Sunnylands Retreat

Rancho Mirage, CA

Back to
Sunny Campus 6_Portrait_1080x1920
Sunny Campus 7_Thumbnail_1920x1080
Image Credit: Marion Brenner

Distinct Character Shaped by Water Conservation

To transform old employee housing to VIP campus, CMG conceived of a new building as a social hub for visitors to the Cottages Retreat. The existing water consuming landscape was converted from an expansive lawn dotted with olive trees to a rich and varied environment with a xeric plant palette of charismatic cacti, meadow grass and Palo Verde trees. New intimate garden spaces were created for both contemplation and socializing. The same goals for social spaces and xeric landscape were achieved with the Administration Campus, but as inclusive environment to mix everyone associated with the operation of Sunnylands, including Trustees, museum curators, gardeners, and volunteer docents. The project team and client set ambitious goals for water use reduction, net-zero energy use, net-zero carbon footprint, and zero-landfill waste through management of construction and operations by-products. Each successive project achieved ever more ambitious goals while honoring the design legacy of the original estate and the harsh desert setting.

Sunny Campus 8_Wide_3940x2160
Sunny Campus 9_Wide_3940x2160
Sunny Campus 10_Wide_3940x2160
Demonstration of responsible desert development is a goal of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Initial work began with significant removal of turf and high-water use plants. For the Administration Campus, an annual landscape water budget for post-establishment irrigation was set by calculating the amount of water that falls on the campus in one year. The campus’s water budget is approximately 10% of the estate’s equivalent water use per acre. From this budget, parameters were established to determine how that total amount would be allocated across the campus through a range of plant and irrigation typologies. Achieving these goals in the desert required evolution of aesthetic expectations and maintenance practices to prioritize water conservation.
Sunny Campus 11_FullScreen_4480x2520

Image Credit: Caitlin Atkinson

The center’s function to host retreats to advance world peace and facilitate international agreements has been wildly successful, with several visits from President Obama in its first open year. Today, the entire estate maintains Sunnylands’ legacy as a relaxing oasis and venue for political discourse and is open to the public for guided tours of this picturesque and historic midcentury modern property, while it demonstrates water and ecologically conscious development and operations in the desert.