Submit your design to 2021 IDA DESIGN AWARDS


Share on Social Media

Lago Vista Guesthouse

Lead Designers
Prize(s)Bronze in Architecture Categories / New Residential Building
Entry Description

“A place for contemplation” was the client’s central program request for this retreat at the top of a steep, densely landscaped canyon property. The design takes maximum advantage of a tight site to create a full guesthouse with a bedroom, bath and kitchen as well as the requested sanctuary. Working within complex height and setback requirements, the architecture nestles the building comfortably into the landscape and captures the sweeping views.
Viewed from the street the building introduces itself as a striking play of volumes, while from the yard it reveals itself as a subtle garden feature. It’s skin references the color and movement of the canyon grasses with a bold and whimsical graphic pattern. More than simply an object in the landscape, the building engages its natural surroundings in sculptural expression.

Dividing the program into two pure volumes, a balance between proportion and procession creates distinct, comfortable spaces that belie the minimal 855-square foot floor plan. At the threshold, four granite stepping-stones, which seem to float in a pond, mediate the transition between the landscape and the building. The entry establishes a play of solid and transparent planes via a wooden door set in the center of a clear glass wall.
The interior plan allows for views through and across each space - from the compact kitchen into and through the bath to the bedroom, from the entry through the glazed connector that forms the entrance to the library/living room. Stepping through this passage creates an “outside” pause before entering a space of a distinctly different scale — a perfect sixteen-foot cube.
The sense of spaciousness is heightened by windows that open to the sky and the canyon in unexpected ways - like a polished glass void at the corner with a view out to a lily pond and the garden below.
Deep window recesses, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and casework create a peaceful room with soft natural light and sweeping views - an ideal place for study, repose and connecting with nature.

Sustainable features
The building’s dialogue with nature is continued in its environmentally sensitive features. Site disturbance and earthworks were minimized and cut and fill balanced on the site. Both the siting and massing decisions were dictated by the maxim to preserve all existing mature tress.
The orientation of openings minimizes solar heat impact while maximizing the use of daylight, with no artificial lighting except at night. Glazing is limited to critical apertures, which are shaded by overhangs, recesses and/or surrounding vegetation. The double-skin ventilated wall system prevents sun from heating the building mass directly. A high albedo roof reduces the heat island effect.
Strategically placed water features are used to enhance natural cross ventilation. Evaporation above the reflecting pool cools the passing airstream and obviates the need for mechanical cooling. A water feature below the glass corner reduces the heat gain in this area by the same effect.
With water conservation a major concern, conservation measures include: Low flow plumbing fixtures throughout, water capture in planters and maximized pervious surfaces around the house, succulents and native plants with low water needs and subsurface irrigation.


Aleks Istanbullu combines a passion for the expressive potential of form and materials with a commitment to the efficient articulation of structure, program and detail. Istanbullu has had his own firm for more than 20 years during which time he has enjoyed both an independent practice and succesful collaborations with other design professionals. His projects have been recognized with awards from the American Institute of Architects at both the local and state levels. He is published in national and international journals.

Istanbullu’s designs include community buildings, homes, live-work lofts and mixed-use projects located in dense urban settings. Current projects include several multi-family mixed-use buildings, the urban design of several blocks in the historic core of Tucson, the adaptive re-use of a historic factory building, a custom home and a five-story mixed-use commercial center in Turkey.

Istanbullu matriculated from both the undergraduate and graduate and architecture programs of the Illinois Institute of technology. He continues his engagement with education by teaching undergraduate Housing and Urban Design Studios as well as graduate Architecture Studios at the University of Southern California. His civic and professional involvement includes serving on the board of Directors of St. Elmo’s Village, former President of the Design Professionals Coalition.

Other Awards and Prizes