Freezer to Of­fice

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - SOTHEBY'S INTERNATIONAL REALITY - By Paul Wei­de­man

In 2012, ar­chi­tect Vahid Mo­jarrab, WAMO Stu­dio, won two sus­tain­abil­ity awards— from the U.S. Green Build­ing Coun­cil-New Mex­ico and from ECO­HOME— for an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient res­i­dence called VOLKsHouse, which he de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with Jonah Stan­ford. Mo­jarrab hopes to break ground this win­ter on VOLKsHouse 2.0, which he says “will push the tech­nol­ogy up to the limit.

“We are do­ing a high-ef­fi­ciency, pan­el­ized home in­cor­po­rat­ing a gray­wa­ter sys­tem not be­ing used in the U.S. and we’re go­ing to put the­w­hole plan on theweb­site so every­body can just build it, so you don’t have the ar­chi­tect fees.”

In mid-De­cem­ber, the ar­chi­tect won an honor award from the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects-Santa Fe for his own of­fice, an adap­tive re­use project that in­volved con­ver­sion of a for­mer Taos Cow Ice Cream freezer.

The 550-square-foot build­ing has an ex­cel­lent in­su­la­tion fac­tor: what used to keep ice cream in­side fromwarm­ing up in the sum­mer now keep­sMo­jarrab and his staff warm in the win­ter and cool in the sum­mer. “It has a great ther­mal break: if you don’t have that con­duc­tiv­ity, you can main­tain tem­per­a­ture, and that’s our spe­cialty. It was just a metal box in­side,” Mo­jarrab said dur­ing a re­cent visit. “The metal sheet­ing is just a ve­neer. In the sum­mer­time it may be hot out­side and you come in­side and it’s nice.”

He painted the vis­i­ble, struc­tural I-beams yel­low, added rib­bons of white pan­els that run along the ceil­ing and walls to break up the ex­panses of metal, and used themto an­chor light­ing units faced with poly­car­bon­ate.

“The con­trac­tor had some doors and win­dows in his yard so we sal­vaged things. That’s why noth­ing matches here,” he laughed. Clean, af­ford­able Ikea fur­ni­ture com­pleted the of­fice, which has been in use now­for a year and a half.

“Our of­fice be­lieves you don’t have to start new for ev­ery project,” Mo­jarrab said in an e-mail. “With the un­cer­tainty of the real es­tate mar­ket, there are­many op­por­tu­ni­ties to re-adapt ex­ist­ing real es­tate in­ven­tory to suc­cess­ful and re­spon­si­ble projects.”

About five years ago, Mo­jarrab got in­volved with the In­ter­faith Com­mu­nity Shel­ter and con­verted (pro bono) the old Pete’s Pets space on Cer­ril­los Road to serve Santa Fe’s home­less pop­u­la­tion. His stu­dio won a com­pe­ti­tion last year for work­force hous­ing in Clo­vis. “We re-used and re­con­fig­ured five ex­ist­ing build­ings to ac­com­mo­date 15 rental units and the com­mu­nity build­ing. Th­ese projects are in-line with our be­liefs that there are many ways to ac­com­plish high-per­for­mance ‘green’ build­ing.’”

He talked about the sea change in think­ing from the days of the beau­ti­ful, trans­par­ent Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe and the Philip John­son Glass House. “We grew up with those as the icons, but that is when en­ergy was not a big con­cern. Our pri­or­i­ties have changed. As an ar­chi­tect you feel a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. Back then it was all about de­sign. And com­put­ers have changed the pro­fes­sion quite a bit. Now when we do the de­sign [with BIM— build­ing in­for­ma­tion mod­el­ing— soft­ware] we can si­mul­ta­ne­ously see the en­ergy use. The com­puter en­ables you to go places you couldn’t even en­ter a few years ago. I can’t wait un­til the time when you just think about a struc­ture and you can see it on your mon­i­tor. In­stead of Google glasses, you have a Google hel­met. Af­ter all, the brain is just a bunch of elec­tric neu­rons.”

Mo­jarrab, ed­u­cated at Cal­i­for­nia Polytech­nic State Uni­ver­sity, has been in Santa Fe for 20 years. His wife, Carol Ware, with bach­e­lor’s de­grees in fine art and ar­chi­tec­ture from Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, some­times col­lab­o­rates on her hus­band’s ar­chi­tec­tural work. (The firm name was formed from the first two let­ters of their last names.)

As Mo­jarrab con­tin­ues with value en­gi­neer­ing to try to in­crease the af­ford­abil­ity of VOLKsHouse 2.0 for con­sumers, he’s also look­ing for­ward to a ma­jor project in Pa­pua NewGuinea. WAMOwas hired by She­p­ley Bulfinch, Bos­ton, to do the res­i­den­tial com­po­nent of the Enga Pro­vin­cial Hos­pi­tal cam­pus in that Ocea­nian na­tion. Dur­ing the in­ter­view, he joked that he was leery about hav­ing meet­ings about the project in his hum­ble freezer-of­fice.

Alan Chi­ma­coff, head ju­ror for the re­cent AIA award, com­mented, “There’s a fine mad­ness in this project and a de­light­fully screwy idea, an ar­chi­tect’s dream or an ar­chi­tect’s night­mare, putting an of­fice in a freezer... It’s a great ad­ver­tise­ment of civic and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity: we’re will­ing to re­use the grungi­est of grunge for our­selves in or­der to have the op­por­tu­nity to make bet­ter places for oth­ers, as well as a demon­stra­tion of the cre­ative po­ten­tial of the peo­ple who work there.”

The in­te­rior and ex­te­rior of the for­mer freezer

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