If you were to imagine the ideal setup for sustainable living, it might look something like this: a building where the office is downstairs, so the daily commute is just a walk down a flight of stairs. The double-duty space also is located downtown, a block away from a light-rail transit stop and a block from a major art museum. This is the live-work space that an up-and-coming architecture firm in Phoenix, [merz]project, designed for Mike Oleskow and Russ Haan.

Co-owners of a boutique graphic design firm called After Hours Creative, Oleskow and Haan have lived in the Phoenix area for two decades. After doing the math—totaling up the amount they were spending on house payments, office rent, and a warehouse lease—the pair decided that they would be better off investing in their own mixed-use development. They gave Joe Herzog of [merz]project a “top-this” combination of requirements: it should be a work-live space, it should be affordable, and it needed to be versatile enough to accommodate future owners.

“I think that’s one of the most important aspects of sustainable design,” Haan says. “This isn’t one of these custom homes where everything is designed specifically around one client—it’s got flexibility built into it, for whatever the future brings.”

Herzog was ready for the challenge. He had previously designed Arizona’s first LEED-certified multifamily project, The Galleries at Turney in Phoenix (“Hybrid Homes,” October 2008). He helped the couple find a lot that was one block from the Phoenix Art Museum, in a neighborhood that, like much of downtown, was low-density sprawl.

“It’s definitely got a multilayered program­—it’s a model for where the city wants to go,” Herzog says of his “gesture to the urban fabric.”

The site’s zoning was sadly outdated, intended for strip malls. Undeterred, Herzog designed around the zoning prescriptives, coming up with a scheme for a three-story building that complied with both residential and commercial building codes. The costs incurred by meeting commercial building requirements were offset by the lack of traditional residential finishes like carpet and finished walls, Herzog says.

The 7,400-square-foot structure has three floors and a basement. The ground floor currently holds the design studio where After Hours’ staff of six works on corporate advertising and branding campaigns; the mezzanine level is where Haan and Oleskow’s offices are; and the top floor is their home. But the building is designed so that it can be divvied up by locked doors into as many as four separate zones, each with its own utilities and entrance, for different work-live configurations. The basement is used for storage space and also holds the couple’s wine cellar. “Basements make a lot of sense here—they are a naturally cooled environment,” Herzog says.

SPF 50

Completed in fall 2007, the building’s energy usage has been half of the utility company’s initial estimates. Because this is Phoenix, regulating the sun was the key. Herzog believes that the prevailing method, which is to design heavily insulated walls, doesn’t work as well when the sun is at this level of intensity. “Thermal mass gets a lot of attention, but here in Arizona, it gets so hot that you retain too much heat for too long. You have to deflect all that solar heat gain,” he says.

In this building, the masonry walls’ concrete blocks have been injected with foam insulation. But to protect the western façade from the blazing afternoon sun, Herzog added another layer, a reflective sheath of Galvalume, which is separated from the building by a 2-inch air gap that allows heat to dissipate between the two surfaces. “We need to be designing thin buildings that can breathe, not thick ones,” says Herzog, who has installed this Galvalume thermal blanket, which cools down as quickly as it heats up, on five other projects.

The building’s central heating and cooling system, designed for the smallest load rather than the largest, was optimized for the structure. Vents are situated at the foot of the large windows, so that the cool air pushes heat at the point it enters the building straight up to the ceiling. Windows also are outfitted with electronic sunshades to block strong rays.

On the third floor, the emphasis is on indoor-outdoor living, with a 1,400-square-foot roof deck that effectively doubles the living space. To differentiate the living quarters from the office space, the finishes in the living space are softer. Instead of unfinished masonry and concrete, there’s reclaimed oak flooring. And the main exposure upstairs is due east, which captures the morning light, instead of the north-south orientation on the first and second floors. “[Upstairs] has a very different feel,” Haan says.

When After Hours has shut down for the day and the company principals have the place to themselves, they like to spend time on the roof deck enjoying the cool desert evenings. There’s an outdoor shower and a hot tub, and the city is at their feet. “We have a great view right into the [Phoenix] Art Museum, and we’re just one block from the main thoroughfare through town,” Haan says. “We love it here.”

Lydia Lee writes about sustainable design from Menlo Park, Calif.

Materials and Sources

Ceilings: painted gypsum by [merz]build, merzproject.com

Concrete: exposed concrete

Flooring: exposed concrete, antique hardwood floors

Furniture, millwork: Cameo Cabinets

Glazing: Arcadia Architectural Products glass windows and doors, arcadiaproducts.com

Gypsum, insulation, paints and finishes: [merz]build

HVAC: Split system Carrier units, carrier.com

Lighting: Bruck Lighting Systems, brucklighting.com

Masonry, walls: Rhino Masonry

Plumbing and water systems: JFN Mechanical Contracting

Roofing: Trex decking over foam roof and Galvalume, galvalume.com

Siding: Galvalume corrugated metal

Green Team

Architect, interior designer, green consultant: [merz]project, merzproject.com

Client/Owner: Russ Haan and Mike Oleskow, After Hours Creative, ahcreative.com

Mechanical engineer: Otterbein Engineering

Structural engineer: Landa & Associates, landaandassociates.com

Electrical engineer: Woodward Engineering, woodward-engineering.com

Construction managers: Joby Dutton, Russ Haan

General contractor: [merz]build, merzproject.com

Landscape architect: Chris Winters & Associates

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