Perhaps few tasks seemed as insurmountable as the one SmithGroupJJR faced when deciding to turn a concrete block adult bookstore in Phoenix into the environmentally responsible, net-zero face of construction company DPR. Tackling net zero in this sun-saturated city was challenge enough, but working with a building that had long been a community eyesore seemed almost impossible.
“Can we really do this?” Mark Roddy, design principal for SmithGroupJJR recalls asking. The resounding answer was yes. Out of the building’s banal bones, DPR’s new regional office is a model for the company’s national branches. It’s even become a venue for teaching local businesses and residents about sustainability.
Combating the Phoenix sun
Of course, in a city where 110-degree summer days are commonplace, the building did require some air conditioning. Working with sustainability consultant DNV KEMA, SmithGroupJJR learned they could bank their energy savings from the rest of the year to maintain net zero by utilizing a series of devices that, while seemingly hi-tech, harken to an age before air conditioning was even invented.
“If you say ‘I want to do a net-zero building’ that’s great,” says Roddy. “But you have to have some pretty innovative strategies in place to make that happen.”
The building’s south and east sides were kept windowless; the north and west edges are glazed, but screened a few feet away by angled, vine-covered steel trellises with translucent panel roofing. These lattice elements provide shade for outdoor collaboration spaces that serve as buffer between the building and parking lot, and transform the building from a windowless, characterless box into a uniquely light and textured composition.
To coax cool air inside, the building contains a series of evaporative shower towers. The culver-like structures, made of HDPE piping and sheet metal programmed to react to wind speed and temperature, are fitted with misters and showerheads that direct water-cooled air inside when necessary. Above the office sits a solar chimney, an 87-foot-long zinc-clad structure that absorbs solar heat, creating an air current to draw warm air up and out.
Green tools of the trade
Other clever sustainable elements range from the familiar, like an energy monitoring system and 79-kilowatt photovoltaic-covered parking lot canopy system, to the less-known, such as a “vampire shut-off switch,” which disconnects 90 percent of the building’s plug-in loads at the end of the workday, and Solatubes that draw daylight in from above, reducing artificial lighting use by 70 percent. Also aiding with natural light are rolling, glazed garage doors and 87 insulated and operable windows. Controlled by sensors, the windows pivot out to bring in fresh air. Twelve Big Ass Fans installed on the ceiling keep air circulating through the space, creating the perception that the air is cooler than it actually is.
The team removed existing ceilings and roof insulation, exposing the building’s wood truss structure (the old building, not surprisingly, had drop ceilings). The palette of colors, textures, and shapes was loosely adapted from the desert: The canted trellises recall canyon formations; vertical electric conduits tinted green evoke Saguaro cacti—and the company’s construction roots; and oxidized exterior steel alludes to the earthy tones of the region. Other colors are derived from DPR’s company colors of red and blue.
The open, flexible office promotes collaboration and creativity, and is perhaps more indicative of a tech startup than a construction company. With no completely enclosed offices, desks are arranged in banks with a modicum of privacy and more shading provided in some places with slatted screens. To further promote teamwork mentality, SmithGroupJJR created a series of alluring meeting spaces, including glass walled conference rooms, training rooms, a cylindrical meeting space called the Delta room, a café, wine bar, and even what the company calls the Zen Room, a cozy, windowless place for peaceful breaks from all the interaction.
Unlike most corporate offices, the lighting and the temperature inside are not the exact same throughout the day. But that’s ideal, says Roddy, because it provides a connection to the outside environment in a setting that is otherwise often devoid of reality.
“You wear a sweater in the winter, and lighter clothes in the summer,” he says. “There’s no reason we should keep adjusting everything we want without regard for the consequences.”
Key Design Highlights
- Glazed east and west facades are shaded by ivy-covered trellises and translucent panels.
- Triggered by wind speed and temperature, evaporative shower towers direct water-cooled air inside, while a solar chimney helps circulate the air.
- Solatubes and interior glass walls project sunlight deeper into the windowless core areas.
- A photovoltaic canopy above the parking lot and a “vampire” shut-off switch offset typical office energy use.
- A sustainably designed renovation completely transforms the mundane, existing structure.
Client DPR Construction
What 16,533 square feet on one floor