At first glance, this minimalist house in Juba, Sudan, looks like it could slip into any design-conscious Los Angeles neighborhood. But its boxy volumes, open-air courtyards, and natural materials are designed for a very different cultural context. Juba, in Southern Sudan, is an agricultural village where family compounds are clustered among civic structures. Construction is 100 percent hand labor, and most building materials—bricks, mud blocks, timber supports, and the like—are made on site. Those local traditions inspired House Suliman, a project designed by Washington, D.C.-based Studio27 Architecture for an employee who lives in Sudan for two months of the year and plans to retire there.

Project architect Hans Kuhn had traveled in that part of the world, so he was familiar with the construction methods, the climate, and the nuances of local culture. “You greet people in the dining room/reception area; you would never have anyone in the back of the house who's not family,” Kuhn says. The house's 12-foot-high walls sit directly atop the property's 76-foot-by-76-foot perimeter. A double-height living room at the center separates the public and private spaces from front to back and is surrounded by covered corridors that are open to the outdoors. Those corridors link the living core to a reception area and dining room on the right side and to two guest bedrooms and two baths—each with a tiny courtyard—on the left. “Normally you would have the bathrooms separated from the house by a distance of at least six feet,” Kuhn says. “But since we wanted the house to be one volume, the air is filtered through the courtyards.” In back, another private courtyard with a cooking pit is shared by the master bedroom and kitchen.

Studio27 Architecture

The building is cooled naturally, thanks to the tall living room that captures the constant breezes. At night, cool air drifting downward is caught by the courtyards and funneled into bedrooms. Interior and exterior masonry walls help maintain those lower temperatures in the heat of the day. And a tank beneath the building collects rainwater from the roof, storing it for the long dry season from November to March.