Being a recent transplant from the cool and wet climate of Seattle to the hot and dry climate of Las Vegas, the Architizer article by Ema Bakalova caught my attention.  In her article, she writes about the challenges and the solutions for designing in the desert.

The Desert Climate:

The first thing to mind is drifting sand, sagebrush, and tumbleweeds but the climate of the desert southwest is so much more.  Summertime temperatures bake the landscape with hot, dry winds picking up in the afternoon.  Winters can be cold, with temperatures at night dropping below freezing.

And that does not even take into consideration the heavy monsoon season that occurs every August.  Producing heavy rains, and even flooding.  All of this results in the need for unique design solutions.

The Design Approaches:

There are many approaches designers can take to build places that thrive in the harsh desert climate.

Passive Design:

Simply put, passive design is about leaning into natural solutions and elements to regulate the temperature of the surface and the inside of the space.  These principles work in both cooler and warmer climates.

In the desert, the solution could be an adobe, thick concrete, or even earthen exterior walls to help mitigate the heat of the sun reaching the interiors of the building.   Other solutions are landscapes that are drought tolerant but still provide shade.  Trees like the African Sumak the Tipa and the Blue Palo Verde.

Another way to mitigate the heat, or even the cold, in desert design, is to harness shade, ventilation, and even placement of the building.  Creating courtyards and breezeway is another way to cool through passive design.


Adobe springs to mind when one thinks about desert materials.  That is because it works so well.  This historic material does an amazing job of regulating indoor temperatures, reducing the reliance on mechanical cooling and heating.

A newer option is rammed earth.  Rammed earth is compressed damp soil, formed into a solid wall.  It is very similar to the properties of Adobe and offers the same benefits.


Water management is a critical part of designing for the desert.  In such an arid climate it is critical to use as little water as possible while retaining as much water as the property can.  While water may seem limited the monsoon season is a great opportunity to conserve water for the rest of the year.

Designs that incorporate slanted roofs, gutters, and runnel leading water to tanks or cisterns can be very useful.

The desert is a vibrant, livable environment.  It just takes a clever and creative approach to get the best out of desert living.