Leaving Town by S. Claire Conroy

This article is featured in the most recent issue of Custom Home Magazine, ( a hanley wood publication.)

One of the worst aspects of this recession has been the pervasive paralysis. Everyone is stuck. People are frozen in houses they can’t sell. They’re postponing major life events, like getting married or retiring. And, those in business for themselves are mired in markets that no longer support them and their companies. What to do?

Custom building has always been an intensively personal, local profession. Your knowledge of building codes…

in your area, the strengths and weaknesses of subcontractors, and your relationships with building material dealers make up an important chunk of your expertise. But what if your market has ground to a halt, or has slowed down so much that you’re faced with either closing shop or laying off your entire workforce? Most builders have survived by picking up small jobs and biding their time for conditions to improve. They’ve added handyman divisions and other revenue streams to stay afloat. Of course, these strategies make sense and they’re working for a lot of companies. But there’s one builder who is doing something entirely, radically different: Andy Byrnes of The Construction Zone. When the going got tough, he got going—out of town, and all across the country. He followed the work—and not just any work, but the best architect-designed work being done in the United States. He’s our Custom Builder of the Year.

In exporting his talents, Byrnes answered a need no one had yet fully articulated. Turns out, brand-name architects want great builders to build their one-of-a-kind designs. But architects’ clients often ask them to design houses in remote locations with little talent base. Combine a famous architect, a wealthy client, a far-flung location, and a cutting-edge modern design and the building corps grows even leaner—or more costly, as they think twice and charge triple looking at complex, multipage sheets of drawings.

How did Byrnes get this gig? Well, he already had a reputation with top-notch architects either residing in his hometown of Phoenix or who’d come to build there. So following those architects’ jobs to other places was not unthinkable. It’s just no one had really thought of it before. But you also should know he’s a ringer: Byrnes is a licensed architect as well as a contractor—one who happens to love building more than designing. So, is his model replicable by builders who aren’t architects? I think so. He’s first and foremost a great builder.

S. Claire Conroy

Rammed Earth

Nine quick facts:

1 earthen walls are typically 18” to 48” thick and designed for compression loads
2 contain a critical mix of appropriate soil, cement, water, and pigment
3 regional design considerations are key to a quality installation
4 ancient building technique revived into modern architecture
5 integration of other building systems greatly affects schedule and cost
6 color and texture varies according to soil selection and ramming techniques
7 labor intensive process with critical sequential consideration
8 sustainable building materials
9 needs annual maintenance to maintain aesthetic quality and durability

for more detailed information about rammed earth:   info@czphx.com


The Perch – Sedona, AZ

Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman

2009 Honor Award – Western Mountain Region AIA design competition

Creating the Perfect Perch

The story of how the Perch took flight is one that embodies a simple concept that is often overlooked when attempting to sell anything, sharing the view.  Communities Southwest purchased a 178 acre parcel in the Coconino National Forest’s Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness which was once a tree farm.  The original idea of developing a luxury community on a golf course was tabled after the decline of  the U.S. economy in 2008.  With gorgeous views and a secluded location, they knew that this natural setting could build momentum, given the right foundation.  The building block which proved the theory, the Perch, is an award winning design by Andy Byrnes of the Construction Zone Ltd.  The original sales office for Aerie, a 74 luxury home-site community which emphasize excellent modern desert architecture, was located in a Downtown Sedona strip mall. After some deliberation, Byrnes was able to convey the idea that their sales office needed to be on-site and embracing the view.

Prior to construction, careful consideration was given to incorporating native materials, landscaping, and maintaining the natural seclusive beauty that is felt when surrounded by Sedona’s Red Rock.  Rammed-earth, cultivated from the site, was to be the main building ingredient that would also include: concrete, glass walls, hot-rolled weathered steel cladding and Douglas fir.

The Perch was designed with sustainable aspects (efficient mechanical and electrical, natural vegetation, etc.) from the inception and recently awarded a LEED certification.  The 1,000 sq ft sales office will easily convert to a guest house or home studio once the main home is built nearby.  The expansive views that are rewarded from a trip to the Perch at the Aerie, are well worth the time and effort to travel there.  Who knows, you may even find a view for your own modern desert home?

Reinvention Symposium 2011 “More is More”

The past few years of economic downturn has placed an enormous pressure on residential architects throughout the United States.  With fewer viable projects available, it is challenging to consistently move forward; inline with one’s original business model and methods.  The eighth annual Reinvention Symposium, held at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel & Resort, was a great opportunity to view new practice models that innovative architects have used to survive these challenging times and to gain a strong foothold for thriving again, once the economy surges ahead.

With many great Architects/Builders in attendance, the 3 day conference allowed plenty of time for connections and new ideas to take root.  Rick Joy, AIA ( Rick Joy Architects Ltd.), led off with the Keynote Address: “Progress Report: Adapting and Evolving.”  The theme of evolution was consistent throughout the conference and almost every talk or discussion involved some aspect of adapting, integration and/or sustainability.   Even Will Bruder, (Will Bruder + Partners Ltd.) trained as an artist and evolved into an accomplished architect throughout his continuing professional career.  It is said that he “elevates every building type that he touches – from a humble car wash to a white water rafting company headquarters.”  Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library is considered his iconic achievement to date and he has built a rich collection of other civic structures.

The symposium opened many doors and new opportunities for us, here at the construction zone. We thoroughly enjoyed what Andrew van Leeuwen (Build llc) had to share of his adventures and hobby of blogging.  This is his take on Reinvention 2011, along with great imagery and wit, I’m sure that you will enjoy the read.

We were also able to re-connect with a few other notable names like Lake / Flato Architects, Wendell Burnette and the Jones Studio brothers, Eddie and Neal.  It was an honor to be selected to speak at the Reinvention Symposium 2011 by Hanley Wood, we hope to return again in 2012 and to share further insight into adapting and evolving within the residential building industry.