Few municipalities in the Valley embrace nature like Scottsdale. From the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s heights down to the dirt where native plants are protected, this is a city where the environment is more than just simply scenery.
But there is nothing simple about balancing a city’s needs against preserving the desert. Air conditioning is a massive drain on the electrical grid. Water is a finite resource, as is the wood used in housing construction. Most of all, every move of the harsh sun must be taken into account.
Architects, contractors and homebuilders have taken up — rather than avoided — the challenges of bringing Scottsdale into the desert’s comfortable embrace. If anyone in these professions wants to go environmentally friendly “green,” this is the place to do it.
Since 2005, one-third of all residential building permits have been for green buildings, and 10 percent of commercial development permits are green.
Also, Scottsdale was the nation’s first city to adopt a stringent policy for ensuring its municipal buildings achieve a high level of environmental excellence — and the Granite Reef Senior Center, which opened last year, was the first building to meet that goal.
By next year, national standards are expected to be in place to define green and establish requirements for all buildings. In short, green sensibilities will cease to be a trend. It will be a way of life.
When it comes to earthfriendly products, Mick Dalrymple and Jeff Frost have heard all the excuses.
“It costs too much.” “Green materials don’t last as long.” “Don’t you guys have tie-dyed curtains?”
But the founders of A.K.A. Green, a store devoted to sustainable home products, say the perception has started to shift from even a few years ago.
“If you even suggested a green market, people would laugh at you. You were considered a hippie tree-hugger at that stage,” Frost said. “Now it’s cool. More people have started to embrace it.”
Dalrymple and Frost opened their store’s doors in 2005. Seven months later, they had to find a bigger space. Now they have a showroom at 8100 E. Indian School Road in Scottsdale.
“It was not to solve all the world’s green building problems, but to get rid of a major obstacle, which was a place that people could see, feel and touch green building products,” Dalrymple said.
The two come from different backgrounds. Dalrymple helped start the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, and got his education in engineering, math and international relations from the University of Arizona and his MBA from Arizona State University.
Frost has a degree in architecture from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., and has designed and developed several environmental buildings in the Valley.
The store offers a variety of products, including nontoxic paint, natural fiber wallpaper, recycled glass tile, low-flow shower heads and cork flooring.
It’s common for people to feel a little overwhelmed, Frost said.
“You really can do an entire house with these products,” he said. “And they start to think, ‘if there’s this much stuff available here, how bad is the other stuff?’”
One of the challenges during the early years of green products was durability. The earth-friendly paint, for example, didn’t last as long as regular paint.
Now, many of the products are made to last longer than their non-green counterparts, Frost said.
“Manufacturers, in order to get into the green market, have to step up their game,” he said. “It has to outperform, otherwise it doesn’t stand a chance.”
The future of the store includes plans to expand, possibly into the West Valley.
Meanwhile, the two will continue to hold seminars and demonstrations in Scottsdale and educate the public about their cause.
“The shift is happening right now,” Dalrymple said. “We’re maybe in the first 5 to 10 percent of it. The awareness is now there, and the action has just started.”
A.K.A. Green simple steps for green living:
• Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent
• Use organic or natural cleaning products
• Use paints with zero VOC (volatile organic compounds emitted as gases from products like paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies)
• Install xeriscaping — a landscaping method that uses water-conserving plants
• Find out what is appropriate to recycle and do it
• Use a cloth grocery bag
• Buy organic and local food
THE PUBLIC SECTOR
As every home renovator knows, you save money in a few places so you can spend money in other places.
Scottsdale’s new Granite Reef Senior Center, at McDowell and Granite Reef roads, is a pinnacle of energy-efficient design. And here, the beauty of going green is proving that doing right by the environment doesn’t have to bust the budget.
Key to the center’s design is passive solar systems. Simply put, it means the planners took into consideration the sun, and when the building opened last summer, it meant there was light but little heat.
Chuck Skidmore, the city’s energy management engineer, steps into the cafeteria and points to the south wall. Nestled against the ceiling is a thin row of windows — the only windows in the entire building directly exposed to the Valley’s blinding, boiling sun.
But turn to the left, and the cafeteria’s east wall is almost all dual-paned, low-glare glass. In comes the morning’s natural light, cutting down the need for artificial illumination, but not the harsh afternoon rays.
“Because of the way the building was built, a lot of times we’ll be walking around and won’t even notice the lights aren’t on,” said Tim Miluk, the center’s human services manager.
There’s more, such as locating the cafeteria’s kitchen on the south side of the building. That way, the dining area has no direct solar exposure when the sun is at its hottest.
After its construction, this lighting and cooling costs nothing and requires no maintenance — the goal of a passive solar system.
For all of its energy-saving achievements, the center was certified as “Gold” in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.
Miluk said this is the only city-owned building — and the only senior center in America — to have such a designation.
THE BUILDING PROGRAM
When Scottsdale’s Green Building Program started in 1998, there were 20 permits for homes going green.
In 2006, there were 371.
“Builders were used to doing things a certain way,” said Anthony Floyd, director of the program. “It’s like the Titanic cruising along. It takes years to slowly change course and get everyone’s buy in.”
Scottsdale has one of about 30 green programs around the nation, Floyd said. It was established to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. Developers who want to build green have to follow a set of guidelines touching on energy, air quality, water use and protecting the desert environment.
In return, projects receive expedited review and technical assistance.
“We keep expanding, but it’s a dance,” Floyd said. “It’s really truly a dance. We have limited resources.”
Floyd said he predicts a national green building standard will be in place by next year, which will prompt other cities to establish their own programs.
The Granite Reef Senior Center was the first city facility to be green certified. It opened in 2006.
Floyd said he was trying to further push green status for city facilities.
Meanwhile, developers and real estate agents are coming around to the idea of marketing green residential and commercial properties to potential buyers.
“In the past, they haven’t created that sexy level,” he said. “They were just building it and saying, ‘By the way we’re doing green.’ It has to get into the intent instead of isolating it into the cost.
“In reality it’s not just about cost. It’s about value.”
The Scottsdale Green Building Program uses six factors to rate a project:
1. Site use: protect sensitive land, minimize footprint of development, optimize outdoor living, avoid toxic chemicals
2. Energy efficiency: solar power, insulation, natural light, efficient cooling
3. Responsible materials: withstand the sun, are from local sources, made with recycled content, won’t pollute area
4. Air quality: avoid materials with high VOC, provide ventilation, temperature control
5. Water use: low flow fixtures, xeriscape, use “gray” water for irrigation, collect rainwater for irrigation
6. Reduce waste: sort waste for recycling, re-use discarded materials, donate reusable materials
Paolo Soleri’s architectural philosophy has always been underground, making it almost fitting that sections of his studios and residence — where he dreams up the next alternative architectural ideal — are literally underground.
Located in Paradise Valley, Soleri Studios, also known as Cosanti, is where Soleri, the famed 87-yearold Italian-American architect, has lived and designed for more than 50 years.
Soleri is most known for his experimental community Arcosanti, which aims to demonstrate ways urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the impact on the earth. It’s a method called “arcology,” which combines the words “architecture” and “ecology.”
Arcosanti is the prototype arcology community founded in 1970 by Soleri on 25 acres of a 4,060-acre land preserve, about 60 miles north of Phoenix at Cordes Junction.
The Cosanti buildings were never meant to promote arcology, but there’s no denying their innovative mixture of nature and design.
The goal? “When we invest our efforts into building a shelter, (is) to be mindful of nature,” Soleri said.
And compared with the larger Arcosanti, Cosanti is less of a dream world. The configuration that rests at 6433 E. Doubletree Ranch Road in Paradise Valley includes just as much experimental and innovative structural design as his Arcosanti site, with many practical applications that incorporate the desert’s landscape rather than shunning it.
“We keep talking about preserving the desert, because we love the desert,” Soleri said. “But actually we don’t care about the desert, because every time we can, we colonize the desert . . . we transform it into suburbia.”
Soleri manipulated his residence around the landscape, and in some cases, within it.
Cosanti includes a series of structures including the original “Earth House,” which is partially underground and includes air holes for climate control. There also are student dormitories, outdoor studios, performance space, a swimming pool, a gift shop and Soleri’s own residence.
The buildings situated below ground level are surrounded by mounds of earth, which uses earth’s natural insulation to help moderate interior temperatures year round.
Soleri also designed south-facing partial domes called “apses,” which are passive energy collectors, meaning they absorb the lower winter sun’s heat and create shade from the blazing rays of the higher summer sun.
Other than the apses, a creative example of this concept is Cosanti’s swimming pool. It has a shade overhead, which absorbs bouncing light into the water during the winter and protects and cools swimmers from the summer’s blistering sun.
Most of the structures were built using the earth-casting method. A temporary structure is created within the earth and concrete is poured over a preshaped dome-like earthen mold. Once the concrete hardens, the earth is excavated and the domelike structure remains.
This earth-casting technique is an idea sprung out of a method of making wind-bells. In the 1950s, Soleri dug out a small half-sphere in the ground, poured his clay into the ground and let the sun harden the shape.
One day, he realized he could use this method on a bigger scale. He still makes the signature bronze and ceramic wind-bells, which are produced and sold at Cosanti and Arcosanti to help fund his projects.
For a condo project like Optima Camelview, building green was a question of numbers.
How do you fit 23 acres of landscaping on a 13 acre plot?
The answer: Rooftop gardens.
The 700 upscale residences at Scottsdale and Highland roads in downtown Scottsdale represents the forward-thinking design of architect David Hovey and his company Optima.
The complex features a dog park, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, and a putting green.
The homes range from 800 to 3,000 square feet and have sold for as much as $5 million.
The company has been putting green roofs on buildings for 30 years, setting a precedent others have followed, said Todd Kuhlman, Optima architect since 1989.
“Green building technology and considerations come to the forefront of most consumers’ minds based on the idea of trying to be responsible to the environment,” he said.
And the rooftop gardens are just the beginning.
The Optima Camelview site blends open space, natural light and intentional breezeways to incorporate passive cooling.
Bridges connecting different buildings create shade for walkways below.
Each home comes with its own backyard — terraces with computerized irrigation systems and plants that use little water.
The rooftop gardens are designed to capture rainwater, which then evaporates, creating a cooling effect. By design, the roofs absorb less heat during the day and lose heat more quickly in the evening.
Solar panels also will be installed on the rooftops, providing electricity to the public spaces on the property. Many of the condominiums are complete — and people already have moved in — but construction will continue for months.
Kuhlman also points out amenities on the property that have more indirect benefits to the environment.
For instance, all of the parking is underground, which avoids the heat island effect caused by surface-level lots.
And plans call for on-site retail such as a deli, coffee shop and wine store, which in turn reduces the need to drive to another location.
“When a choice is given, ‘Can we use our resources and live in a responsible environment or choose not to?’ We find that many people will now want to live in the responsible environment,” Kuhlman said.
• First green roof system on a multifamily development
• Water features throughout provide evaporative cooling
• Courtyards allow for constant air flow between buildings to avoid heat pockets
• Plants chosen according to recommendations by the Arizona Department of Water Resources to withstand the heat and use little water
• Individual air conditioning units to allow limited use while homes are vacant