The Kellogg Joshua Tree house–also known as the High Desert House–appears suddenly, atop a sprawling five-story-high pile of rounded boulders, perched like an alien spaceship or a giant armadillo. Seen up close at the end of a winding path beyond the spiky Brutalist fence welded by John Vugrin, the craftsman who labored for two decades on the house’s interiors, the structure seems both part of the ancient landscape and otherworldly. Technically wall-less, it is formed of 26 enormous cantilevered concrete columns sunk seven feet into the bedrock. Each column, which Kellogg bathed in molasses to achieve a natural texture, fans out like an airplane wing at the top, overlapping the next to form a roof line. Between the columns, virtually invisible from many vantage points, is thick tempered glass that lets wide stripes of light fall into the house during the day; at night, from the dining table or the curved leather built-in sofa in front of the copper-hooded fireplace, the stars are visible in the vast desert sky.
The house takes full advantage of its outrageous setting — inside, you feel as though you are on the bridge of a luxurious spaceship gazing safely at the lunar landscape beyond the glass — but the interiors compete with the view for attention. There are five loosely defined levels, with discrete rooms parsed by the huge arched concrete structural pillars, but because of the endless curves, the spaces flow into each other almost seamlessly. There is virtually no free-standing furniture, save some dining chairs made, like everything else, by Vugrin, who worked alone for years at the site after the exteriors were finished (in 2002, the Doolittles finally were able to move in; Vugrin’s work continued until 2014). His main motif can be found throughout the house: glass-topped table bases in carved marble or wood that resemble the spines or rib cages of prehistoric creatures. Some are miraculously cantilevered from the concrete columns, and the two long ones that Bev Doolittle used as drawing desks are attached to enormous steel arcs that soar to the ceiling, bisecting the loftlike room. Above them is strung a series of Sputnik-like lamps, also Vugrin creations. “It’s like the Sistine Chapel,” says Kellogg, referring to a point at the center of the room where the two glass tops nearly touch — Adam reaching for the hand of God.
Every surface is crafted, inlaid or textured with natural materials, from mahogany to steel and glass tile; nothing machine-made or manufactured, save the guts of the plumbing fixtures (Vugrin, as adept with metal as with wood and stone, welded his own spouts and handles that integrate into a free-standing vanity that resembles sculpture). The arc of kitchen cabinets is patinated metal; directly above, supported by an illuminated mushroom-shaped support structure, is a circular master bedroom. Its half-height curved bookshelves allow a panoramic view of the desert, and an adjoining bathroom has a fountain — made from one of the boulders that juts into the house — that circulates a cascade of water into a trough near a hand-mosaiced tub.
Excerpted from The New York Times
The History of The High Desert House
Perched on the slope of a rocky hill in the Californian desert, not far from Joshua Tree National Park, the Desert House by American architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg is hard to categorise. Its impressive exterior form which is impeccably composed and sophisticatedly embedded within its natural surroundings consists of numerous cast-concrete slabs, which seem to cover the interior like the foliage of an otherworldly tree. Completed in the early 2000‘s after over a decade in the making, the house was commissioned by artist Bev Doolittle and her husband, who were fascinated by Kellogg’s unique aesthetic and gave him a carte blanche for the project. Born in 1934, Kellogg is considered one of the pioneers of organic architecture in the USA; his idiosyncratic style has been expressed for the most part in private projects, examples being the striking Hoshino Wedding Chapel in Karuizawa, Japan, and the Yen House in La Jolla, California.
Excerpted from Yatzer
About Kendrick Bangs Kellogg
He is a dreamer of epic, unconventional proportion. Unlike Lautner, he never was a Taliesin Fellow, but Wright was his major inspiration nonetheless. On a college trip with other architecture students in 1955, Kellogg spoke to Wright after a public lecture, and became an instant acolyte. His first house — designed at age 23, without a license — was a wild riff on Wright’s concepts for family friends who years before had had Wright draw up plans for a house on another site, which was never built. Starting in the late 1960s, Kellogg designed and engineered more than a dozen startling residences, including the Surfer House in La Jolla and the Onion House in Kona, Hawaii, as well as a massive funnel-shaped stone and glass chapel in Karuizawa, Japan, that has for nearly 30 years been one of the country’s most popular wedding sites.
Excerpted from The New York Times
A marvel of engineering in which every inch, inside and out, including the furnishings, is hand-hewn from natural materials using soaring, twisting, curvilinear forms that are at once trippy and ambitious and — perhaps surprisingly — serene.
The idea was that the house would be settled in the landscape, like it was crouching on the rocks, maybe like an animal asleep.
An organic yet alien form that would make even Antoni Gaudí jealous.
There may not be another residence more attuned to the hardened landscape of the Coachella Valley than Kendrick Bangs Kellogg’s most outré experiment in organic architecture.
Kellogg’s High Desert House in Joshua Tree is an otherworldly architectural icon.