Lake Flato Architects create rammed-earth ranch house in the Texas desert

American architecture studio Lake Flato has created a mud ranch house in the desert prairies of Texas named Marfa Ranch.

Located in Marfa, a small art and ranching community between the Chihuahuan Desert and the Davis Mountains, the building is inspired by the region’s ancient architecture with rooms arranged around a courtyard.

The house was designed to blend into the landscape with rammed earth walls and a low form

“The design builds on an early regional paradigm commonly found on far west Texas ranches, where low, relaxed houses partially surround an interior courtyard,” said Bob Harris, Lake’s managing partner. Flato Architects.

“These houses are often of stone, brick or adobe, one room wide and U-shaped – opening onto an interior verandah and enclosing the courtyard which opens to the east, protecting against northerly winds -western persistent seasonal.”

Rammed earth walls of the house with covered passage and central courtyard
A breezeway connects the spaces around the perimeter of the courtyard

The studio used three million pounds of earth to create the adobe walls, which were chosen to reflect a connection to the landscape.

This material was used for the structure as well as for the finishes.

“Clay is a simple material that reinforces connections to the land and the landscape,” Harris said. “It’s a labor of love to engage in the use of the earth when building, and the craftsmanship of construction is evident throughout.”

“The clay is the unifying element, the same inside and out; everything about material and construction is made clear and obvious.”

Dirt Corridors at Marfa Ranch by Lake Flato Architects
The studio used three million pounds of soil in the project

In addition to the two-foot-thick rammed-earth walls, which help keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter, the layout of the house was designed in response to the climate.

“There’s a deliberate quality of housekeeping that matches the qualities of the land,” Harris said.

“In the vastness of this landscape, we felt it was important that the house keep a low profile to merge with the terrain. It was equally important that the house open up to the distant view while protecting against the harsh wind and sun in the region.”

Marfa Ranch house with dirt walls in the Texas desert near Lake Flato
The house is divided into eight separate structures

The ranch house is divided into eight different structures connected by a covered walkway lined with columns made from recycled oilfield pipes.

The rooms act as a wall around the courtyard, forming a layout that the studio describes as both enclosed and open.

“The courtyard connects people to a more introverted landscape while protecting them from wind and sun,” Harris said.

Room with exposed adobe walls and porch overlooking the desert
The bedroom opens onto a covered porch with views of the surrounding grounds

“As a counterpoint, most of the surrounding rooms open up to the interior and exterior landscape and are positioned to accept the cooling breeze reaching the outer foreground and the distant horizon.”

The courtyard, which features a central fountain filled with collected rainwater, is shaded by local mesquite trees.

An open-plan living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a large black fireplace offers views of the surrounding desert.

The living spaces are extended by sliding doors in weathering steel to covered terraces equipped for meals and relaxation.

Rusty steel sliding door leading to an outdoor living space in a ranch house by Lake Flato
Rusted steel sliding doors lead to additional semi-outdoor areas

Next to the living room is a large black dining table, which leads to an additional nook to the side of the space that serves as a smaller dining area.

Additional rooms extend to other sides of the courtyard, including four bedrooms, bathrooms, and a space that doubles as a bar and library.

Water tank on boardwalk converted to swimming pool in Texas desert
An existing water tank which the studio has converted into a swimming pool is at the end of a long walk

At the end of a promenade that extends from the main courtyard is a swimming pool which has been converted by the studio from an old water tank, the only existing structure on the site.

Founded in 1984, Lake Flato Architects has completed various other homes in Texas, including a large lakeside retreat and an Austin home with a boardwalk leading to a lake.

Marfa Ranch was recently shortlisted in the rural house category of the Dezeen Awards 2022. Other shortlisted projects in the category include a Passivhaus by MAPA Architects and a bamboo house in Indonesia.

The photograph is by Casey Dunn.

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