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DEATH VALLEY STUDIO Master Thesis Spring 2012 Kansas State University Marissa Carroll | Prof. Chris Fein | Wendell Burnette Regnier Chair

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Death Valley Studio 2012 is a fifth year studio at Kansas State University in collaboration with architects Wendell Burnette and Christopher Fein. The studio explores and researches Death Valley National Park and the role architecture and design can play in enhancing the park’s mission statement.

“ promote and regulate the use of the...national parks... which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.� National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C.1.



In order to design architecture that embodies the site where it resides, one must create architecture of PLACE. This task not only entails an understanding of the site’s topography and materiality, but demands a mastery of the surrounding conditions, the natural pulse and movement of the landscape, and the language by which nature has designed the land. By adopting this language, the built environment becomes an extension of the PLACE instead of a foreign parasite on the land. Death Valley offers a vast variety of land formations, but a common dialect is shared between them - the voids made by water eons ago, the salt and sediment left behind, the struggle for any living thing to survive on this land. These phenomenon inform the means by which architecture is designed and built, and the essence it evokes to all those who share in its existence.



In order to begin to understand the relationship between man and nature in its most severe forms, I looked to the works of two experts in this respect. The following essays reflect my analysis of the written material as well as new questions brought to light which had a profound impact the built project in Death Valley.

Scenes in America Deserta | Reyner Banham, 1982 The Control of Nature | John McPhee, 1989





Crossing into Death Valley National Park, from basic “civilization” into vast, pure emptiness is a breathtaking experience, which all city dwellers must undertake at some point in their lives. Approaching from the East, the last town one passes though is barely a town at all with minimal services and a few ticky-tack houses clumped together. After gassing up the car in Pahrump, one quickly gets back on the highway and heads towards majestic mountains in the distance. Passing through mountains, amber sand dunes, and the salt flats, one wonders how human settlements in this uncorrupted landscape could ever be appropriate. Most settlements, like the town of Pahrump, are eyesores, scabs upon the land. How then, does one design a place, which is “of the land,” for man to inhabit? This is the great task that all architects are called to solve. P. Reyner Banham wrote Scenes in America Deserta to address this very question and bring to light the architecture that has succeeded, or more frequently, failed. Banham begins his analysis of the desert with describing the colors of the landscape and the sensation of extreme heat radiating off the ground. As the day goes on, the heat builds and he notes that the strong light eats the array of colors in his surroundings. (6). It his here that Banham observes “heat’s kinship to light”. (6). He then describes his first impression of the salt flats, where “the extraordinary luminance” is “caused by partially diffracted sunlight.” (11). No other desert morning conveys a “Cherenkov light’ that glows chill and eerie in the depths of a water-cooled atomic reactor.” (11). It is after these revelations that he speaks of the biblical perception of the desert, that it is a place “where God is and man is not”. (16). In addressing his reaction to the desert, Banham poses the question,

“What is the nature of natural beauty”. (18). What is it about the deserts of the Southwest that are unlike any beauty he has witnessed before? The Mojave Desert is perhaps the best known and visited of American deserts, its physical qualities are what one envisions when upon hearing the word “desert”. (191). It’s known for being a “living relic” of the Great Basin, which “was the most feared barrier to the ultimate westward expansion of the United States.” (192). Here, the minerals are rich and the land is prime for testing cars, planes, and even space shuttles. But how does architecture and design fit into a land that is relatively undisturbed, as many believe it should remain? How does one create unity with vast emptiness and strong, geological formations? Banham seeks for answers as he discusses the various settlements that he comes upon. He begins with an early experience passing through the desert. He comes upon a sign noting that the next town, Kelso, has “no services”. (23). One’s next logical thought is to wonder what is the purpose of a town without services. Kelso, like many other desert establishments, was built to service the Union Pacific Railroad Company, not man. Kelso is, however, an oasis in the desert due to the fact that it is employs cohesive design that is “within the capacity” of the architects who built it. (24). This vernacular style is then contrasted with Scotty’s castle, which was commissioned to Frank Lloyd Wright. This project Banham describes as dull and unfinished. In fact, he states that the only aspect of the project that is worthwhile is the site that it sits on. Another failed development is the town of Baker, which serves as a point of entry to Death Valley National Park. (40). Like Kelso, Baker was a needed reprieve from the harsh climate in between the larger railroad towns of Barstow and Las Vegas. Banham observes that Baker lacks


the unity that Kelso employs, and is composed of ticky-tack buildings that have zero relation to the place they occupy. Similarly, Las Vegas is a man made scab in the desert. This infamous city began as a watering place on the Spanish trail. It began its transformation into the “sin capital of the Western world” when it was used as a base for those who were building the Hoover Dam. (41). Banham states that Vegas is merely a more sophisticated version of the town Baker and that (Vegas) “is a symbol of man’s impermanence in the desert”. (42). He moves next to a place that in some manner might be the greatest failure mentioned. Banham describes the settlement of Rock Springs as being loosely located in the vastness. In fact, the scattered buildings are so forgettable that he states he can’t even describe them as “bloody awful”. (54). That description would at least denote a place worth remembering, even if it is for its abject failures. Bairoil is another settlement that fits this depiction as “it just mauls over the desert surface to leave it disarrayed, but not even properly raped.” (55). In a manner, these towns are really deserts in of themselves. Despite many disappointing towns, Frank Lloyd Wright and others have contributed a few architectural gems to the Southwest. Banham begins with what he believes to be “the best building project ever to come from the mind and hand of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Ocatillo. (69). This camp was constructed as a place to live while he was working on San Marco. (All other nearby establishments were too expensive for Wright to reside in). (71). He used a 1-2 triangle, based on the general proportion of surrounding mountains, to create the geometry of the buildings. In fact, similar forms and the same ratio are found in the drawing room and terrace of Taliesin West. (75).

In relation to the chosen ratio, he argues, “obvious symmetry would claim too much” from its surrounding environment. (73). After all, the architecture must be of the place, not against it. Taliesin West itself is a complex creation itself. Because of its size and Wright’s inability to manage every aspect of the construction, Banham suggests that the detailing of the complex is simply “adequate”. West is, nevertheless, far superior to Taliesin in Wisconsin, which is like “studying at any other nutty progressive school back east.” (81). Next Banham discusses a rather different project, Cosanti by Paolo Soleri, which he illustrates as an “enchanting environment”. (81). Solari’s method of creating spaces is at first difficult to comprehend. Banham notes that Solari is successful in creating cool, sunken spaces that are injected into the environment. (82). He also consolidates spaces in order to tread lightly on the surrounding environment. Another work of Solari, of which little was realized, is Arcosanti. Unlike its predecessor, Arcosanti was a large scheme, so much so that in reality it could not have been built. The fragment of the complex that was built does not give any sense of the impact that the whole would have inflicted on the desert. Banham concludes “in the end, it seems (to me), neither Wright nor Soleri has produced structures that are, in any normal sense, sympathetic or prosper to the desert”. (86). He then poses the big question; what architecture is proper for the desert? (87). Should it contrast the surroundings, blend in, or convey something else all together? What makes Architecture “work” in the desert?


Banham mentions that unity is the main quality that makes Kelso a success, but what other factors contribute to proper architecture in this place? He references the mission of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona as an exemplar of great architecture. To his eye, the mission is the “most beautiful building in the desert.” (174). He describes it as being “strikingly white,” and the blinding finish plays beautifully against the blue sky. (174). The interior is much softer, more earth-toned and intricate. (175). Although he states that the complex is a “stranger to the desert,” the project is successful because the materials play to their surroundings. (178). His next observations apply to any person or persons who have traversed the desert by car or train. Banham begins with the fundamental difference between the two modes of transportation. The “railroad passenger, riding passively in his coach, (is) curiously insulated from the desert- psychologically insulated.” (93). The roads upon which we drive, however, “begin life as tracks and trails serving purely parochial ends and joining up by accretion into longer networks with more remote connections.” (93). The desert is “not diminished by the freeway” or other roads cutting through its contours. (96). Here he addresses the different experiences between the two modes. Roads and subsequently, motor vehicles, are far more flexible, opportunistic and organic than mass engineered railroad paths whose only purpose is to travel from point A to B in as direct a manner as possible. The passengers of the train look inward in their club cars, but the driver of a vehicle cannot ignore his or her surroundings, one is completely immersed in place. (97). Whatever the means in which one chooses to transverse the desert,

One cannot help but to ponder what one’s role could possible be in such a grand scheme. Banham suggests that “perhaps the desert is where man is and God is not?” (204). “Ultimately, desert is a concept of, and about, people. The word originally meant ‘unpopulated;’ and that is the primary sense of the given by the Oxford dictionary and many others.” (205). A desert is, therefore, not the land itself but the quality of the environment as it relates to man. It is then, an architect’s challenge to create equilibrium between the land carefully crafted over millennia and man’s own structures, easily erected and easily destroyed. It is not only a challenge, but also a duty to achieve this end.




“Man against nature. That’s what life’s all about”. (20). For as long as man has existed, he has been at war with Mother Nature. Many of man’s earliest texts depict battles against floods, volcanoes, drought and various other disasters that engulfed entire civilizations. The present day is no different. Much as society tries, with full faith in mankind’s ingenuity and technological advances, it still cannot compare to the pure force and phenomenon of nature. Man may win a few battles, but Mother Nature always wins the war.


In The Control of Nature, John McPhee uses three essays to prove this point. In all three, the residents of these settlements are determined to live out their lives in the place of their choice, no matter what nature sends their way. He begins with the problem of the Atchafalaya River, which draws off the Mississippi River in Louisiana. (4). The flow of the Mississippi has a tendency to jump around. Despite the river’s erratic patterns, settlements grew in the flood zones. “By the nineteen-fifties, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the Gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it”. (6). If the Mississippi were to shift to the Atchafalaya River, the consequences “would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans”. (6). McPhee tells of a man, Rabalais, who works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and concentrates specifically on this possibility. He states, “This nation has a large and powerful adversary. Our opponent could cause the United States to lose nearly all her seaborne commerce, to lose her standing as first among trading nations…. We are fighting Mother Nature.” (7).

The name the Corps gave to defending this region from the raging Mississippi is “Old River Control”. (8). The challenge is to allow some of the Mississippi to flow into the Atchafalaya without letting all of it go. (10.) Despite the criticism from many, the Corp constructed locks in order to regulate the flow of water from one river to the other. LeRoy Dugas, a manager of the lock’s controlling apparatus, considered this sentiment, “Whenever you control nature, you have one strike against you”. (13). The control first brought litigious issues into the surrounding communities. Farmers want less water, fishermen want more, and so on. (22). Before the control of the water supply, the water flowed as it intended to and the water levels simply were what they were. One must first understand that Southern Louisiana is basically one large flood plain below sea level; there’s almost no firm land in the region. (32). Because of this simple fact, the settlers there have always been at war with the river. New Orleans first went under in 1735 and again in 1785. Because these floods were far apart, it was “generally long enough to allow the people to build up a false sense of security.” (33). The people raised levees to confine the river, and the more they resisted the flow, the greater the damage was when the levees failed. (35). “The levees were helping to aggravate the problem they were meant to solve.” (43). Still more money was thrown into this mission. In 1974, three holes were found “so deep that it took a hundred and eighty-five thousand tons of rock to fill them in”. (50). Raphael Kazmann, a hydraulic engineer, lamented the increase in flooding in the 70’s. Although he greatly respected the work the Corps was doing, he emphatically asserted that trying to control the River “is planned chaos. The more planning they (the Corps) do, the more chaotic it is. Nobody knows exactly where it’s going to end”. (55).


The most serious levee deficits were in New Orleans, which the entire nation observed as hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in 2005. (61). Hurricanes erode the land so that in turn “the coast is sinking out of sight”. (63). “The natural process cannot be restored… It’s like treating cancer. You get in early, you may do something”. (63). Despite this nature-born “cancer,” millions still pursue residence in New Orleans and various other cities in the Atchafalaya danger zone. This defiance against natural odds is very simply, human nature. “Society required artifice to survive in a region where nature might reasonably have asked a few more eons to finish a work of creation that was incomplete.” (64). From battling water to fire, McPhee switches to the tale of Iceland and its peoples struggle to stop volcanic activity from engulfing its towns. He opens with a physicist, Thorbjorn, who’s ultimate mission is to figure out how to impede lava flows from destroying the town on Heimaey on the island Vestmannaeyjar. In 1973, a fissure opened and lava moved to destroy the town and its harbor, which happens to be “Iceland’s single most important fishing center”. (98). Here, “Iceland directs the war against nature”. (96). Thorbjorn and his team first worked on cooling the lava front by washing the lava with water from the sea, “creating a wall of chilled lava to dam the flow behind”. (98). This, however, was nowhere near enough to stop the advancing flow and more pumps were called for. Ash insulated the interior flow of lava, and bulldozers had to be brought in to crush the lava glass, making way for more water pumping crews. “When the stream stops coming, and you see water running down the lava, you move the hose two or three meters. The lava front is black. Suddenly you see red through the black. It could take hours-

even days- to make it black. Sometimes it didn’t work. You had to withdraw. You retreated until you were too close to the supply line; then you moved the supply line. In the battle, if you did not have to withdraw hoses and pipelines that was a victory for the day.” (101). The battle continued. The crews trying to stop the lava’s advancement were doing it nearly blind with lava bombs being hurled at them. Tephra was exploding from the fissure, “the wind had blown from the West for a time, pushing the fallout into the sea, but then the wind shifted down upon the town came hundreds of tons of tephra.” (108). Eventually, the lesser volcanic activity turned into a full explosion. “On the fourteenth day, the force of the eruption increased.” This day, February 5, 1973, is known to the people of Iceland as “Black Monday.” (112). The fissure ran about two miles long. Despite the fact that some would never be able to return to their homes, “everyone was still and calm.” (117). Those that stayed would find themselves shoveling the debris away from their doors and off their roofs daily. This lifestyle is not out of the realm of normal for the people of Vestmannaeyjar. “The people of Iceland have lived since the year of settlement in the endless presence of danger.” (126). McPhee compares this situation to that of the people of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted, (118) and later, Hawaii’s ongoing battle with its frequent volcanic activity (148). After tirelessly fighting the lava flow with highly pressurized hoses, the people of Heimaey were able to stop the lava flow just before it began to take their harbor. After all, “with no harbor, there is no town.” (140).


Although it seemed man won this fight, McPhee observes, “Among the natural patterns of lava flows, it was utterly anomalous. In a very certain sense, it was man-made. And it asked this question: By creating this occlusion, had the pumping actually caused the newly appearing lava to turn left and overrun the city?” (142). Eventually, after five and a half months of volcanic upheaval, the eruption was finally pronounced dead. “The true extent of the victory will never be known- the role of luck being unassessable, the effects of intervention being ultimately incalculable, and the assertion that people can stop a volcano being hubris enough to provoke a new eruption.” (179). The final essay documents Los Angeles’ ongoing battle against the fragile San Gabriel Mountains, which also happen to be fastest growing and shedding mountains in the world. “Los Angeles is overmatched on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by very high mountains,” therefore the city has no more room for expansion elsewhere. (184). McPhee opens this discussion with the Genofile family’s recount of their own battle with the mountain’s rage. As a fierce rainstorm was crashing down, the family looked out the window of their bedrooms to find “a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche, nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood… It was just one black hill coming toward (them).” (185). This large mass that took over the Genofile’s home and community is known as a debris flow. The family recalls that they had built their home themselves, with reinforced concrete block. Had they had a normal wood frame constructed house, they wouldn’t have survived. (186). The house filled entirely with mud and debris in only six minutes. Cases like the Genofile’s are not unusual in the region under the San

Gabriel Mountains. In order to deal with the debris flow, several measures have been taken. “Numerous crib structures have been emplaced in high canyons” (193) and debris basins are dug around communities to catch some of the flow from engulfing the city. (196). There is a notion that “in Los Angeles, everything is disposable.” The constant battle against nature “provided literary minds with ready-made metaphor of the alleged moral decay of Los Angeles.” (195). “Exceptional flows are frequent, in other words, but not frequent enough to deter people from building pantiled mansions in the war zone, dingbats in the line of fire.” (203). The process of a debris flow begins thusly. First, large fires weaken the area. These are “Chaparral fires” that burn hot and fast using the chaparral plants as the fuel. The older the plant, the hotter it burn and therefore the more time passed between fires, the worse the next will be. (210). Next comes rain, which although L.A. is usually very dry, when it does rain it is heavily concentrated. (214). Once the heavy rainfall begins, there is little time (usually fifteen to thirty minutes) to get out of the way of a debris flow. (217). An engineer, Norouzi, who informs the locals of coming flows notes “There is nothing you can build that will protect you” against nature. (217). McPhee spends the rest of the essay talking to locals, asking why they choose to live in harms way. One man, Dan Davis, has lived through these disasters but still loves the land he and his family lives on, and refuses to move. He notes, however, that unlike himself many others that choose to reside in the danger zone want others to pay for protection and damages for them to do so.


“When people buy these houses, they have no idea what they’re getting in to. The entire county ends up paying for these people’s problems. The people should be assessed for these things. These are localized problems. The whole country is subsidizing people on the front line.” (248). Many more battles of man versus nature could be discussed, but they all come back to one point- that man will try to settle in and tame even the harshest, most adversarial places. How does one survive in a place with mudslides, volcanic activity, floods, or harsh heat and drought like Death Valley? Perhaps man’s brazen belief that he can overcome nature is what advances society and brings it to locations man might not otherwise have known, or at least lived to tell about. So the fight continues; will man ever be able to out-play nature or will he continue to just prolong the inevitable? Time is always on nature’s side.






2,738 ft

8,674 ft


5,678 ft


7,454 ft



6,732 ft




6,703 ft

6,433 ft


9,064 ft



DANTE’S VIEW 5,475 ft


SMITH MT. 5,912 ft

MANDY PEAK 7,196 ft













3 mi

3 mi


33 mi 17 mi


7 mi



7 mi

7 mi

10 mi


8 mi 12 mi

FURNACE CREEK 10 mi 18 mi

21 mi

17 mi







TUCKI MT. 6,732 ft






Cottonwood Mountains

ovepipe Wells

Panamint Mountains



Not until the 1920s did Death Valley’s isolation from humanity end and its birth into becoming a national treasure begin. H.W. Eichbaum accelerated this landscape’s standing among the public by constructing Stovepipe Wells resort in 1926, located in the upper region of Death Valley. This was the first tourist accommodation in the area. Its northerly location and it’s accessibility to the Panamints from the west attracted people primarily from southern California and the Owens Valley region. Long before the present Stovepipe Wells resort was conceived of as a viable tourist operation, the site was originally a life-saving source of water in the arid desert land of northern Death Valley. Situated on the eastern edge of the sand dunes, approximately five miles northeast of the present hotel site, two shallow pits were dug into the sandy soil. These pits were originally utilized by the Indian inhabitants of the valley prior to the migration of the ‘49ers. The well’s central location made life-saving water accessible to Indian groups crossing between the Amargosa Desert and the Cottonwood Mountains. Originally unmarked and difficult to locate in the sandy landscape, the well’s location was only known by word of mouth. Eventually an individual, whose name is unknown, inserted a length of stovepipe a few feet into the water source in order to insure easy discovery of the site from all directions. It was this landmark that gave the site its present name. It wasn’t until the migration of the mining industry to this land that the well saw heavy usage. The excitement and availability of mining opportunities generated steady streams of travel over the intervening sixty miles of steaming desert. In such a harsh environment, all springs and water sources are cherished. This simple fact coupled with Stovepipe’s location halfway between Rhyolite and Skidoo seemed to make it a natural way-station for travelers.


Sensing that the increased traffic along the site could become a source of revenue, opportunists dug a cellar space out of the shifting sands, measuring about eighteen by twelve feet, which were then surrounded on three sides with four- to five-foot-high walls, fashioned from beer bottles held together with dried mud. Several inches of earth over tarp-covered timbers insulated the roof from the sun. Soon visitors to the area were demanding for cool lodging facilities, so this structure was equipped with two beds in the cellar for rent. With the initiation of freight service between Rhyolite and Skidoo in 1906, it became apparent that a more permanent way-station was needed to adequately provide for the additional travelers and workers. In February 1907, Stovepipe Wells, in addition to being the only one-night lodging facility also became the first and only telephone office in the valley. This did now last long, however. In 1908, the gradual decline of Skidoo and Rhyolite as mining centers gave way to the decline of Stovepipe Wells and eventually led to its abandonment. The significance of the Stovepipe Wells Hotel lies in its association with Bob Eichbaum, who first recognized the potential of Death Valley to become a winter resort. He invested thousands of dollars transforming the site into one of California’s major tourist attractions. Until his efforts, Death Valley was relatively inaccessible to the general motoring public, who were deterred by the lack of good roads and lodging facilities in the area.


The original camp consisted of twenty small cabins or “bugalettes� and some larger buildings. These were supplemented with army tents. A revolving beacon on the roof of the main building served to guide wanderers to the hotel. In these beginning stages of the hotel’s development, the toll road ran between the main building and the guest cabins. It was called Bungalette or Bungalow City, opened on November 1, 1926. The first party of tourists arrived a few days later. Today, the Stovepipe Wells Village complex offers various rooms- patio, motel, and deluxe units that offer a largely uninterrupted view out over the sand dunes. The facility also includes a swimming pool, restaurant, and cocktail lounge. Across the highway, one can find a general store, gas station, and a large campground with trailer hookups. Wells drilled in the 1940s continue to provide potable drinking water. The present buildings on the site are not historically significant, having been extensively remodeled and changed over the years. The Stovepipe Wells Hotel has gone through several changes of ownership, finally being sold in 1966 by the General Hotel Corporation to Trevell, Inc., a firm operating stores and filling stations in Yellowstone National Park. The National Park Service has now taken over ownership of the resort.








Employee Living




Public Amenities

83 total rooms Guest Lounge Auditorium

350sf per room 500sf 1,350sf

Cabins (30)

400sf per room

RV Park Gift Shop Visitor Center

12 sites 1,225sf 5,500sf

Exhibit space Information services

Administrative Building General Store

1,200sf 4,000sf

Checkout station Souvenirs Snacks | beverages

Ranger Station Restrooms

1,780sf see code



Bar Pool


Dining Waiting area Kitchen Waiter station

Hotel Parking Public Parking

500sf 3,000sf 83 spaces 10 spaces

Back of House



Plumbing | HVAC





Power panels

1 per each guest building (6) Laundry shoot Cleaning supplies Sink 1 Large cart per room



2 washers for employee use


Extra furniture Unused items





When one travels to Death Valley, they will find many tourist spots that can be reached with relative ease. The sights are spectacular, but to the individual they are just a moment in between getting in and out of the car. For those tourists, Death Valley is merely “seen.” Others begin by reaching the designated tourist spots, but make their own path from there, walking through narrow canyons carved by streams over time, feeling the rise and fall of an alluvial fan beneath their feet, climbing confined crevasses until they reach a reveal in the rock that frames the landscape. It is at this moment when one pauses, and takes in the wonders around. The views are even more spectacular because of the journey and relative struggle made to reach this point. For these few, Death Valley is “experienced.” A true sense of place is created not only by the sights, but by the procession in which one must journey through to reach those sights. Just as Death Valley national park should be experienced, so should the visitor center and resort. Architecture must be created using the same language as the place in which it resides. The hotel and visitor center should be “of the land,” and therefore must live quietly within its surroundings. The design of the master plan is informed by the language of the alluvial fan, a natural phenomenon which occurs hundreds of times throughout the park. The fan is formed by water flowing through the mountain canyons and depositing the sediment it collects at the base of the mountain edge where it meets the valley. Stovepipe Wells, the selected site, rests at the base of one of these fans.





One begins their journey to the resort the same way that one begins every journey in Death Valley, with the car. Parking terraces are located on the south side of the complex which can be accessed by way of Mosaic Canyon Road. The visitor leaves the car and follows one of the paths which are seemingly the result of water erosion through the land. Three eroded paths in total lead to the visitor center, shop, lounge and restaurant, which comprise the public facility. The roof covering the paths is likewise eroded, allowing natural light to guide the visitor through the public realm and connect to the private rooms and facilities. Located to the sides of these paths is support program for the public program, such as a restaurant kitchen, bathrooms, auditorium, and service rooms.





The task of capturing the language of the alluvial fan , being the basis of this design concept, gave birth to many master plan iterations and various approaches to design. Various paths address the needs of different users as well as a hierarchy of spaces. Design challenges from the experiential point of view include the sensation of walking through narrow canyons up and down the fan to the introduction of water at various points in the project. Practical challenges were equally of importance in the early stages, such as the inclusion of passive cooling strategies to lessen the wrath of the scorching summer climate as well as the challenge of hiding parking in a landscape where there is little to shield unsightly objects.















The room is an escape from the harsh elements of the barren landscape. Like the rest of the project, the rooms seem to be carved into the earth and are therefore, of the place. The bathroom is a cave-like enclosure which is naturally lit during the day by a narrow light wash down one of the shower walls. The dimly lit space offers a bit of sanctuary for the harsh environment. The main portion of the room contains the bed, a built in desk, and an exterior courtyard. Here, one can rest quietly by a fire after a long day of exploring the National Park and enjoy a framed view of the Panamints and the stunningly clear, starry sky.



The visitor’s journey down the alluvial fan concludes with a break in the mass. This juncture is where the public pool resides, culminating into a framed view of the sand dunes in the distance. This is the only portion of the design oriented to view the dunes, offering yet another way to experience the many different natural features that Death Valley has to offer.






Keith C. Heidorn, PhD (2009). Death Valley: The Heat Is On. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 2012]. National Park Service (22 December 2003). Historic Research Study (Section III). [ONLINE] Available at: history/online_books/deva/section3d2.htm. [Last Accessed 2012]. John McPhee, (1989). The Control of Nature. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Reyner Banham, (1982). Scenes in America Deserta. 1st ed. New York: Thames and Hudson.

National Park Service (2012). Weather and Climate. [ONLINE] Available at: htm. [Last Accessed 2012].

National Park Service (2011-12). . [ONLINE] Available at: http:// [Last Accessed 2012].

Public Broadcasting System (2012). You Can Die Here. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 2012]. U.S Geological Survey (January 13 2004). Death Valley’s Incredible Weather. [ONLINE] Available at: deva/weather.html. [Last Accessed 2012]. Western Region Climate Center (2012). Temperature Extremes. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 2012]


PROCESSION OF THE DESERT | Master Thesis Marissa Carroll

Procession of the Desert | Master Thesis Spring 2012