Yale School of Architecture | Spring 2019 | Thomas Phifer

YSoA Advanced Studio: Marfa Residences


“The absence of descriptive or obvious stylistic embellishment creates an aesthetic so spare that it is, at times, almost aggressive"

- Karen Stein, The Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things


The Arrival

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Resurrected on the original site of the Marfa train depot, just across from the office of the Judd Foundation, a new station platform would allow passengers to take the Sunset Limited Amtrak service into town. An arrivals facility adjacent to the Judd Foundation would house a cafe, rail museum, and bookstore for visitors upon arrival.


A narrow passageway between the Judd Foundation and adjacent arrivals pavilion would allow visitors a direct path from the station to the town’s historic museum

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Through various acoustical details, including an isogrid ceiling, laminated structural glazing with a 2’ air gap, and STC 50+ door thresholds, the arrivals pavilion would offer visitors a moment of complete silence upon arrival, resetting their aural senses before journeying through the town and surrounding expansive landscape.

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The Journey


Marfa, like much of the municipal development of American westward expansion, formed from the economic and commercial lifeblood of the American rail system in the late 1880s, far before the impact of 20th Century sculpture artist, Donald Judd, by settling his artistic practice in town. Over the last three decades, as the town has continued to shift its focus towards the accommodation and attraction of new forms of artistic practice, it does so at the expense of preserving the richness of its infrastructural heritage as an historic railroad depot. Nevertheless, the Sunset Limited railroad still commands a presence to the unsuspecting visitor to Marfa, who’s whisle can be heard for miles as it races through the center of town on the hour at speeds up to 60pmh.

An interview with a 40 year resident of Marfa when asked about the rail, mentioned that no one could have an affair in town because you’d always know where they were based on how loud someone heard the train whistle through a phone call. This unique infrastructural soundscape, let alone its sonic proximity and consistency, provides a unique opportunity to design for the rich navigation of a powerful sonic environment.

Resonance Trail

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Flutter echo

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Rotunda Effect

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sonic cylinder

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The Residences

Located at the edge of town, these five residences would provide expansive views across the West Texas landscape

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Utilizing the power of wind across the site, the residences could create harmonic tones when open to the cross breeze, similar to the structural nature of an organ pipe

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