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Case Studies  > Green Building Promotes Healing
Sustainable Construction and Healthy Interiors
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Fig. 2. Masonry can be strengthened with reinforcement and grout to create structural panels, like these corridor walls that contain openings of various sizes. Also, notice how the block is used as both an interior and exterior finish material.
Green building and sustainability have dominated news in the construction industry recently. Masonry groups have been telling their story about the green aspects of their products, noting many important features: the local manufacture, the recyclability, thermal mass characteristics, no need for other finishes, etc. One aspect of sustainable building, however, has perhaps received less attention than many of the others. The environmental "cleanness" or low toxicity of masonry materials is often a quiet strength.

Soothing colors, which suit the building’s desert setting, and every other aspect of design of the Desert Pain Institute were chosen to help patients feel as comfortable as possible.

A project that drew heavily upon the low toxicity of masonry was the Desert Pain Institute in Mesa, Arizona. This facility is an alternative medicine clinic that specializes in pain management. One of the main design goals of the owner was to avoid developing something that felt too institutional. He wanted to create a healing effect by incorporating interior gardens into the building and integrating soothing colors and finishes.
Natural lighting receives lots of attention in sustainable design. It alleviates the need for extra lighting fixtures and saves energy needed to run them, as well. Close attention was given to orienting the building on the site to make the best use of natural light, placing shade screens on the west façade, and allowing daylight to filter through interior gardens, swimming pool spaces, and public waiting spaces. Masonry easily accommodated these design considerations since walls are constructed on site and openings can be built to any size. If the wall sections between windows are required to be structural panels, adding reinforcement and grout increases the wall’s ability to support applied loads, while allowing its appearance to be maintained (see Fig. 2).
Fig. 3.

Because of the building’s role in promoting good health, it was essential to keep chemically sensitive patients in mind. To meet this request, designers developed the building using green architectural standards—turning to masonry for answers. The ingredients of masonry and mortar are inert, non-toxic, and promote excellent indoor air quality. The result is a building that is toxic free and creates physiological comfort for patients and others with extreme sensitivities.

Keeping It Simple

Only two types of concrete masonry units (CMUs) were used for the entire building, and both were tinted: an 8x8x16-in. desert khaki and a 12x8x16-in. chocolate color. Block were left exposed on both the interior and exterior. The architect accentuated the building’s linearity by raking horizontal joints on the desert khaki block, and created a unique accent on the chocolate block by placing a course of block at a slight angle, creating a 7/8-in. projection of one end of each CMU from the plane of the wall. Repeating the angling every fourth course created a banding effect, which changes throughout the day as the sunlight shifts (see Fig. 3). Because masonry is constructed on site, embellishments are easy to incorporate and architectural expression is enhanced, even when only two block styles are used, as in this case. Colored mortars to match the CMU completed the look of the walls.

Being integral to the block, the colors are permanent and were chosen to match the surrounding landscape. The block surfaces were lightly sandblasted to help blend the color and expose some of the aggregate. This type of finish is attractive for both the inside and outside and alleviates the need for painting, drywall, or other finishes that might introduce unwanted chemicals into the air.

This building exemplifies contemporary design and sustainable construction. The choice of masonry and the overall design complement the down-to-earth materials and qualities of the surrounding desert home, while making use of green building techniques to promote environmental responsibility and well being of all occupants.

The entry displays the banding effect repeated throughout the building. Blocks are set in a sawtooth configuration on every fourth course to create this architectural accent.

Project Team:
Architect: Orcutt/Winslow Partnership, Phoenix
Contractor: Homes and Son, Phoenix
Block Supplier: Superlite