Enjoy a stay at this early passive solar home, thanks to preservationists


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


Saved, historic preservation
Image details

An exceptionally important mid-century modern house designed by one of Tucson’s legendary 20th century architects has been saved by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation (THPF).

In 1952, Phyllis Ball and Patrica Paylore, both librarians at the University of Arizona, commissioned architect Arthur T. Brown, FAIA to design a bespoke, one-of-a kind home. They wanted a design that embraced the tenets of the American modern movement, responded to the environmental conditions of the Sonoran Desert, and offered both beauty and function. The result was an architectural masterpiece - considered one of the most important buildings of Brown's design career. The forward-thinking project embraced geometry and siting to create a pioneering early example of a passive solar home. 

Understated and plain from the street, the geometry of the house opens up as you enter the front door. The front façade, with a focus on privacy and minimal ornamentation, is characterized by an angular open carport, mortar-washed brick and windows set high between the beams at the ceiling. This creates a strong juxtaposition to the interior which is open with expansive glass window walls blurring the lines between the indoor and outdoor “revolving terrace” and yard. The south facing floor-to-ceiling windows shed light on the restored mid-century interior. Original bold colors are punctuated by pale wood finishes and earth toned polished concrete floors. The geometry of the house creates a living room that wraps around the three-sided fireplace and into the kitchen with radiating beams that combine with the glass window walls to create a sense of space greater than the actual dimensions of the rooms.

Recognized as an important architectural work early on, the house was extensively published locally and nationally. In 1959, the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Institute of Architects partnered with the Tucson Daily Citizen to present the property as a notable project of design. The house was featured in House Beautiful magazine in October 1962, numerous times in Sunset Magazine, in the influential Sunset Patio Book, and in Fine Homebuilding Magazine in 1982. 

After the death of the home's second owner, Phyllis Koffler, in early 2019, THPF recognized that, despite its exceptional significance, the house’s unique design, small size, and intact 1950s original features combined with the lack of preservation protections made it highly vulnerable to real estate speculation, tear-down, and redevelopment. THPF was able to secure funding and purchase the home before it was listed on the market. Now, a phase I restoration has been completed, and the property is available to rent through AirBnB.

According to Board President Michael Fassett, MD, “The Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation’s intervention and purchase of this remarkable property has saved part of Tucson’s design heritage. We are excited by the opportunity to allow people to experience this architectural masterpiece through overnight stays and through limited tours.” Additionally, this project may serve as model for preserving complicated modern houses.

Although it has come a long way, the house is still in need of significant restoration and upgrading.