blank studio, phoenix

residential architect's Project of the Year exhibits a startling originality that elevated it above the rest of the winners. “There's stuff in here I've never seen before,” marveled a judge, and the other jurors agreed. “It brilliantly reinvents the everyday,” added another. Architect Matthew G. Trzebiatowski, AIA, designed the project as his own house and studio in Phoenix. He reimagined the typical live/work paradigm, sinking a two-level office space into the ground and topping it with a loft for himself and his wife, Lisa, a psychologist. No internal connection between home and studio exists; instead, an exterior stair leads from the residence down into a shaded courtyard. From there you enter the office's mezzanine level, where you descend a coiled steel stairway into the main work area. “There's something very comforting about having that big separation between the live and work space,” Trzebiatowski says.

The project's live/work arrangement eliminates a gas-consuming commute—quite an achievement in car-centered Phoenix. But that's just one aspect of a comprehensive sustainable strategy that, according to Trzebiatowski, took precedence during the design process. “The house explores ideas of sustainability first and foremost, with aesthetics not far behind,” he says. He and Lisa chose to build in an existing neighborhood with infrastructure already in place, so as not to use up raw land. They dubbed the house “Xeros Residence,” after the Greek word for “dry,” in a tribute to its desert setting. The couple demolished the old 20-foot-square house on the property, which Trzebiatowski admits wasn't necessarily a green act. “We're not going to say it's perfect,” he acknowledges. They reused much of the existing foundation and designed just 1,650 square feet of conditioned space for both the home and the studio. And, in a bold move the judges appreciated, they sheathed much of the exterior glass in a steel mesh that cuts heat gain by 50 percent.

The mesh screening exemplifies a level of material ingenuity that amazed the judges. “Just unbelievable,” said one. Walls and ceilings of gypsum plaster are coated with a mixture of beeswax and carnauba wax and then buffed to achieve a textured look and gentle sheen. By planing the OSB that envelops much of the studio space, Trzebiatowski turned it into a richly mottled design element. He covered the upstairs floors in plywood concrete forms with a thermal-resin surface. And the dramatic steel office stair was custom-fabricated at a shop that makes industrial storage tanks—and then corkscrewed through the only opening on the entire house that could accommodate its 4 2/3-foot diameter.

Trzebiatowski also deployed color in a sophisticated, almost radical way, interspersing green- and blue-tinted glass, blue and red fluorescent cove lighting, and a bright red shower stall into the project's otherwise earthy palette. “This could be a cartoon, but it's not—it's beautifully executed,” said one judge. “It takes the desert site and the neon of Las Vegas and marries them in a really poetic way.”

principal in charge / project architect: Matthew G. Trzebiatowski, AIA, blank studio
general contractor: James Trahan, 180 Degrees Inc., Phoenix
landscape architect: Debra Burnette, Debra Burnette Landscape Design, Phoenix
project size: 1,650 square feet
site size: 0.3 acre
construction cost: $320 per square foot
photography: Bill Timmerman, except where noted

product specs
bathroom plumbing fittings:Kohler Co.; bathroom plumbing fixtures:Hansgrohe; dishwasher:General Electric Co.; freezer, refrigerator:True Manufacturing Co.; hardware:Häfele America Co.; hvac equipment:Trane; insulation:Johns Manville; kitchen plumbing fittings:Grohe America; lighting fixtures:Delta Light USA; oven, range:Jenn-Air; security system:ADT Security Services; structural lumber: Weyerhaeuser Co. (iLevel)