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Dubbed “America’s least sustainable city” in 2011, Phoenix is working to re-brand itself as a greener place. Using the guidance of local officials and Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management around the Sustainable Development Goals, the city is making strides.
The city’s goals include transportation, waste, water stewardship, building and land use, parks and open spaces, clean air and local food systems. Architects are helping make these goals reality through sustainable design and construction.
LEA Architects has been around for four decades and is one of Arizona’s most sustainable architecture firms. The firm is known for designing fire stations, public safety facilities, libraries, airports, and other buildings that are energy efficient and healthy for their users.
Their designs include high recycled content of building materials, solar orientation consideration for fenestration with calculated roof overhangs to minimize direct solar gain in the summer months, natural daylighting, and LED lighting with scene controls that optimize energy performance. Other sustainable features include automated solar shades from Phoenix-based Intelli-Shade, operable windows for natural ventilation, and sustainably harvested wood.
This firm has designed several of the city’s most memorable homes, including the aforementioned orange blossom house. Their other notable projects include a 5,000-square-foot desert home that incorporates large glass walls to showcase natural daylight. The company also has a lot to offer when it comes to other services like program and planning and construction management.
The Ranch Mine
With roots in the American West, 3-time national award-winning husband and wife led architecture firm The Ranch Mine specializes in designing for people with the pioneer spirit. Their work pushes the boundaries of design for those who believe that a better world starts at home and enlists their clients’ ideas to help shape their homes and communities.
Nestled on the north side of a Phoenix mountain preserve, this O-shaped smart home was designed to integrate modern life with the timeless beauty of music, sunlight and desert flora and fauna. The house sits low in the desert, partially surrounded by a rusted steel rattlesnake fence and finished in white stucco with recessed niches of ipe wood.
The house is organized around a planted central courtyard. A streamlined design with walnut slatted acoustic panels and an independent suite for visiting in-laws complete the stunning desert residence. A swimming pool and outdoor fire pit with a built-in bench create the perfect space to relax during cool nights in the desert.
Studio Ma, an award-winning architecture and environmental design firm founded in Phoenix in 2003, delivers innovative, sustainable, and unique designs to forward thinking institutions and individuals. The four partners—Christopher Alt, Christiana Moss, Jason Boyer, and Tim Keil—foster a creative and growing practice centered in the essence of the desert southwest.
Their regenerative bioclimatic design ethos, derived from the Japanese concept of “ma,” extends to multiple scales—from making a home to complex urban and natural contexts at universities and cultural institutions.
The firm’s new innovation hub for ASU Downtown Phoenix is a model of next-generation sustainable construction. It combines academic space and student housing under one roof, transforming the campus into an environmentally attuned showplace for students and a resource platform supporting entrepreneurial ventures.
The firm’s recent Xero Studio project also pushes the boundaries of sustainable design, with a regenerative strategy for air conditioning and insulation that minimizes energy use. Its adaptive reuse design preserves all of the existing masonry and concrete, and new fenestration in its core and shell is made from recycled materials.
SmithGroup is one of the nation’s most renowned sustainable architecture firms. They have designed more than 100 LEED certified buildings.
They also participate in the Architecture 2030 Challenge, a program that encourages architects to design buildings that achieve net zero energy by the year 2030. This is a very ambitious goal and one that SmithGroup has committed to.
The firm’s work on a campus project in Tempe, Arizona, shows off their knowledge of climate technology and their willingness to go beyond the traditional design process. The Innovation, Discovery, Education and Arts Biotech Campus (IDEA) is an 18-acre site that houses offices for a medical device company as well as a performing arts theater and classroom space.
Architects need to start thinking differently about buildings in the desert and figure out how to create spaces that adapt to the harsh climate. Rather than hiding these strategies behind expensive mechanical systems, they need to be embedded into designs in ways that celebrate them.
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