Throughout the home, works of art enhance architectural details, such as the sculpture located under the countertop of the bar. Photos: Winquist Photography, Phoenix Arizona

Rendering: Daring Adventures or Nothing At All

Four years ago, another sleep-deprived night lured Scottsdale, Arizona, architect Brent Kendle into answering a spamlike e-mail. Before long, he found himself jetting halfway around the world to Abu Dhabi to view a 2.5-square-mile sandy oasis; a plot of land on which he planned to design a 25,000-square-foot residential complex for a royal member of the wealthiest family in the world. The irony is that the structure was never erected. But so as not to squander his completed phase-one renderings, he transferred the design to a lava landscape in the tropics of Hawaii.

That experience unequivocally lifted Kendle from the box of his habitat, let alone his customary clientele. But as American author Helen Keller once asserted, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” and that is the foundation by which Kendle has practiced his craft since 1983 — the year he uprooted from Chicago’s metropolis to catch the hot building boom in the Sonoran desert.

“Starting my profession in Chicago, it seemed one had to ‘pay the dues to play the blues’ by working in a backroom designing stair details or building models for three years for next to nothing,” Kendle says, reminiscing on the days his convertible, flip-flops and drawer full of shorts were not getting much use.

After that fateful move to Arizona, the architect designed scores of high-rise buildings, commercial projects and was catapulted to partner status at a startup firm that grew to one of the largest in the region. Armed with experience, Kendle determinately followed his passion for residential design by starting his own firm, Kendle Design Collaborative, in 2002. Currently operating in an updated 1941 adobe ranch-house — an historic property that serves as a serene refuge among the trees and feels more like a cabin than an office — Kendle’s four-person team functions in a highly synergistic environment, collaborating with talented interior designers, landscape architects and graphic design groups.

“Brent is a thoughtful architect who works hard to make his residential designs not only great looking, but also relevant to the client’s vision,” says interior designer David Michael Miller, owner of David Michael Miller Associates in Scottsdale. “He is very much a ‘boots on the ground’ guy, frequently visiting the site during construction to consider design clarifications or revisions.” Miller adds that Kendle is not interested in creating monuments and instead builds clients’ dream homes that are site sensitive, logical and dramatic.

Given that Kendle’s work is affected by elements such as the desert topography and harsh weather, nature is absolutely the guiding force for his organic, minimalist concepts. He calls his aesthetic “regional modernism,” and it’s evident in each home he designs.

“What I attempt with most of my homes is to take advantage of the best assets nature provides. [In Arizona] it’s all about the sun, whether making use of the bright light or creating shade and shelter,” explains Kendle. “Large portions of a home I’m working on now have a horizontal, ribbed metal skin on a vertical surface. We did many sun studies to show how walls with ribbed texture transform throughout the day and seasons as the sun arcs over the house. In a more romantic sense, we try designing homes that tell time and say something unique about the place where they are.”

As part of his focused customization, Kendle walks clients through an extensive process to ensure both sides are targeting a similar vision. To the architect, the functional aspects of homes are quite simple, so it’s more about extracting from a client the qualitative aspects of what they want to accomplish with the site and, perhaps, learning how they want to wake up in the morning. For example, do they want the sun coming through the windows as the birds begin to chirp or during the evening?

“The design key for me is not to be superfluous, and to create something that’s really beautiful and engaging,” says Kendle, who typically has 12 to 15 projects underway at one time. “That said, one of my favorite homes, the Bird’s Nest Residence, had almost no redeeming characteristics, whereby the client just cleared an acre and we built a 10-foot wall around the house that blocked all the beautiful vistas of the adjacent golf course and Camelback Mountain. But the couple’s privacy needs outweighed that attribute.”

To compensate, Kendle designed a “bird’s nest” nook that rises above the wall, allowing the owners to take advantage of the view by going upstairs where a living space and outdoor deck overlook the landscape. Kendle also designed internal views with courtyards to maximize the character of an indoor-outdoor home.

Presently, Kendle feels he is producing some of finest work, including his newest creation, the Desert Wash Residence in Paradise Valley, Arizona. The 6,700-square-foot property, bisected by a jagged wash, provides a unique inspiration for the arrangement of architectural elements and exterior spaces. Along the wash, he strung together three buildings with bridges, hovering roof forms and stone walkways. Rammed earth walls and oxidized steel privacy panels border the property to create a secluded refuge.

For the 7,000-square-foot Bridgeview Residence, under construction in Paradise Valley, Kendle initially had to convince the owners to proceed on a project that was seemingly hindered by negatives: zoning restrictions and a cumbersome design review process; an existing desert wash that made one-third of the property undevelopable; and a corner lot causing additional spatial restrictions. To save the project, Kendle systematically demonstrated how these potential design impediments were actually assets that could contribute to a beautiful home. 

“Our job as architects is to be artistic problem solvers, and you can either approach it from a functional standpoint or with a desire to create art that is also functional within the surrounding landscape,” Kendle says. “I’ll always gravitate towards the latter.”

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