News and updates from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Architecture Student Describes the Process of Building Her Desert Shelter

Xinxuan Liu | Apr 30, 2019

When Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fellowship at Taliesin and Taliesin West was first developed, architecture students learned by doing, when they created their own desert shelters to live in. Today, this tradition lives on through School of Architecture at Taliesin students. After months of hard work, student Xinxuan Liu’s shelter is nearing completion. Here she dissects the process of creating and building the shelter from start to finish, and what she learned along the way.


Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m from China. I studied culture critique for my Bachelors degree, and I decided to pursue architecture because I want to deal with the real world.


Tell us about your shelter. What inspired the creation and the name? What is the shelter made of and how does it relate to the site?

The shelter is named Ava. She gets her name from the design concept, which is about a bodily sense in the space. I wanted to create an interior space with a warm and comforting shape that envelopes the inhabitant.


Ava is made of wood, located on a site that has one of the highest elevations of all current habitable shelters. The original design of the shelter was about stacking stones. Stones don’t fit perfectly together, so the structure will have cracks that let the light in. The glass blocks are metaphors for the cracks. The surrounding is flat, allowing the breeze from the McDowell Mountains to come straight through the shelter. The site has amazing views of the mountains and the Valley. The adjacent palo verde tree offers beautiful shade at sunset.




How did the site you chose impact the design of your shelter?

I shrunk the design of Ava from my original 12 foot plan to 10 feet. We built mockups for both heights, and quickly realized the larger size would be too dominating, not to mention that part of the palo verde would be cut off. I also got rid of the door because the privacy might be achieved by the tree and the existing trail to Ava.


How long did the process of creating and building the shelter take you from start to finish?

The entire thesis process started from summer and continues for two semesters. The design took about two months, but I spent another two months figuring out how to build my design and get the working drawings done. When I came up with my final design, I chose the material and a construction method I could manage, because none of my previous iterations work. I maintained the design concept through the entire process.


What has been your favorite part of this process and what was the hardest part? What were some of the valuable things you’ve learned along the way that you will take with you moving forward?

My favorite part of the process has been the construction. I really enjoy the intensity of working together to build something. Everybody was at the same fast tempo. The hardest part was dealing with the weather. I started at the beginning of the summer. Sometimes it becomes unbearable to work in the heat. I won’t forget the magical feeling of working with everybody toward the same goal.




News and updates from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation