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STYLE : ARCHITECTURE : The Shifting Sands

August 16, 1992|AARON BETSKY

Cruising through Phoenix, drivers might suddenly glimpse the desert sunset reflecting off burnished copper, the blur of traffic streaming along a sweep of metal and the smooth, machined curve of plywood leading into some private oasis. These moments are courtesy of Will Bruder, the most prolific of the eccentric Southwest architects sometimes called the "desert rat pack."

Bruder, originally from Milwaukee, has made a name for himself with more than 100 high-tech carwashes and houses in Arizona. The carwashes are unmistakable: concrete-block tubes intersected by exuberant shapes that celebrate the washing equipment and the colors of the cars being cleaned. The houses feature an enclosing wall, separating shelter from man-made and natural deserts while opening it up to a focal point in the form of a trough or swimming pool. Materials--typically concrete and copper cladding--reflect the harsh landscape and the machine-made Sun Belt cities. Sliding walls, hovering planes of veneered plywood and sculptural built-in furniture are characteristic details.

"Bruder captures the dynamic geometries of the desert like no other architect in the Sun Valley has since Frank Lloyd Wright," says Reed Kroloff, an architecture critic for the Arizona Republic who teaches at Arizona State University. "Like the desert, Bruder's architecture gives no quarter. It reaches out, claims its territory and asks for little more."

Bruder--who shares a tin-shack studio 40 miles outside of town with six associates, his archeologist wife, two dogs and six cats--has recently set his sights on civic projects. As architect for the new Phoenix library, a commission he won in an international competition last year, Bruder says he hopes to find the "forms implicit in our city before we turn into just another L.A."

So far, he has designed a "mesa surmounted by a giant tent" for the library. Clad in various kinds of copper and shot through by a slot of glass he calls a "crystal canyon," the building is an attempt to bring the hardware of the city and the harsh forms of the desert into a "comfortable metaphor that allows us to identify with the world we're making for ourselves."

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