Location Prescott, AZ
Size 2,300 ft²
Completed 2013 (expected)
Program 4 bedrooms, 3 baths

A rapid evolution of concept. That’s how architect and homebuilder Michael Frerking describes his professional process and approach. His design-build company, Living Systems Architecture and Construction, continually develops new technology and integrates it into its overall architecture, creating some of the most efficient structures by any grading scale in the United States or Europe. Whether they use light-diffusing reflector decks and alternative materials or are cutting-edge collaborations between architect and client, Frerking’s projects come together with a sense of creative continuity and personal passion. The culmination of these tenets can be seen in the in-progress Tidwell-Teachey Residence, Frerking’s most ambitious and innovative project to date.

Magnesium Oxide 

Hydraulic cement, or Portland cement, is the largest carbon producer of any single building material. Magnesium oxide (MgO) is an alternative binding material and the only real product viewed as a contender to replace Portland cement, a portion of which Frerking replaced with MgO in the Tidwell-Teachey Residence.

Magnesium oxide (MgO) sequesters more energy than is required to make the product, which renders it net-minus in terms of carbon production and environmental impact. The benefits of MgO in construction have been known for thousands of years, and it can be found in the mortar used to bind sections of the Great Wall of China. The material has been slow to be widely utilized in the Western Hemisphere, but Frerking works directly with a manufacturer of MgO in the United States.


Architect Living Systems Architecture and Construction
General Contractor Living Systems Architecture and Construction
Chemical Supplier Premier Chemical

For the Tidwell-Teachey Residence, Premier Chemicals aided in the production of responsible materials and provided custom chemical mixes compatible with the soil and materials on-site.


Reflector Decks

The Tidwell-Teachey project features Frerking’s reflector deck technology to light and heat the interior of the house. “For passive solar heating to work effectively, it requires a large amount of light, which typically means a lot of glass and clerestory windows and a fair amount of glare and bright spots throughout the home,” Frerking says. “The reflector decks take the light and reflect it up onto the ceiling, bringing it deep into the home and diffusing it throughout the space. The resulting effect is pleasant and free of glare.” The diffused light also helps store heat in a thermal mass, increasing the efficiency of passive solar. “Lighting a residence in this way really is an art form,” he says.

Integrated Aesthetic

Although the technology that Living Systems employs is cutting edge—and in some cases years ahead of what other builders are doing—there is a conscious design choice to make the advanced systems work within the boundaries of good aesthetic design. The Tidwell-Teachey Residence is a good example of this: the project will adopt the regional style while remaining wholly unique. “One of the things I do is to integrate the systems visually into the architecture, to create a beautiful and efficient home without it looking awkward,” Frerking says.


Certification Not applicable
Materials MgO rather than Portland cement in poured earth
Water 85% of need provided by 18,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting system
Energy Grid-tied photovoltaics
Landscape Organic garden, native plants, xeriscaping

Tough Exterior

Living Systems always considers the regional climate and how it affects the longevity of materials when choosing components and designing the exterior of homes and buildings. Tidwell-Teachey was no different. Because materials exposed to the Arizona sun and heat will deteriorate rapidly, Frerking sought to create an exterior where only masonry or metal, not wood, would be exposed to the harsh solar environment.

Net-Plus Design 

The residence is a true net-positive home, creating more electricity than it consumes and nearly doing the same with water as well. The project uses a night-sky radiation-cooling source that involves water tubes running under the roof. At night this becomes a radiator and circulates chilled water to cool the floor mass and provides cooling for the house during the day. The house also uses a grid-tied photovoltaic system that allows the owner to sell excess power to the grid in the summertime and buy energy back during the winter. In addition, the house uses an 18,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting system to provide 85 percent of its water needs.

Client Collaboration

With increasing consistency, Frerking finds himself working with clients who not only understand current green technology but also have a scientific background, and some have been a part of developing these technologies and patents themselves. “I find sophisticated clients, or in many cases they find me,” Frerking says. “Building for scientists with a background in sustainable research is becoming typical. These are smart people who push the edge, do their part, and they want to be participants in the process.”

This was the case with Tidwell-Teachey. The owner sought out Living Systems to design and build his home. He had a background in laser-optics research in the aerospace field, and his expertise found its way into the design of his home. “We took his understanding in optics and used it to take what we do further,” Frerking says, explaining that the owner’s input and evaluation of Living Systems’ reflector decks resulted in a minor tweak that increased their efficiency by 40 percent. “This project was exciting. In terms of technology, we’ve leapt forward several years at least. It’s the most innovative thing I’ve ever done.”