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CASE STUDY:
The Galleries At Turney

Phoenix, Arizona

The Anti-Tract Houses: A developer blends the single-family home mentality of old Phoenix with the urban density of the row house to create a new Southwestern sensibility

By Nancy Levinson

The Galleries at Turney enjoy the distinction of being the first LEED for Homes Certified project in Arizona. However, this eight-unit development would turn the heads of even the most eco-oblivious passers-by. In a central Phoenix neighborhood of low-slung, sun-parched mid-century ranches—what historian Colin Rowe called “ranchburgers”—and some brand-new spec-developer Styrofoam villas, the Galleries are unapologetically, refreshingly, non-contextual. “The anti-tract home” is how the Galleries’ developer, Ed Gorman, of Phoenix-based Modus Development, describes his ambitious new project, with its compact site plan and street elevations that blend corrugated-zinc panels, exposed-block walls, weathered-steel doors, and glass curtain walls. As such, the Galleries, designed by the young Phoenix firm [Merz] project, join the growing portfolio of recent Phoenix housing that challenges the local tendency to let the national production home builders loose on the landscape, with predictably generic results. It isn’t surprising to learn that Gorman, who lives a couple of miles north of the Galleries, is planning to live in one of his sleek new houses.

The Galleries At Turney. Phoenix, Arizona
Photo © Matt Winquist
The Galleries At Turney. Phoenix, Arizona

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KEY PARAMETERS
Location: Phoenix, Arizona (Northern Sonoran Desert)

Gross Square Footage: 2,000 Ft2 (186 m2 ) Per Unit, Eight Units

Cost: $3.1 Million

Completed: June 2007

Annual Purchased Energy Use (From Utility Bills): 21 Kbtu / Ft2 (235 MJ / m2 )

Annual Carbon Footprint: 8.4 Lbs. CO2 / Ft2 (41 Kg CO2 / m2 )

Program: Eight Residences

LEED-Homes PilotVersion 1.7 Certified

TEAM
Owner: Modus Development
Architect: [Merz] Project
Landscape: Winters And Associates
Engineers: BDA Engineers (Structural), Woodward Engineering (Electrical), Akribis Engineering (Mechanical, Plumbing)
General Contractor: Urban Edge Builders

SOURCES
Masonry: Superlite Block
Metal, Glass Curtainwall: Rheinzink
Fiber Cement Cladding: Cembonit
Windows: Southwest Aluminum
Glass: Cardinal Glass, Low-E 270
Skylights: Velux
Low-Slope Roofing: BASF, Elastospray
Paints And Stains: Frazee Paint, Envirokote
Special Surfacing: Caesarstone Countertops
Floor And Wall Tile: Dal Tile, Eurobeige Limestone (Baths And Living Areas)
Flooring: Smith & Fong Bamboo (Stairs), Plyboo (Den)
Carpet:
Bentley Prince Street
Interior Ambient Lighting: WAC Lighting
Exterior Lighting: RAB Lighting
Lighting Controls: Lutron
Kitchen Equipment:
Bosch, Thermidor
Hvac Equipment: Trane

Like the best multifamily infill, the Galleries negotiate the complementary goals of community and privacy. Previously just two houses occupied the 0.62-acre site: the task was to demonstrate how higher-density housing could retain some of the amenities Phoenix residents have come to expect. Gorman challenged project director Jonah Busick and project architect Joe Herzog, AIA, to provide each unit with two bedrooms and private outdoor space, plus a two-car garage. From this straightforward but demanding program, [Merz] devised an elegant, tightly coordinated site plan: two rows of barely detached houses, with enclosed garden rooms out front and shared automobile circulation limited to a central interior court. The floor plans deploy a similar strategy on a domestic scale, balancing clearly defined spaces, such as bedrooms, with a large, high-ceilinged central volume that flows into adjacent zones and out to a terrace, creating a sense of expansiveness in the 2,000-square-foot units. Also, as the architects emphasize, while the Galleries appear at first to be townhouses, each unit is actually freestanding. As Busick says, “The goal was to combine the urbanity of the row house, the efficiency of the condo, and the identity of the single-family house, which is such an icon in Phoenix.” This is reflected also in the fact that the Galleries were permitted as single-family residences, but sold as condominiums.

Not only do the Galleries plump up the portfolio of alternative housing types for one of America’s archetypal metroburbs, they also suggest the growing normalization of green design. Gorman, who came to real estate after a corporate career, was inspired to create the Galleries by a passion for contemporary art and architecture. Green consciousness seemed simply inevitable: what any good builder-citizen would do nowadays. “We didn’t set out to build a LEED project,” he points out. “We set out to do the right thing—to create significant architecture that makes smart use of all the amazing green technology that’s now available.” In fact, the Galleries were substantially designed by the time the U.S. Green Building Council introduced its LEED ratings for housing: Busick and Gorman applied for certification when they realized that their project already met key criteria. For [Merz], the Galleries were a keen reminder that one of the strengths of green design is what Busick calls its “holistic approach.” “To make a project truly green, you have to evaluate every aspect not only on its own merits but also as part of the larger context,” he says. “Each part addresses the next larger part: the home addresses the site; the site, the neighborhood; the neighborhood, the city.”

The Galleries make smart use indeed of green strategies. The site planning satisfies a range of LEED standards, starting with the use of existing utility infrastructure, with the central auto court serving as an easement. The private patios and shared outdoor spaces feature decomposed granite walkways and desert-tolerant plants such as fountain grass and Indian Fig. Drip irrigation, with rain-delay controls, replaces an existing flood irrigation system. The narrow strips of land between units function as what the architects call “rain gardens,” where roof runoff is filtered and collected (and kept from emptying into the storm sewers). Palo verde trees shade the sidewalks to the south, and desert-adapted bamboo screens the houses to the north. Nearby are assorted urban conveniences, including mass transit, a public park, a community center, and an open-air shopping mall.

The building envelope and interiors did their share to make the LEED grade. The wall system consists of concrete block, fiber-cement panels, and corrugated zinc panels. These last two, which work as a rain screen, are furred out from the studs to create an air space, enabling a chimney effect that helps keep the building cool. Double-pane, low-e glass further reduces cooling and heating loads. Indoors, walls are finished with low-VOC paint, and eco-sensitive inhabitants need not worry about noxious off-gassing from recycled-content carpets and bamboo flooring. The units are pre-wired for 4 kW solar panels, and one owner has already installed such a system.

Not surprisingly, the local response to the Galleries, which were completed in June 2007, reflects their location in a neighborhood—and a city—undergoing a transition from easy-going suburban to higher-velocity urban. Sales have been brisk, and all the units have found owners. Both developer and architect are pleased that ownership demographics are diverse, including not only usual suspects like designers but also a couple of professional athletes. “Generally, the neighbors seem to like the aesthetic,” says Busick. “Though someone did ask us ‘when is the stucco going on?’”

Nancy Levinson, director of the Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory, is a contributor to GreenSource and Architectural Record magazines.

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This article appeared in the January 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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