The Business Case for Biomimicry: Prescient Leadership and Innovation

Designed in 2000, Studios 5c is an urban mixed-use, 3-story glass office building in the Mill Avenue District of Downtown Tempe, Arizona. The building includes a ground floor brew pub with a sidewalk patio, offices for a major architectural firm, and a series of executive suites which cater to design professionals.

Design Objectives

The environmental challenges of a desert environment motivated creativity, innovation and a sustainable approach by the designers, RSP Architects. Primary design goals were to minimize heat loads in air-conditioned spaces and provide a biophilic element to the design. The solution chosen was to shade and cool horizontal and vertical circulation paths between suites and floors, located outside the perimeter of the glazed building envelope, by passive and sustainable means.

In a simple demonstration of vines used for passive climate control, the ‘structured landscape’ design approach of Studios 5c includes greenscreen® trellis panels on the south and west sides to intentionally shade and cool circulation areas and glazed walls. The panels provide a supportive host for native red trumpet vines, evergreen in the local climate, and an iconic application of biophilic principles as an example of sustainable design in an urban, desert climate.

Implementation / Performance

At the core of this strategy is the partnership between the vines growing from ground-level beds, and their host structure of greenscreen® trellis panels in a three-storey high structural steel framework. The steel frames on two sides of the stairwell and at the edge of the floor slabs form a structured, vertical landscape. Between the ‘ribs’, regular openings accommodate 4 foot x 12 foot trellis panels and define the perimeter of the building. At the base of the panels, 14 inch narrow soil beds were prepared and trumpet vines with drip irrigation lines were installed. As the vines matured, reaching the tops of the frames at 40 feet in a few seasons, they formed a flourishing, semi-opaque tapestry of foliage punctuated by orange and red blooms.

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