Blue Sky Building Systems Unveils Steel House Designed by Jim Jennings; Seen As Instant Icon of New-Century Modern Architecture

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All-steel house features world-class architecture, many green features and was built with prefabricated wall and roof panels.

A sleek and shimmering all-white steel house designed by noted modernist architect Jim Jennings has been unveiled by Blue Sky Building Systems as the company’s newest project demonstrating better ways to build. Architectural aficionados are already touting it as an instant icon of new-century modernism.

Desert Two, so named because it is Jennings’ second desert custom home project, showcases – in addition to world-class architecture – several innovations in residential design and construction.

The structural frame of the home is made up entirely of 42 light-gauge steel wall and roof panels that were fabricated off site and then set in place in just three days. Rough framing with wood for custom homes typically requires about three weeks.

In all there are 26 wall panels in the house, with the longest one measuring 34 feet. There are 16 roof panels, with the longest measuring 28 feet. The wall panels were all hand set by the crew while the roof panels were set with the help of a small construction forklift.

Another significant innovation is in the layout of the house itself. The majority of the complex systems – mechanical, electrical and plumbing – are ganged in a rectangular core at the center of the house. In this way savings were achieved in construction and will extend to the lifetime operation of the house. For example hot water will have short distances to travel, thus saving on piping and installation labor – as well as energy.

Construction of the house began in early December and was completed at the end of April. Those five months compare to the 12-14 months – or longer – that are not uncommon for a similar-sized custom home that is framed on site with wood.

“Panelized wall and roof systems as well as central cores are not new concepts,” said David McAdam, co-founder of Blue Sky Building Systems. “Indeed right here in Palm Springs we have one of the best examples of this innovative legacy in the steel houses that were designed in the early 1960s by revered architect Don Wexler and his colleague Rick Harrison. It is our hope that by bringing new materials and new thinking to these concepts we can prompt architects and builders to take a fresh look at them.”

Desert Two, located at 1525 Avenida Olancha, was built on the last vacant lot in the Deepwell Estates neighborhood of Palm Springs. It features three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large open kitchen, dining room and living room. Counting an attached two-car garage, the house comprises 2,800 square feet.

The ceiling in the main living area represents one of Desert Two’s design innovations. It is made up of corrugated, perforated steel panels. Behind those panels is a black cloth scrim and then standard insulation material. Taken together these elements create significant sound deadening qualities – an important consideration in an area dominated by hard surfaces such as a 62-foot-long wall of glass and all-concrete floors.

The design of Desert Two harkens to one of the most loved elements of mid-century modern architecture – the blurring of the line between indoor and outdoor living. The continuous wall of glass that opens to the north is accompanied by a steel shade structure protecting from summer sun. Beyond the shade structure a pool and spa lie within a private walled courtyard that includes a natural gas fire pit.

Furthering the indoor/outdoor design is a generous outdoor kitchen and adjacent dining area. Each bedroom has its own patio accessed through sliding glass doors. A private outdoor shower and bathtub sit atop a wood deck off the master bathroom, creating the vibe of a luxurious spa.

A number of green features are included in Desert Two. The house has been designed to accept a solar photovoltaic system large enough to make the house a net-zero energy home for a full-time resident. Other than cabinetry and interior doors there is almost no wood in the house.

Floors are polished concrete throughout. A tankless, on-demand gas water heater and a high efficiency dual-zone heating and air conditioning system contributes to low energy requirements. The shower enclosures consist of large sheets of tempered glass rather than the more traditional tile – offering both a clean design and a low-maintenance solution.

In fact, the entire house was designed to be very low maintenance over its lifetime. The home is clad with commercial metal siding attached with hidden fasteners that comes from the factory with permanently bonded paint.

Desert One, which was completed in Palm Springs in 2004, is a much-admired minimalist home designed by Jim Jennings for himself. It has been published in Architectural Digest and is frequently referenced in scholarly examinations of the vibrant culture of innovative architecture that Palm Springs has witnessed over the decades.

Blue Sky Building Systems and Jim Jennings Architecture are currently collaborating on four other projects. One, a large steel-frame addition to an existing mid-century modern Alexander home in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs, will be completed this summer.

In the nearby town of Yucca Valley construction will start this summer on a home nestled among spectacular weathered boulders. In the Carmel Valley in Northern California construction is nearing completion on a 5,000-square-foot home featuring views of Monterey Bay and the surrounding hillsides. And design work is now underway for a 6,000-square-foot home in the Pebble Beach community of California.

Blue Sky’s first prototype home, Rock Reach House in Yucca Valley, was a collaboration with o2 Architecture of Palm Springs. The two firms then built another home in Yucca Valley and recently completed their first project in Palm Springs. Blue Sky has a number of other current projects with other architects underway in California, Hawaii and Oregon.

D. W. Johnston Construction was the general contractor for Desert Two and is working with Blue Sky on several current and planned projects in the desert area.

Desert Two was built as a spec project and is currently listed for sale. For more information go to

For more information about Blue Sky Building Systems visit

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David McAdam
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