior ceilings that are ten feet tall while the exterior appears to be too low to be a habitable structure. It’s walls are open to the surrounding natural elements, but it’s design carefully uses solar shading, thermal mass and breeze catching to regulate the temperature in a place that is an endless summer most of the year. For it’s creator, Robert Stone, Rosa Muerta is a perfect aesthetic for it’s time and place, a natural expression of the living culture of Southern California.
“Conceptually, I have a really different idea from most architects about where meaning resides in the subject-object relationship. Rather than thinking the meaning resides in the architectural object, or it’s abstract form, I consider that it is negotiated anew between the subject, the object and the context.”
Building elements of tile, glass and metal are monochromatic black to contrast to the beige view that dominates the area. The most striking and decorative element is the black rose metal work that that contrasts both visually and conceptually with the arid landscape.
Robert Stone is an architect who looks for meaning in the context, not simply in the trends but in the deeper expressions of the surrounding cultural context
“I am interested in the way that a monochrome space makes the building all about texture and sheen. I use flat, gloss, and satin blacks very carefully to create a rich palette of textures. I use monochrome color schemes to make people more self-conscious of their role The buildings are simply backgrounds or frameworks for the meaning and action that people bring to them and act out in them.”
As we look at this amazing project, we cannot stop thinking about how Gothic fashion may have found it’s way into this great signature work. And, how this project so effortlessly moves this into a more contemporary context.
Stone has presented his work in very different ways from that of more conventional architects. Fashion has been a crucial part of this presentation.
“I don’t really identify personally with goth, but I admit that I really respond to the high level of craft in fashion that has a gothic edge to it- Olivier Theyskens, 2003 Gucci, Hedi Slimane. It isn’t surprising that the fashion world was the first to respond to my work either. They are used to looking at things that are all-black but are also carefully detailed. They are also used to looking at things that are new, and deciding for themselves if they are interesting. Architects strangely were slow to see the architecture in my work- the roof structure held together with stainless pins, the gravity defying structural tricks, or the concrete detailing, the spatial composition- the things that we architects get off on. They couldn’t get past the black color for a long time.”
“I think gothic as a style that favors the dark, irrational, and sensual over the rational and modern is a really different thing in different places. In my work I am finding expression for the “real” culture of Southern California- not the adobe fantasy, or mid-century modern fantasy, but the real culture that is both natural and fake, sunshine and noir, religious and godless. But, the gothic style in the Southern California desert is probably something different than it is in Spain or London.”
Elle Decor UK – Feature on Rosa Muerta
The stark beauty of the desert is what inspired Los Angeles architect Robert Stone to build Rosa Muerta, a unique all-black retreat on the edge of California’s Joshua Tree nature reserve. A shaven-headed, tattooed, former punk rocker, he lives here part of the year with his artist wife, Amy Wheeler, and their three-year-old son, Ford; the rest of the time the house is rented out for fashion shoots or to adventurous travelers. Here, Robert explains the idea behind his extraordinary home…
What’s the significance of the name?
Rosa Muerta is a cholo term for the ‘black rose of death’. A lot of things in Southern California are named in Spanish to make them sound more romantic, but they’re meaningless in translation if you speak Spanish – like the forgotten half of the population does. I use that pattern to a different end. It sounds romantic, ‘Rosa Muerta’, but it translates to a darker poetry about the inextricable nature of love and loss. The desert has this whole living/dead real/mirage dichotomy running through everything and the house admits that.
How long did the house take to complete?
Three years. I was out here by myself the whole time; so it took a while.
Was there anything on the plot before you built Rosa Muerta?
Empty desert. There’s still no new landscaping outside of the house. It sits in the middle of the open desert and I am letting the desert grow right back around it.
Why did you choose an all-black scheme?
It isn’t black itself that interests me, but monochrome in general, as it focuses the attention on subtle variations in texture. Black also makes the house about the colors that surround it; at night it disappears and all you see are the stars. I’m currently finishing a house that’s entirely metallic gold and my last design was electric blue. . monochrome makes color either everything or nothing depending on how you are looking at it.
Why have you chosen such minimal furniture and accessories?
All the furniture is built-in – the steps, benches and countertops create a kind of terrain made of concrete. I even carefully removed all of the joints so that it feels continuous. It’s really sexy- it engages your body in a very self-conscious way. People sit on the counters and steps and stand on the benches.
The property merges the indoors and out how was this achieved?
I approached the blurring of indoor/outdoor space in somewhat the opposite way from modernism. I thought I’d build Rosa Muerta like an abandoned house, open to and overgrown by the desert. Do you remember (Los Angeles artist) Sam Durant’s Abandoned Houses? I had a lot of formative experiences in the real world version of Sam Durant’s Abandoned Houses. To me, entropy, culture, and nature can’t be separated from architecture. Some people try, but it leads to boring architecture.
Why did you put mirrors on the ceiling?
I always loved Smithson’s mirror displacements for perhaps the wrong reasons; their simple material poetics. Sand is the main ingredient of glass and so putting mirrors where they reflect the desert floor is this simple and beautiful architectural conundrum. I also like to work with things that are so loaded with cultural baggage, that they defy the formalist trend that architecture has been stuck in for decades. Mirrored ceilings have this connotation of debased sexuality, there is even that Hotel California song that mentions ‘mirrors on the ceiling’ as a trope for some unnamed depravity. I accept all of that baggage, it’s more interesting than pretending architecture is abstract. And I try to make something new out of it. In this case it comes out to be this sublime phenomenon that outstrips language and even sex, like looking out at the ocean.
How does the space change according to the seasons?
The weather here is really mild. It rains about once a year and it’s amazing to see the effect on the surrounding plants. The sun angles were carefully considered so that the pool is in the sunlight in the winter and shaded in the summer. The house is designed to catch the breeze so that it continuously replaces the warmer air that sits below the ceiling. And it uses thermal mass to even out the temperature.
How do people react to the property?
You don’t have to understand all of the personal and local cultural references in my work to be moved by the house. The meaning isn’t located in the object anyway, but it comes out between the object, the viewer, and the culture. So all you have to do to ‘get it’ is to ask yourself questions and see where they lead. Of course, speaking a little Spanish and knowing the 2002 Gucci Fall collection helps.
Robert Stone’s Golden Acido Dorado in Joshua Tree California by Danny Hudson
On 5-acres of high desert in Southeastern California, the golden yellows of the landscape are continued and reflected in ‘Acido Dorado’, a vacation home designed by Los Angeles-based architect Robert Stone:
“My work looks different because I think differently about architecture. It is designed for a different “function” – to engage the cultural context on a conceptual level. for the last century up to and including the present avant-garde, architecture has strived toward abstraction – focusing on shape and form while suppressing the cultural meaning that we attach to things. It has followed an old idea of what sculpture is and how it functions, while other artistic disciplines (including sculpture) moved beyond this long ago consider conceptualism, performance, representation and figuration, engaging “meaning” by any means necessary. I am simply pushing forward architecture in that direction, in the way i know how. i hope there are others.”
Taking a unique approach to the design process, the one story structure is almost a mirror of its surroundings, interpreted in it’s own way. reflections present throughout the project both literally and metaphorically offer a new experience and meaning to the home in the arid climate. from glass-like reflecting pools to opposing parallel mirrors, mirrored ceilings, and the peculiar use of materials and colors, the project not only serves as a backdrop in which the user can perform daily activities but also responds to the user and seems to engage in a deeper dialogue with a sense of time and place- with a distinct message.
“So this means that rather than a collection of boxes and planes, I use a wider palette and combine ideas and materials into a poetic whole that gets its meaning not from the architect but from the world around it. it doesn’t pretend to be a big “timeless” abstract sculpture. It is designed to engage current fashion, art, its time and cultural context, to modify it and question it- then reflect it back charged with different meaning. this isn’t the old argument about symbolism or ornament – it’s deeper than that. it is about considering things in their full conceptual circumstances and finding the meaning there.”
The design reinterprets the classical elements of wall, roof, and floor, manifested through different materials. the vertical envelopes are made of hollowed concrete block creating a perfectly permeable yet room-bounding partition, embedded with the archetypal heart and rose. sections of opaque blocks provide the necessary privacy in the bedrooms from the external world. the floor plane sinks into and out of the ground, forming a sort of internal stepped courtyard with a pool and built-in planters, while the canopy floats gracefully above the entire construction moderating the amount of light let into the spaces beneath.
“The house sits in the middle of a natural environment but it confidently projects the opposite of nature- a “cultured” meaning. some of the strongest elements here are things that are so loaded with cultural connotations that they are impossible to figure into architecture as we have defined it for so many years. Gold is impossible to separate from its connotations and consider abstractly- same with flowers and the heart. I came up through the same architectural education and practice as everyone else, so I am well aware that my aesthetic vocabulary is “different” – but with it I can do things that I could not do with abstract sculptural minimalism.”
“Acido Dorado is designed with a series of meshed ideas that constantly modify each other- so it never really settles into a static statement. The dead flowers are representational of a living thing, but that kind of romantic and lush flora is relentlessly contrasted with the real (but dead) desert surrounding. the mirrors reflect the emptiness of the desert with their own infinite space, and their glass is the same material and chemistry as the glittering silica sand that they reflect. Gold is a color, a material, and an idea. all of these elements fold in on each other conceptually which makes for a certain “unreality” to the place as these associations modify each other continuously. I am pursuing ideas about time, death, reality and hallucination and I develop these unusual aesthetics to get us there. . to get to “meaning” by any means necessary.”
Dwelling on the Desert: Architect Robert Stone – by Britt Collins
Architect Robert Stone’s two sleek, rule-bending desert residences have a definite sense of grand ambition behind them, given that he feels “every house should be a masterpiece in someone’s eyes”.
There’s nothing new about Californian desert houses but few are completely built from scratch by one architect and infused with personal meaning. Robert Stone is rewriting the rules about mid-century modernism, minimalism and, well, architecture. Six years ago, the Los Angeles architect created something spectacular and unexpected on the fringes of the Joshua Tree National Park. Down a lonely stretch of dirt road, he constructed two rule-bending properties with sensitivity and vision.
Rosa Muerta (‘dead rose’ in Spanish), his first one, an all-black, gothic Blade Runner-style affair, was inspired by roadside death shrines, low-rider cars, deserted swimming pools and burnt-out houses from the 1970s. Stone said this “is what happens to your senses when there is an absence of colour. Everything becomes about texture and sheen, and the colours of the surrounding landscape itself really pops off. That small house in the desert was designed to change the history of architecture”.
He continued this somewhat surreal aesthetic with Acido Dorado (‘golden acid’, a drug reference), a glam gold Gucci-esque palace that shimmers like a mirage and transforms inside and out throughout the day with the changing light.
—“My expectations were contradictory. I’m very ambitious for the ideas behind my work. However, I was really shooting for some kind of ‘underground’ success that mattered to me.”
His fantastical follies, part art piece and part rental getaway, are masterpieces of subtlety and sparseness. “I think every house should be a masterpiece in someone’s eyes or why bother?” says Stone, a shaven-headed, tattooed former punk rocker whose laid-back air and style hides an almost obsessive intensity. “My expectations were contradictory. I’m very ambitious for the ideas behind my work. However, I was really shooting for some kind of ‘underground’ success that mattered to me.”
The design and fashion world took notice, enabling him to scatter his seed of influence further afield and gather an international following. Both spaces have featured in countless shoots from Elle Décor to Playboy, among many others, in a Roberto Cavalli campaign and Steven Klein shot Rosa Muerta and Acido Dorado for American Vogue. “I’ve always been inspired by fashion so the respect is mutual,” says Stone. “My studio looks like a cross between a car shop and a teenage girl’s bedroom with tools and machines everywhere and magazine tear-sheets on the walls. There are aspects of fashion that architects should take note of. I think that capturing a moment in time and transforming it into something profound is the hardest thing to do. It’s a great example of how an engaged and vital creative culture works.”
Stone was brought up among the palm trees and canyons of Palm Springs, an oasis of mid-century modernism, where he soaked up the retro sophistication and rugged simplicity of his environs. “I lived in and around a lot of iconic modernist architecture and it gave me a much broader view,” he says, and taught him to look at spaces from a sensory perspective and human context. “People didn’t just sit around in Eames chairs reading magazines or smiling by the pool — they lived, died, laughed, cried and loved in those houses. If you change the way you look at things, everything changes.”
After studying architecture at University California Berkeley, he spent a good decade as a studio artist and musician. “I got a lot out of punk rock but it was about more than style,” he says. “For me it provided an early example that truth has its own kind of unconventional beauty. If you can find a way to play the sounds you hear in your head, rather than the ones you hear on the radio, it will be beautiful.”
With this punk DIY approach, he went out into the wilderness with no clients or commissions and hand-built Rosa Muerta by himself over three years. Learning at the elbow of his father, a builder, he did everything — digging, bricklaying, plumbing, wiring, designing — which he “considers part of being a good architect” knowing “both the material and the ideas of architecture”. Next, he designed Acido Dorado, a meditation of opposites as he describes it, a short distance away, and paid for it with credit cards “instead of waiting around for a rich client”.
He chose the Joshua Tree because it was a storied rock ’n’ roll and spiritual retreat, and the raw, primitive landscape provided an ideal foil for his philosophy of an architecture that not only could co-exist with nature but would be perfected by it. “I started in the desert because I grew up there and I have a deep and complex understanding of that culture and place. The desert has a very rich and complex culture, and a few dead rock stars are just one part of it. I felt it was the best context for me to make a strong debut.”
The heart of Stone’s work lies in being deeply rooted to its surroundings and its mesmerising subtleties — glass walls, mirrored ceilings, reflecting pools and tinted glass surfaces soak up the light and the views — fusing the sweep of sky, sand and scrubby high-desert panorama into one singular vision. The floor-to-ceiling sliders and grid-like screens open up 80 percent of the buildings to the elements, and wild animals such as bobcats, jackrabbits, roadrunners and ravens.
Stone rents out the two sleek desert dwellings for about 50 weeks of the year for fashion shoots and to people seeking peace and solitude under his development Pretty Vacant Properties (named, naturally, after the Sex Pistols’ song). The houses belong to the people who occupy them and “somehow find the right people naturally”, he says. “There is no velvet rope. I answer all enquiries personally and simply ask people to introduce themselves. Most are creatives in film, music, art, but sometimes a scientist or CEO will surprise me by being really into architecture. It opens up my world to have some common connection with all of these people.”
Driven by curiosity and appreciation for nature and the wider culture, Stone is actively seeking places to dream up his stunning, uncompromising creations and is currently designing a house on the edge of a national forest. “I’m doing one house at a time and I put everything I have into each one.”
GT Zhang shot Nika Rusakova for Marie Claire
Boo George at Acido Dorado
October 2012, Katharina Hesedenz, Feature on Acido Dorado
June 2012, Sebastian Cayrol, Feature on Acido Dorado
Copyright © 2010-2019 Robert Stone Design