Amidst the rocks of the Californian desert, a piece of sky suddenly catches the eye. Surely an illusion? But no, there is simple explanation: the invisible mirror house has been built for film producer Chris Hanley in Joshua Tree. It is a house that serves as a stage for an Oscar-winning performance by the surrounding nature.
Rocks, sand and sparse vegetation stretch over to the horizon. On the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park in California, about ten minutes from the eponymous town, there is just a noiseless desert landscape. It looks undisturbed and unpopulated. But take another look: you suddenly see a little white cloud among the rocks – but it’s not a hallucination. Architect Tomas Osinski has built a private home for film producer Chris Hanley here, and the facade plays wondrous visual tricks. It is a mirror house that turns invisible, allowing nature to step into the limelight.
Chris Hanley’s passion for the extraordinary goes beyond his film productions, such as “American Psycho”, “Buffalo ’66” or “London Fields”. He started off in the music business and established a reputation as a promoter of contemporary art from Andy Warhol to Jean-Michel Basquiat before joining the film industry. As US citizen, he has also become interested in creative, innovative architecture.
From container to mirror house
A container house, which Hanley had built for himself and his wife – actress, director and scriptwriter Roberta Hanley – has even turned into a showpiece of the current container house trend. Designed by British architect James Whitaker, it adorns the cover of the illustrated book “Container Atlas”, published by Gestalten.
The latest building commissioned by the successful producer is no less spectacular, though. Called Invisible House and located near Joshua Tree, it was developed with architect Tomas Osinski and was completed last year. The house blends into its surroundings like a chameleon, changing its appearance depending on the time of day, weather and vegetation. Its 510 square metres of surface area hide almost invisibly amidst nature in the Hanleys’ 36-hectare land.
Living “invisibly” in a natural paradise
Apart from the track leading to the house, there is nothing to reveal that a piece of exciting architecture has been created in this desert landscape. Nevertheless: Invisible House is there – offering its inhabitants a high quality of living.
All exterior walls of Invisible House consist of extremely heat-reflecting “Solarcool” glass. A “Cool” roof insulation system with CFC-free, closed cell polyethylene foam and the building’s location at the foot of a hill provide protection against harsh weather.
The concrete thermal mass and the water in the 30-metre indoor pool stabilize the room temperature on hot days and during cool nights. Needless to say, solar collectors are also installed on the house near the Joshua Tree National Park.
Once spotted, the mirror house resembles a flat skyscraper made of concrete, steel and glass – horizontal and somewhat shrunken.
Indoor pool takes centre stage
However, the construction is naturally anything but diminutive. After all, the interior comprises four bathrooms, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a spacious living area. The latter was designed around the pool, creating an attractive and cosy setting.
Although the view outside, which can be enjoyed throughout the elongated house, is a dream in itself, Tomas Osinski’s work satisfies great Hollywood visions on the inside as well. The living and dining areas grouped around the pool invite guests to sit and relax.
Fit for the stars
At one end of the pool, movies or coloured light displays can be viewed on a projector screen. Glass sliding doors open up the rooms as required, providing direct access to nature at any time.
The remarkable interior design has many extraordinary details. The glass bed frame and panoramic view of the open landscape are ideal for a restful break. And cooling off in a transparent shower cubicle is likely to be the perfect finish to a walk through the desert terrain.
Transparency throughout the mirror house
The bedrooms are separated off by white partition walls rather than traditional doors. The interior of the mirror house continues in the same vein as the ostensibly airy steel construction: with an open fluency of light and colour.
Only recently, owner Hanley again tried to dispel concerns that Invisible House, which rests on cylindrical concrete columns, could harm the environment and animals in Joshua Tree.
All environmental protection regulations were meticulously observed when the house was being planned. This actually should go without saying, especially considering its surroundings in the Joshua Tree National Park.
The fear that Invisible House could turn into a deadly bird trap hasn’t been substantiated, either. On the contrary: Hanley explains that the local birds love to feast on the numerous insects that buzz around the mirrored building. So far not a single feathered friend has lost its life by crashing into the house.
Obviously, the Joshua Tree birds are not as easily deceived as the humans who call this movie-set house “invisible”. And if that really is true, then there is nothing left to prevent a Hollywood-style happy ending for the impending dispute with conservationists.
Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Images: Chris Hanley