The Galleries at Turney wasn’t just Arizona’s first development of LEED-Certified houses—it was a learning experience for everyone involved: the developer, the architectural firm, home buyers, and even the city of Phoenix.

“We worked really closely with the local USGBC chapter, and we were all sort of learning as we went along,” says project manager Jonah Busick of Phoenix-based [merz]project architecture + interiors + urban design.

Located in the vibrant Biltmore neighborhood within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, and public transportation, the 2,000-square-foot contemporary single-family houses feature cutting-edge energy- and water-saving technologies, a sun-shielding rainscreen, pre-wiring for solar installation, and drought-tolerant landscaping.

As the state’s first certified eco-friendly dwellings, the two-year-old project provided local officials with an introduction to high-performance building techniques. “The city of Phoenix had very little experience with green building,” says Ed Gorman, owner of Phoenix-based Modus Development. “Here we were trying to get our plans approved, and they hadn’t seen anything like it before.”

For example, LEED criteria promote non-toxic pest control and allow homes without wood foundations to avoid chemical anti-termite treatments. “But the city’s ordinance said that you must pretreat with chemicals, so we had to work with them on that,” Gorman recalls. “Ultimately we convinced city planners, but we had to fight that—and other—battles.”

Gorman says he was committed to offering houses that were cutting edge in both performance and design. “Rather than putting up cookie-cutter tract homes, we were looking to do a project that was truly unique,” he explains. But some city officials were skeptical of the dwellings’ unconventional boxy design, with floating zinc and cement panel exteriors and exposed masonry walls. “They didn’t understand the modernist design,” he says. “They wanted the units to have a traditional look with stucco exteriors and wrought-iron ornamentation.”

From an environmental standpoint, the exterior materials are maintenance-free and do not require any additional finishing or painting, according to Busick. “The exterior materials were chosen for their ability to add to the aesthetics of the project while contributing to the overall environmental mission of the project,” he says.

In addition, the roof sports non-toxic spray-foam insulation and a highly reflective coating, providing a high R-value and monolithic seal over the entire roof deck, Busick says. A 1-inch metal furring channel provides an air cavity between the exterior skin and the building substrate.

By the Numbers

Name: Galleries at Turney
Location: Phoenix
Certification: LEED-Certified
Size: Eight 2,000-square-foot homes on a 0.62-acre site
Developer: Modus Development, Phoenix
General Contractor: Urban Edge Builders, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Architect: [merz]project, Phoenix
Landscape Architect: Chris Winters & Associates, Phoenix


Once plans were approved by the city, the developer found he also had to educate potential buyers. “After all we did to make this project green, we were worried that people wouldn’t understand it,” Gorman says.

He focused on the issue that resonates most with homeowners in the arid West: saving money by using less energy and water. He wowed customers with the promise of $125 monthly utility bills, compared to a $400 to $600 monthly bill for a comparably sized traditional home. “People will pay for that,” he says.

The educational nature of the project will live on this fall when the development is viewed by thousands of green building aficionados as part of the Greenbuild Expo’sContemporary Desert Living Tour on Nov. 14. The USGBC’s annual conference will be held at the Phoenix Convention Center Nov. 11-13.

Sited on less than an acre of land, the Galleries manages to project the look of a much larger single-family neighborhood because each unit maintains its own footprint and private perimeter envelope, Busick adds. The dwellings share access to the street and are served by one water meter.

“We wanted a hybrid between a traditional attached unit and a single-family home,” he says. “The units get light and air from all four sides but you have the efficiency of shared resources and utilities.”

What’s more, a diverse mix of owners, from young professionals to married couples and families, provides the Galleries with a community feel all its own, Busick says.

“We started the transformation of the street that we’re on, and since then four other residential projects have come along,” Gorman adds. “We ratcheted up the design a notch and at the same time showed you could also be green.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome magazine.