Miller Pollin Architecture
with Siteworks partner,
Kevin O’Brien, AIA
In the desert hills above Las Vegas a house rises like a boulder, sloping upward out of the sage brush on the site. The client, Teller of the magic duo, Penn and Teller, had seen Miller Pollin’s Mount Vernon residences in a magazine and invited her and her then partner, Kevin O’Brien to come out to Las Vegas and see the site. Together they designed a house of whimsy, and surprise with touches of magic in line with Teller’s wishes.
Visitors approach the house from the south east enticed by the great ‘masque’ of the southern wall. This is a protective concrete surface, broken into angled polygons which frame small, fortress-like windows. The small windows and dominant angular wall provides a protective shield against the searing desert sun. On the narrow end, the wall extends above the roofline to serve as a parapet for a roof patio. Just below this, the wall breaks open with a corrugated metal balcony and views to the south east.
Whereas the southern façade and roof are enveloped in a protective concrete wall, the northern side of the house opens up with a large expanse of windows punctuated by the corrugated metal of the balcony. While Miller Pollin’s bold datum walls of red protected against fire and the Santa Anna winds in the Mount Vernon houses, here this protective masque shelters against the Nevada heat. To the north, the windows look down upon a protected garden space, a green oasis in the desert, and a shady respite from the sun.
This is a large house, 4500 square feet, and replete with experiential surprises. The kitchen faces north east, with bands of aluminum windows and an industrial feel. Their metallic grey contrasts with the warmth of the wooden cabinets and the black countertops. There is an openness to the space with angular surprises that echo the angles of the southern exterior wall.
A central corridor runs like a spine down the center of the house. A door at one end has an angled mirror that reflects the outdoors, a visual trick that obfuscates understanding of the interior spaces. Standing at one end, the corridor appears to conclude with views of the desert beyond. Yet what we see is actually a door, leading further into the house: like a magician’s visual tricks, things are not how they appear. Similarly, the library presents a wall of shelves, yet, like the sleight of a magician’s hand, one bookshelf pivots inward, providing ready escape to a room beyond.
Secret passageways and visual complexity are at play throughout the house. A catwalk hangs above the corridor spine. This was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, a playful observation deck looking down on the activities below. A spiral staircase in the studio adds an element of curvilinear drama and another means of visual escape to a balcony above. The house even includes an infinity pool enclosed in shimmering steel and glass with access both from the exterior and interior of the house.
This is a rocky behemoth rising up from the desert hills. Its angled concrete wall hides a complex system of rooms and corridors housing the client’s art work, memorabilia and tricks of the trade. Its singular appearance in the landscape belies a labyrinthine interior that wittily represents the client and his passions. The house is sensitive to site, protecting the interior from the desert while embracing a shady oasis on the north, and responsive to the program with a whimsical warren of rooms and spaces with both obvious and hidden connections.