When Studio Ma decided it was time to stop renting and move into a place of their own, the firm designed a new headquarters with regenerative architecture and ambitious energy, water, and waste efficiency goals at its heart. Just east of downtown Phoenix, the resulting Xero Studio occupies a former dental office—stripped and renovated to embody Studio Ma’s sustainable values.
“Buying this property and the former dentist office on it gave us the freedom to pursue a highly sustainable headquarters design, aligning our workplace with our firm’s mission and guiding principles. It’s a lofty goal, but as newly minted commercial property owners we were free to try,” says Studio Ma architect Christopher Alt. Because Studio Ma previously rented their headquarters’ space, this move to an owned property of their own design allowed them to explore new and innovative solutions inspired by the Living Building Challenge.
In renovating the former dental office, Studio Ma aimed to reuse and recycle as many of the existing materials as possible. Studio Ma preserved the embodied carbon of the structure by retaining the shell and walls of the building to repurpose in the new studio. Studio Ma personally oversaw the recycling of all unusable building materials, removing and redistributing fluorescent light tubes and electronic waste to local recyclers. “Beyond the existing building we worked hard to set building modules that would use materials in their full dimensions wherever possible to avoid creating waste,” says Tim Keil, an architect with Studio Ma.
The new structure fits Studio Ma’s needs with an array of sustainable strategies, starting with a system to increase the building’s height. “We designed a clever wood truss system that both raised the ceiling height and kept the existing bearing walls, while providing an open and flexible floor plate,” Alt says. The new height brings airy comfort to the interior space.
Kebonized wood, or soft wood that undergoes a non-toxic chemical process to become durable enough for outdoor use, wraps the building’s facade to create a sculptural effect that suits the landscape and provokes interest. The screen also serves to cool the building by reducing heat gain and glare from the windows, while operable skylights expel heat to create a passive cooling response to the hot Arizona sun.
To create an environment conducive to productive and pleasant workdays, the Studio Ma team designed multifaceted features like the windows and skylight treatments, which create an atmosphere that welcomes daylight and visitors alike. “The operable windows and skylights allow us to cool our space passively for at least four months of the year, which is great in the desert climate. It also provides us with natural light and views that connect us to nature,” says Keil. To reach net zero energy, Studio Ma implemented photovoltaics in addition to these passive treatments.
Net zero water has proven harder to accomplish as local regulations currently prevent implementation of blackwater-to-potable water recycling systems. “Our goal is 100% regenerative architecture, but this restriction means we have had to become advocates with the city government to promote net-zero water policies, such as allowing for blackwater-to-potable systems,” Alt says. In the meantime, the firm is attempting to increase its positive impact on water efficiency onsite and in the area at large while reducing their negative impact with water efficient technologies.
Studio Ma is now well established in Xero Studio, and the headquarters remains a beautiful and comfortable place to work as well as a good way to win over potential clients. “We can take clients through it and show them how the same principles can benefit them and their project. Xero Studio demonstrates to everyone who experiences it that regenerative architecture is real, attainable, affordable, and necessary,” Alt says.
Project: Xero Studio Location: Phoenix, AZ Completion: 2018 Size: 2,515 square feet Cost: $525,000 Architect & Interior Designer: Studio Ma Structural Engineer: Pangolin Structural Mechanical & Plumbing Engineer: GLHN Electrical Engineer: Woodward Engineering Civil Engineer: Jacobs Wallace Contractor: Vista General Landscape Architect: Floor Associates Lighting Designer: RC Lurie