slopeside developments

I am building my octagon kitchen on a gentle slope to the east of our house which, several times a year, can be awash in runoff from heavy rainstorms. When our rainwater catchment tank at the crest of the slope overflows and all the rain that’s shed off our large roof is concentrated at the overflowing water tank, the runoff can become a torrent.

In the last months I have been sculpting the slope above the future kitchen into a naturalistic feature incorporating rock-faced spillways capable of diverting water around the kitchen in the heaviest downpours.

Part of the process is, and will continue to be, restoration of the slope to its previous state before foundations were dug for a pair of domes the previous owners Abe and Josie had planned to build. Earth-and-stone-rubble mounds surround the site, and I have begun to process these into stone for the kitchen foundation and walls and soil to level the floor before we pour a pad. To the greatest extent practical, I’m focused on rearranging stone and other materials closest to the building site before bringing in new resources from farther away. In the process, we will restore the landscape to its pristine state right up to the outer edges of our buildings and other structures

The kitchen will use the smaller of Abe’s two foundations, which is located closest to the house. The diameter of the interior space will be twenty four feet. The walls will consist of a solid rock knee-wall with adobe walls above it. The larger of the foundations, a forty-foot-diameter circle, will be covered over by a circular shaded deck of approximately the same color as our gray sedimentary ledge-rock. The decking material is made from recycled plastic bottles.

It seems to me if we are going to buy and ship in building materials from the outer world, they should be recycled materials whenever possible. When the time comes, I have found roofing tiles made from recycled tires. They look like classic clay tiles and are guaranteed to last for fifty years, even in our brutal desert sun.

Our development concept for Estrella Vista is to build several small-footprint adobe structures in combination with larger temporary and “soft” structures like tents, arbors, and decks, which will dramatically increase our available livable space at a fraction of the cost of enclosing the same functionality in “hard” structures with walls, doors, windows, and roofs.

Here you can spend most days of the year outdoors as long as you’re dressed for conditions and protected from the sun and wind. The thing that’s different about our climate from most other places is that it fluctuates so widely within a 24-hour day. Nights can be extremely cold and days can be extremely hot.

In a sense, we experience the conditions of two or three seasons in each 24-hour period. In springtime, for example, we might experience winter temperatures at night, summer temperatures around midday, and spring conditions in early morning and late afternoon.

Shade, windbreaks, and amenities like outdoor fireplaces can make outdoor living spaces comfortable for longer periods within each day.

By summer and the expected arrival of guests, we will have built deck platforms just inches off the desert floor upon which our German Kohte tents can be pitched. The decks will “harden” our tent campsites without damaging the sites’ natural features. With the construction of these decks, we will then begin experimenting with various groundsheet, padding, and bedding systems to optimize creature comforts in these tents with a minimal use of heavy and costly materials.

Paul is also committed to building us an enclosed shower and toilet by summer. We will design it so it can be added onto and absorbed into a larger and more luxurious bath house which will eventually be one of two bath houses, one for men and the other for women, each of which will be able to accommodate three people at any given time in privacy and comfort.

I am doing most of the work on the kitchen myself; Paul is so motivated to have a working toilet and shower here, he will spearhead the work on the bath house.

“We’ll never be able to have any women staying here without one,” he says.

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