There may be grander examples of Hazelbaker Rush’s commitment to material craft and modernist refinement, but perhaps the most direct distillation of the Tucson, Ariz.–based architecture firm’s design process can be found in the bathroom of Mabel Street Residence, a 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival bungalow that co-founders Darci Hazelbaker, Assoc. AIA, and Dale Rush, AIA, renovated to become their home and studio. The bathroom is centered around a cabinet-height volume of rich-grained wood—the planks were once laths, covered by plaster, and were recovered from wall demolition. The cabinet conceals plumbing for the toilet and a simple, cubic sink basin with a cylindrical faucet.
Hazelbaker and Rush call their aesthetic “Modernism with a hand-crafted soul”—it’s warm and tactile, with minimal and pure forms. “The intersection of these two typologies is where our firm resonates,” Hazelbaker says. The combined sink-and-toilet object straddles the line between furniture, fixture, and architecture, as does the much of the young firm’s work. Above all else, Hazelbaker and Rush are builders and makers, filling their growing body of residential and commercial projects with bespoke fittings and handcrafted details.
Hazelbaker grew up in Indiana, learning how to knit, sew, and quilt from her mother. Rush’s family owned a Florida farmstead, where he patched fences and built barns. Hazelbaker earned her B.Arch. from the University of New Mexico, and Rush attended Auburn University, where he honed his handyman skills at one of architecture’s most celebrated design/build programs, the Rural Studio. After graduating, Rush moved to New Mexico to experience living in the Southwest. He thought he might stay a year, but that was 15 years ago. “I fell in love with the landscape, and I fell in love with Darci,” he says.
The couple moved to Tucson in 2005 when Rush took a job at Rick Joy Architects, where he learned to pare back ideas to their essential elements. Hazelbaker began teaching at the University of Arizona College of Architecture in 2007. Following a steady stream of side projects, the two founded their firm in 2011.
For their first ground-up construction project, the Franklin Mountain House in El Paso, Texas, Hazelbaker Rush stacked two rectangular volumes at a right angle. The lower volume is clad with granite and basalt, ubiquitous to the area and cut to no great level of precision; the upper volume, or second story, is finished in pristine white stucco. From a distance, the ground level’s walls blend into the mountainside backdrop, which allows the white stucco volume to appear to levitate. “It’s a complex process to arrive at a refined, simple idea,” Rush says. “Mies van der Rohe said ‘Less is more,’ but Rick [Joy] would say ‘Less is more work.’ ”
A balance of opposing viewpoints leads to refinement of an idea to its bare essentials. “Darci tends to be an advocate for a more conceptual, cerebral sensibility, and I’m the advocate for more pragmatic and grounded ideas,” Rush says. “It’s through our push-and-pull of each other that the idea starts to get worn away to just a simple, pure form.”
The duo’s designs of light fixtures, tables, desks, cabinets, planters, and door pulls continue their tendency to juxtapose modernist forms with traditional materials. Their rope light fixtures hang from fraying jute strands, but the fixture body is smooth steel. Door and cabinet pulls are laser-cut black steel wrapped in hand-stitched leather. Their approach recalls the Bauhaus model of education, where “total design” meant applying the modern ethos equally to buildings, silverware, and sculpture. Rush says a return to craft has architects operating more like artists—both designing and creating their works. Hazelbaker Rush have collapsed this distance such that making becomes a design tool in itself.