It sounds like something out of a movie: “We just had a baby,” recalls Shepley Bulfinch principal Christopher Nieto, “and driving around was the only way to put her to sleep. My wife was on one of those drives when she spotted this place. I could feel her excitement over the phone.” The discovery was timely indeed, as Nieto’s firm was close to becoming homeless. He was in the process of selling his old office building, but constructing a new one from the ground up would have been too expensive. The Link Building, an 8,000-sq.-ft. mixed-use office retail environment in Phoenix, proved a perfect home for the daring design firm and three additional tenants. (Click the "more photos" link to view interior images.)
Everything about the firm seems like a string of serendipitous events. Nieto worked for his dad’s plumbing contracting company and honestly believed that he would forever. Then he met his partner Joe Herzog. The two immediately clicked, emboldened by their mutual belief that architecture could change the world. They named their firm merzproject and started looking for clients—during the height of the recession. When they couldn’t find one, Nieto leveraged his house and bought merzproject’s first home, the Modern Food Market.
Since then Nieto has been his own client half a dozen times, including when designing his family residence, which won the 2008 AIA Home of the Year award. So when it was time to adapt the Link Building and claim the top floor for his office, Nieto knew what the firm needed and how to make it work. “I wanted a world-class interior that one could picture in Tokyo or New York,” he says.
First the 1950s-era, two-story building was stripped down to its steel superstructure and precast, hollow-core floor planking. Nieto and his team added three additional street-front entryways, cut in a stairwell for second floor access, and extended a balcony over the sidewalk. Single-pane glazing was replaced with high-efficiency, low-energy glazing, while the additional openings allow more natural daylight and passive ventilation. A 25kW solar panel system provides 50 percent of the building’s power needs during peak months and 100 percent of its needs during off-peak months. The roof was treated with a high solar-reflective coating to reduce the heat island effect.
An operable glass door system allows one tenant, Giant Coffee, to take advantage of fine Phoenix weather without a patio. “We wanted a space that walked the line between warm and industrial,” says Matt Pool, Giant Coffee owner and a long-time friend of Nieto. “We got that and more. Patrons love the space, particularly the open window wall. It’s like sitting in the skyline.”
Pool admits that working with the architect was a leap of faith. He says, “They are risk-takers, but it really paid off.” Giant Coffee’s clean aesthetic features found-object furnishings and built-in casework. Warm woods, stone, and cement contrast with industrial lighting, metals, and white laminates.
Two other tenants occupy the ground floor. Both feature the same cool yet rough interior that celebrates natural materials. Bunky Boutique uses that neutral backdrop as a canvas to make its merchandise, contemporary clothing, and accessories, pop.
Nieto’s offices sit upstairs. Recently merged with Shepley Bulfinch to become the Phoenix outpost of the Boston-based firm, the studio’s look mirrors the downstairs retail space, but with a finer, more polished shine. Interior finishes are left in their unfinished state when possible, including low-VOC sealed concrete floors and exposed structure. Metal-framed interior partitions are clad with a combination of recycled-content gypsum board and sustainably harvested cork. Select areas, like the conference room, are clad in reclaimed barn wood left in its natural state. Work areas primarily are daylit, while other areas are illuminated with high-efficiency, adjustable lighting.
Set in Phoenix’s cultural district, The Link preserves the historic identity of the building’s façade while remaining poised to perform in the 21st century. Close to resources, services, and parks, the structure proves that buildings can invigorate a city’s existing fabric while treading lightly on the environment.
Client: Christopher & Rebecca Nieto. Architect/interior designer: The Phoenix Studio of Shepley Bulfinch; Joe Herzog, AIA, principal architect; Christopher Nieto. Contractor: Christopher Nieto [merzbuild]. Electrical Engineer: Woodward Engineering. Structural Engineer: AED Structural Engineering. M&P Engineer: Associated Engineering. Lighting: Shepley Bulfinch. Kitchen: The Phoenix Studio of Shepley Bulfinch/ appliances BSH/ Bosch/Gaggenau. Landscape/Graphics: The Phoenix Studio of Shepley Bulfinch. Furniture dealer: custom built by merzbuild (Chris Nieto’s Construction Company. Other furniture from Goodman’s Furniture Gallery & NY Loft Home Interiors. Photographer: Matt Winquist, Winquist Photography; Kat Nania (in house at Shepley Bulfinch).
Wallcoverings: Metal framed interior partitions are clad with a combination of recycled content gypsum board with low VOC paint and sustainably harvested cork impregnated with a non toxic sealer. Select areas are clad in reclaimed barn wood and left in its natural state. Ceiling: pre-cast concrete planking built in 1940s. Lighting: Bruck. Doors: custom built by merzbuild. Workstation/lounge/other seating: Herman Miller. Workstations/conference table, other tables, files, shelving, architectural woodworking, planters, accessories: custom built by merzbuild (Chris Nieto’s Construction Company). Signage: Shepley Bulfinch. Plumbing fixtures: Kohler.
Location: Phoenix, AZ. Total floor area: 8,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 2. Average floor size: 3,500 sq. ft. Total staff size: 5 staff of The Phoenix studio of Shepley Bulfinch.