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Fusion on First, Hero

Phoenix, Arizona is the fastest growing major city in the U.S. It’s also one of the hottest — and driest. In the desert metropolis, affordable housing remains in high demand, while the largely car-dependent urban region remains a locus of expanding sprawl. At Arizona State University’s (ASU) downtown Phoenix campus, however, the recently completed Fusion on First introduces sustainable design and mixed-use density to the heart of the city.

Fusion on First, Phoenix

Designed by local architects Studio Ma, the building is designed to foster entrepreneurial skills and forge career opportunities for young creatives in ASU’s Entrepreneurship, Popular Music, and Fashion departments. Defined by a subtle gradient of earth tones across its varied façades, the 16-storey complex features three levels of educational and community spaces, topped by a 13-storey residential tower home to 550 students.

While the 26,292-square-metre creative hub separates educational and residential spaces from through distinct circulation, the proximity fosters close bonds between work and home, inviting students to thoroughly explore their crafts — and get to know their peers.

Across the lower three levels, raw, industrial studios with exposed vents and pipes create open, accessible maker-spaces. From the street, the generous windows give passerby a peek into the activity inside. Meanwhile, the wide sidewalks are animated with seating and greenery, inviting students to stretch their legs.

With sophisticated studios, classrooms, offices, exhibition and fabrication spaces, students benefit from exceptional facilities. Moreover, students have the chance to work with local arts organizations, faculty, alumni, businesses and government agencies through mentorships and internships. Ultimately, the goal is that with these networking opportunities and entrepreneurial skills for young creatives in programs with some of the lowest career retention rates.

When faced with the challenge of allowing as much natural light as possible into the large studios on the first three levels while maintaining a judicious and careful use of glass; Studio Ma’s energy modelling revealed that angling every east-facing wall segment in the sculpted facade would maximize daylight and minimize energy. The design of the articulated building envelope reduces heat gain by 17 per cent (compared to its benchmark), while also meeting the public realm with a fine-grained urban presence.

“We always aim to create architecture that is at once beautiful and extremely functional; when we have the opportunity to work with natural systems and come up with the best possible solution to a climatic problem, it’s pretty incredible,” says Studio Ma principal and co-founder Christiana Moss.

Built to last at least a century, Fusion on First is projected to use 50 per cent less energy than its benchmark. With a water-efficient design, the complex is on track to save over four million gallons of potable water annually. Indeed, the whole of the site is designed to capture water, with bioswales connected to cuts in the curbs that allow planted areas to collect runoff.

Despite its urban location, Fusion on First promotes biodiversity with desert-adapted plantings and bird-safe glazing, as well as site lighting that emits minimal light pollution. Studio Ma treats architecture as a living, breathing, ecological practice, championing the idea that the built environment is part of the natural landscape as well as the urban fabric.

For the designers, the project exemplifies a sustainable design process rooted in deep sensitivity to hyper-local conditions. According to Moss, it’s an ethos that shapes every decision. “Once you understand that you can design a building that produces as much energy or collects enough water as you need to consume, a lightbulb goes off,” says Moss. “And once that lightbulb goes on, you see everything through that lens.”

Regenerative Design Shapes Arizona State’s New Campus Hub

In downtown Phoenix, Studio Ma designs a sociable mixed-use complex that saves on water and works with the sun.

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