Stepping inside is like stepping into a Picasso painting.

Ron Paulus

In the latest of a regular series, a local architect shares his or her favorite building. This week, Rob Paulus chooses an abandoned stone house.

One of my favorite buildings — one that I find refreshing — doesn’t even have a roof. Yet it provides a powerful sense of place for a wide variety of people throughout the year.

I have been hiking and running the David Yetman trail in the Tucson Mountains for decades and have always been intrigued by the wonderful ruin of an old stone house along the route. Built in the early 1930s for a couple seeking a healthy reprieve from the Midwest, the house is set in a pristine desert valley amid cacti, palo verde trees and the big blue sky of the Sonoran Desert. The residence was abandoned a dozen years later and allowed to assimilate back into nature.

Stepping into this ruin is like walking into a Picasso painting; you see all sides simultaneously as you take in the varied perspectives, sounds and fragrances of the lush desert. Lying on your back on the cool concrete allows you to soak up the framed desert clouds rolling by. While the views from the windows were planned, the view above, through the absence of a roof, is impromptu and spectacular. The tracery of the interior walls that line the concrete floor provides clues to how the rooms were once inhabited by people who shared their intimate lives together, and you can’t help but imagine how you would have lived there, too. Now, this unexpected man-built structure in the middle of the vast natural desert is both a destination and a place to let your imagination run free.

The celebrated architect Frank Gehry made a career based on designing buildings that have purposely looked unfinished. The stone house inadvertently takes the same approach and in doing so leaves more to the imagination. The skeletal stone house allows visitors to dream and make their own reality.

I believe great buildings should not only be functional and put a roof over one’s head; they should also improve the human experience and inspire our everyday lives. In the words of Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

Rob Paulus is principal of Rob Paulus Architects and past president of the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Find out more about the local AIA chapter by visiting