The off-grid house Casa Caldera is located in a remote landscape on the southwestern bajada of the Canelo Hills in Southern Arizona’s San Rafael Valley, two hours southeast of Tucson and 15 miles north of the US/Mexico Border.

Southeast Arizona, San Rafael Valley, United States;  DUST

large bifold doors 100
natural cross ventilation 100
solar power 100

Site is balanced between the prospect of the open range and distant mountains toward the west and refuge from those who may venture across the landscape. Proximity to the border and immigrant related foot traffic led the owner to request an impenetrable structure.

year of completion

The house emerges from the native grasses, Emery Oaks, and open ranges beyond in a simple rectangular form of 18” mass walls constructed of poured lava-crete. The material is comprised of a mixture of pulverized lightweight red scoria, cement, and water, rammed into formwork. These walls create the structure, finish and offer insulation and thermal mass all in one stroke. The 945-sq.ft structure takes clues from a vernacular “zaguan” housing typology. The plan locates two bedrooms (265-sq.ft) opposite a living room (265-sq.ft) (530 interior sq.ft); a zaguan runs between them (270-sq.ft). Large bi-fold doors on the ends of the zaguan connect the space to the outside, introducing natural light when open, and security when closed. Cooling is provided by natural cross ventilation through the zaguan and window openings, while wood fuel sourced on the property provides heating. Water is from a well, while solar power is used for minimal electrical and appliance needs. A single 30-yard rolloff of waste was removed after the entire construction process.

fact file:
  • project : Casa Caldera – DUST, Tucson Arizona
  • location: Southeast Arizona, San Rafael Valley
  • dt of completion: December 2015
  • interior square footage: 530 sq. ft.
  • footprint sq. ft. (includes exterior zaguan and terrace): 1,060-sq. ft.
  • architect’s firm: DUST, Tucson Arizona
    • Cade Hayes, Principal of DUST, Project Architect, Registered Architect
    • Jesus Robles, Principal of DUST, Project Manager, Design
    • General contractor: DUST
    • Jesus Robles, Project Manager
    • Cade Hayes, Project Manager
  • project team: Jay Ritchey, Carpenter, Agustin Valdez, Concrete and Mason, Ben Gallegos, Labor/Job Site Assistant
  • photographer(s): Cade Hayes


D U S T is an alliance of architects, craftsmen, artists, designers, and builders that focus their practice in the master builder tradition.  D U S T was formally founded in Tucson, Arizona, USA in 2007, the seeds of which were planted in the late 1990’s on the Llano Estacado in West Texas. The practice has grown through a collaboration between Cade Hayes and Jesús Robles as an exploration of ideas and ethics that had been culminating from their travels and professional experiences. Natives to the deserts of the southwestern U.S., they have cultivated an intimacy to the land in which their work is deeply informed by and attuned to, responding to the environment and the senses. Through attention and craft, the subtleties of their spirit, knowledge, and experience resonate in pursuit of the timeless qualities that remain to inspire and make us dream.

user view