The Shapeshifter House Gives the Desert a New Meaning

David Dundas

Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger take a creative approach in creating their unique and thought-provoking "Shapeshifter House."

For many of us, the task of an architect equates to the design of buildings that are “fit for purpose,” such as homes, office buildings, airports and other structures. But some architects prefer more creative approaches, like telling a story with the things they create. That’s what Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger did in their “Shapeshifter House,” a unique and thought-provoking property located on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada.

All Shapeshifter house images courteosy of: Opa Design Studio.
All photos by: © Joe Fletcher 2018.

The creative duo, from Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects (OPA), used storytelling strategies to conceptualize this project. With those details squared away, the architects decided to create an architectural narrative.

The clients and owners of the Shapeshifter House—two art collectors/dealers who specialize in contemporary art and art of the American West—wanted to create “a house that would both reflect the contemporary moment and explicitly of the West.”

Entrance to Shapeshifter house.

According to a statement in OPA’s website, the architects, “reshaped the site into anticlines and synclines, dunes and blowouts, and gradually the form of the house emerged with the terrain.”

The individuality of “Shapeshifter” continues inside with an unashamed combination of raw materials, the harshness of which is cleverly subdued by the striking angularity of architectural form, especially the large windows that help let in a lot of light.

Guest bathroom.

As for the accommodations, the ground floor is predominantly taken up by an open-plan living, dining, and kitchen space in what is more a compact space, as opposed to sprawling floor plan.

The first floor can be accessed via a striking staircase, where a study and one of the principal bedrooms will be found. A second staircase leads up to the master bedroom suite, which includes a walk-in closet and an en-suite bathroom. The suite’s centerpiece, however, is the stunning bedroom, which offers views of Reno and the surrounding desert.

Back view of house.

Art in the desert

Every building contains both the fingerprints and DNA of an architect, which begs the question, “What is the source of inspiration behind each architect’s work?”


Ogrydziak and Prillinger had a challenging yet seductive starting point: the desert. How do you build a house that interacts with a space usually associated with hardship and adversity?

“The American desert has a history of being understood as a place of lack, emptiness, or otherness,” say the architects on their website.

Guest bedroom.

“Framed as a barren wasteland, a kind of ‘no place’, the desert has been appointed the perfect test site, a place for all genres of experimentation – military, scientific, and social. The desert is rarely seen for itself, instead acting as a mirror for various projected fantasies: wilderness, frontier, and heterotopia. Enduringly mercurial, it is a sandbox that changes forms to fit the imaginations of the user, a space of ambivalence and uncertainty.”

Main bedroom.

As for the name “Shapeshifter,” it couldn’t be more appropriate both in the way the building appears as you walk around it, or to the area’s strong connection to native American tribes and their own individual shapeshifting abilities. ■

© | 2019