Back to Eldorado: Architect Will Bruder
Writer Katherine Braden
Photographer Bryan Black
Project Photographs by Bill Timmerman
Will Bruder is full of stories. Like that story of him and his newlywed wife tracking down famous architect Bruce Goff’s private residence on their honeymoon. They rang the doorbell and the legend invited them in, chatting with them until 3 a.m.
Or the one where he apprenticed with Paolo Soleri at his Cosanti Studio in the late ‘60s, running summer workshops, learning about architecture and making 50 cents an hour.
Then there’s that one time when he was 11 and riding his bike in the Milwaukee suburbs, and he crashed the construction site of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greek Orthodox church. Bruder credits that discovery as one of the earliest reasons he became interested in architecture.
“I’m a storyteller,” he says. “I get to do what I do because I can create an engaging narrative.” Bruder enjoys telling stories, but he does what few can: makes those stories come alive with both words and architecture.
Before he tells a story, however, Bruder is insistent on one thing: It is imperative to listen to what the client wants, or at least thinks they want. The secret, he says, is not to preconceive anything.
“You’re cheating yourself and your client if you predesign before you’ve even talked to the client,” he says. “You want to be ready to analyze and respond to the clients’ proposition, needs, wants and dreams.”
Before he even starts to design, Bruder will ask clients, “When you have friends come to your house, how do you want them to feel? How do you want to feel when you come home? And when a stranger drives by your house, what do you want them to think?”
“You work because of your client, not in spite of them,” Bruder explains.
Take for instance his newest project, Eldorado on 1st. When North American Development Group’s Chris Chamberlain first approached him in 2013, the request was simple: create a new urban house of verticality and density in metropolitan Phoenix. Chamberlain had seen Bruder’s work on the sophisticated Loloma 5 complex and was hoping to replicate a similar feel in the heart of downtown Scottsdale’s art district.
“So how do you organize a house in the sky?” Bruder asks. The seven contiguous homes needed to be practical, comfortable and luxurious. And in the end, they needed to tell a story.
“With Eldorado, we are having a conversation with what’s around us,” says Bruder. “Good architecture becomes part of the context, but you must stand on the context’s shoulders in order to stand out. Not in a snooty way, but in a sophisticated way.”
The first level offers a secured and dramatic entry door into a linear gallery, day lit at both ends. Off this is the entry to each unit’s private foyer with its elevator and carefully sculpted staircase. Each unit also has a secure two-car garage.
Residents will sleep on the second level, and live on the third. On the fourth level patio, they will celebrate the sky and the seasons.
“Eldorado is about the sensuality of materials, the idea that an ordinary concrete block can become something extraordinary,” Bruder says. “The homes have a simple verticality that feels geologic. You are living in a geologic form.”
For Bruder, every detail counts. The architecture sculpts shadows and sun in each unit, offering large window views; elegant steel railings; floor and wall tiles that fold into each other, creating origami-like patterns; and the warmth of wood flooring. Not to mention, it also has 10-foot ceilings and the finest quality European contemporary kitchens possible.
“Creating architecture is really about balancing the idea of function and pragmatics with the poetry of space, proportion and detail,” Bruder says. “It’s about trying to create a functional poem with space, materials and light.”
Design work on the units started in 2014, and construction started in 2016.
“The walls are up, and the roofs are going on,” he says. “It’s at the point where people are slowing down and stopping. You look at the renderings and then at the real thing, and that’s what it’s about: building an idea, a vision, a dream.”
What is Bruder’s desire for Eldorado on 1st? That it will be a place where the resident will not be a servant of the house, but that the house will serve them. He also hopes the building will be a touchstone project for the community.
“I want it to be sold out, happy, romantic, beautiful, functional, well-designed and timeless,” he says. “I hope it becomes the model for an urban elegance that is an alternative from rush to growth.”
He’s frustrated with the lack of design and sophistication most apartments and condos these days display: “In Eldorado, people can live elegantly, occupy a street and be a part of the city. They can live generously in elegance that involves views, light and air — all in the climate this place is known for.”
The name for the project came after Bruder’s examination of a map of Scottsdale.
“The building was on East First Street and North 69th Street — not too sexy,” he says, laughing. But after studying a map, he realized that North 69th Street had been called Eldorado years before. With his love for storytelling and the legend of the city of Eldorado, the name Eldorado on 1st seemed obvious.
Bruder has been involved in architecture since he was 19. His studio, consisting of four other architects besides him, is in its 44th year. Their portfolio contains more than 800 projects that stretch from coast to coast, and many have won awards. Bruder has taught at Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, University of Oregon and Portland State University, to name a few.
But when it all comes down to it, it’s about “managing reality,” he says. It’s about “always keeping a positive attitude, being optimistic, staying close to the work.” And it’s about being “an architect of the place who builds functional, poetic buildings; listens to clients and budgets; and creates memorable, joyous and appropriate buildings for clients and communities.”
Even though Bruder works in physical reality, he also works in stories, making spaces in which lives will be lived and new stories and memories are created.