It may seem odd for a residential remodeling publication to award its Best of the Year designation to a commercial project, but this year’s judges felt that this project “touched on almost all the categories in the competition” — masterful handling of interior and exterior spaces, inclusion of sustainable elements, and connection to the landscape all combine to create “interesting spaces [that] make a run-down building into a jewel.” The project also had a knockout binder with “great elevations and floor plans and large, well-labeled photographs.”

With minimal intervention, architects Page Repp Jr. and Rick McLain radically transformed a 1980s former Kinney Shoe store on a busy intersection in central Tucson, Ariz., into a new office for their growing design/build business.

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A commercial project in Tucson achieves a simple, functional design that packs in plenty of sustainable features and modern panache.

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The designers wanted not only to increase their ability to do fabrication and store materials and vehicles on site, they also wanted to create a space indicative of the type of work the firm does and that has a commanding street presence, which, Repp says, “will be our marketing budget and advertising for the next 10 years.”

“The primary focus,” McLain says, “was to create a naturally well-lit space using simple, restrained materials to allow for the creative process and to create a great space to work [in] each day.”

The most dramatic part of the design is the exterior. “The building had great bones, but it also had a 56-by-10-foot-high glass wall facing directly west,” McLain says. “That’s the harshest solar exposure you can have.” The design team needed to mitigate that exposure as well as decrease the noise from the daily barrage of 20,000 cars that travel the adjacent roads.

The solution: 585 steel tubes. The closely spaced lengths of 2-inch-by-1-inch tubular steel painted light silver create a screen that cuts the harsh light, lowers the temperature, and keeps down noise. The screen defines and shades the courtyard, an important transitional space.

Above the courtyard, solar panels are used as a shading element. “We spaced them and angled them to allow the maximum light to hit them, and on the space in between we used a polycarbonate panel to filter the light, which creates a nice, naturally day-lit space,” McLain says. The judges remarked on the “great design, which satisfies both function and form.”

The project’s other big nod to sustainable design is the landscaping. Tucson gets just 12 inches of rain each year, so every drop is precious. The landscaped area is depressed by 2 feet to passively trap excess water, and there is a 7,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system for irrigation.

Inside the building, the designers removed the existing linoleum floor and honed the underlying concrete to give it a durable, polished finish. They built the desks and furniture from raw steel and MDF. “We feel like we strengthened the building in most cases simply by subtracting things — like the linoleum, exposing insulation, a tile grid ceiling, and associated ductwork — and saving what was good, like the concrete floor and the simple, natural wood trusses above the grid ceiling,” Repp says.

The transformation “is nicely detailed and has a nice connection to the flat, scrubby landscape,” the judges said. “Overall, it’s a very uplifting building.”

Repp and McLain report that employee morale has never been higher and that their contemporaries and colleagues in Tucson now feel that they should keep raising the bar. Repp and McLain have set a standard, inspiring others to invest in the area. —Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.


Spec List

Bathroom plumbing fittings: Kohler

Bathroom plumbing fixtures: Toto

Bathroom cabinets: Ikea

Countertops: Richlite

Garage doors: Clopay

Hardware: Schlage

HVAC: Trane

Insulation: Bonded Logic

Interior doors: Masonite

Kitchen cabinets: Kitchen plumbing fittings:

Paints/stains: Dunn Edwards

Siding: Galvalume

Windows: International Windows