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A Humble Cabin In The Desert Becomes An Art Phenom

Mirrors, LED lighting, and Arduino programming turn a 70-year-old home into a contemporary work of art.

A Humble Cabin In The Desert Becomes An Art Phenom

There is a great history of artists and architects messing with houses. In the ’70s, Gordon Matta-Clark famously took a saw to a New Jersey home and split it in two. More recently, Detroit architect Catie Newell transformed burned and abandoned houses into mind-boggling sculpture. Now you can add a humble cabin in the California desert to the list.

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Called Lucid Stead, this mirrored cabin emerges suddenly on the desolate landscape in Joshua Tree. Originally built in the 1940s by homesteaders, the wooden shack sat abandoned in the desert for decades, where the sun parched its skin. Artist Phillip K. Smith III eventually acquired the five-acre property for his own solitude, and after considering the site for almost a decade, he retrofitted the cabin into what it is today: A cabin built from logs and mirrors, reflecting the desert during the day, and glowing with strange, mysterious hues through the night.

“The project has really been a collaboration with the 70-year-old structure,” Smith writes. “The splitting wood, the bent nails, the dimensions of the openings are all untouched.”

Photo by Steve King

It’s this juxtaposition that’s so striking. At night, an unearthly light glows straight through the cabin’s septuagenarian quirks–the gaps and fissures otherwise invisible within the old wood. And it induces a tacit, even subconscious question: How could this old building in the middle of nowhere possibly glow?

In reality, a donated six-panel solar array provides power to the ghostly building.

Photo by Lou Mora

“I worked hard to ensure that there were no visible connections, no screws, nothing that explained clearly how the project actually existed. This allowed the experience to be very pure,” Smith writes. “The energy source of the lighting was part of this. I didn’t want the hum of a generator to pull you away from the purity of the experience. Solar not only ensured efficient, clean energy, but, most importantly for this project, quiet energy.”

The house has garnered lots of media attention as well as in-person visitors, but Smith has no plans to tour the Lucid Stead or to duplicate it elsewhere. Rather, he’s set up a studio just half a mile from the installation to document it in photos and video for the next year. That said, he does imagine a future in which other Lucid Steads–each which acknowledges and reacts to its local environment in a unique way–could haunt the globe.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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