Residents of and visitors to Joshua Tree, a small desert town in San Bernadino County, Calif., noted for being home to the barren moonscape of Joshua Tree National Park and as the final resting place of musician Graham Parsons might argue that the “nowhere” in the title of this post is a misnomer. Indeed, as a census-designated place, Joshua Tree is somewhere, but not how most of us know it.

In a recent “On Location” article for the New York Times, writer Penelope Green takes a detour to nowhere (the closest somewhere being Palm Springs) to profile Randy Polumbo, a LEED-certified contractor and sculptor from Manhattan who has built himself a mighty unlikely second home in the middle of the Mojave: A “trash house” renovated with found objects and refuse procured from dumpsters, swap meets, yard sales and eBay.

It’s an interesting piece (read it here and check out the accompanying audio slideshow) on two levels: The first, ironically, is that by trade, Polumbo is a green building professional who works with well-heeled clients who spend a fortune on construction, abiding by sustainable rules and regulations and investing in the latest eco-technologies. His visionary renovation of a decades-old cabin, a stone  “jackrabbit homestead,” however, couldn’t be more renegade. Highlights include a bathroom window made from tequila bottles, sinks fashioned from prospectors’ pans, a ceiling made from ammunition casings, and a solar-powered sex toy art instillation out front.

In a way, Polumbo’s home isn’t too dissimilar to the out-there residences of Earthship Biotecture founder Michael Reynolds, although Polumbo's vision is decidedly less cosmic and focused on energy efficiency and more artsy-craftsy.  Polumbo himself calls it "a crash pad of the most rustic variety.” 

And the second element that makes Green’s article so fascinating is that Polumbo is not alone in his organic, freewheeling building style based around salvaged objects. In fact, it appears to be a way of life in Joshua Tree. He says:

“Out here, people have been off the grid and making do in their bootleg houses for decades. And what could be greener, than building out of trash, as they’ve been doing here since the ’70s?”

Green, using Polumbo's work as a new-ish example, goes on to describe Joshua Tree’s longstanding tradition of building using found objects (the local swap meet being a primary source of building materials), complete with colorful input from the colorful actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson, a part-time resident. I can't help think of non-Joshua Tree resident, Isaiah Zagar, the artist behind Philadelphia's Magic Gardens and subject of the excellent new documentary, In a Dream

My question to you: When it comes down to the nitty gritty, how legitimate is this Sunset magazine-goes-to-the-apocalypse variety of building practiced by Polumbo? Yes, it's obviously less conventional than regulated green building ... but should architecture students be looking to Joshua Tree for inspiration? Or is this just eco-friendly novelty architecture that will go nowhere outside of the Mojave? 

Via [The New York Times

Photos: Dave Lauridsen/ The New York Times

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Trashed in the middle of nowhere
Take a look at Randy Polumbo's "trash house" in the far flung Mojave Desert outpost of Joshua Tree.