‘Sliver buildings’ considered for downtown Phoenix

Posted By Mike Padgett

Sept. 28, 2008

At least twice in recent years, a bold design for mid-rise office buildings was considered for downtown Phoenix’s architectural palette.

The innovative concept is as different from Phoenix’s predictable office buildings as singer Eric Clapton’s jazz is to sleepy elevator melodies.

The cutting-edge concept is for a “sliver building,” and it was a welcome change to the largely conservative lineup of Phoenix office towers. The latest of the two proposals was considered in 2007. It shoehorned a slender building onto the narrow swath of landscaping between the north side of The Arizona Republic parking garage and the south edge of Taylor Street. The design is for a 10-story building about 40 feet wide by 280 feet long, between Second and Third streets.

The design includes a second-floor terrace for patrons of a restaurant on the ground floor. Metal louvers on the building’s east and west sides could be designed to minimizing heat gain by following the sun.

Another plus for the building is its central Phoenix location – it could be possible for employees of companies in the building to find housing nearby, so they could live and work within walking distance.

The developer had offices in mind for the building. He later decided against the proposal, says Mike Medici, president of SmithGroup’s Phoenix office. Medici declined to identify his company’s client, who he says discussed the idea with newspaper representatives and city planners.

The concept is intriguing – adding a long and narrow building on a desirable lot can make the building a signature project for the developer, the architect and the tenants.

The design has about 10 floors. The ground floor would have space for retail as well as a small restaurant. The second floor would be open, like a second-floor terrace offering outdoor seating space for the ground-floor restaurant.

From the garage wall, the newspaper owns another 15-foot-wide swath of land between Second and Third streets. The city owns the rest of the land, including the street.

The developer proposed buying from the newspaper the 15-foot-wide sliver of land along the side of the parking garage. He then proposed asking the city to narrow Taylor Street, which is a block-long street between Second and Third streets.

The sliver building would be constructed 5 feet from the wall of the parking garage. The ground floor could be about 35 feet wide, with the upper floors several feet wider because they would extend north over the ground floor.

On the east and west ends of the building, fixed or movable metal louvers could be added to reduce heat gain from the morning and afternoon sun.

The building’s south wall, to avoid any future conflicts regarding real estate values, would be solid in case the parking garage were increased in height, or if the garage were demolished and replaced with a taller building.

SmithGroup architect Mark Roddy designed the preliminary concept of the sliver building at Taylor and Third streets.

“It was pretty exciting to have a developer come to us and say they were thinking about something like this,” Roddy says. “It is a provocative idea. When you look at it, it tends to make a lot of sense.”

Roddy says it would be ideal for offices for individual attorneys, architects, graphic designers, engineers, or Web-based companies.

The other sliver building considered for downtown Phoenix was on the east side of the Professional Building, now called the Hotel Monroe at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Monroe Street. That design, which was one of several considered in 2006 for the site, was for a building with about 30 floors on a site about 50 feet wide and 140 feet deep. The building was part of the model of downtown in Arizona State University’s Phoenix Urban Research Lab.

An innovative sliver building in downtown Phoenix could be a bold step into the future. It could be a welcome contrast to existing historic architecture (of which there is too little) and the predictable office building design (of which there is too much).

Sliver buildings become an option when there is an increase in land prices and a decrease in land inventory. But now that the overheated real estate market in metro Phoenix has cooled, making more property available, sliver buildings have become unlikely, although their unique design remains fascinating.

“In our economic climate here, and I think with the amount of openness we have, it will probably be a while before we start seeing some of this stuff happen,” Roddy says.

Sep 28th, 2008

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