Modular Metal Houses Make Up Arizona Retreat Center

A series of metal building systems was used to build a group of residential buildings for Arizona Retreat Center in Fort McDowell, Ariz. The metal buildings provided the required functionality, longevity and protection from wildfires and termites. Moreover, metal buildings were used to express uniform, contemporary aesthetics that relate the house designs to each other.

Connected metal building modules create individual houses

By Christopher Brinckerhoff

Two of the houses are built with three connected metal buildings with a detached garage. The third house is constructed with five connected metal buildings and a detached garage. Photo: McCall Radavich

Simple Modules

Hayes/interiors inc. in Phoenix designed pre-engineered metal buildings in modules for three houses. Each house has three or five connected metal buildings plus a detached garage. A total of 14 metal buildings were used for the project. Phoenix-based Bunger Steel Inc. erected the company’s metal building systems.

Catherine Hayes, AIA, principal at hayes/interiors, says, “We developed three building modules plus the garage module, then turned and shifted the modules on each other, creating three distinctively different, yet complementary, homes.”

Metal building systems make it possible to surround the houses with floor-to-ceiling glazing and wide windows. Photo: McCall Radavich

Two of the houses, La Flesche House and Moss House, have living spaces built with three metal buildings; the third, Virchow House, has five metal buildings. Virchow House also has two bedroom modules side-by-side to fit additional bedrooms.

Comparing the floorplan of Moss House to La Flesche House’s floorplan, Hayes says, “The modules for both houses are identical, the central living/kitchen module is just turned 90 degrees from one house to the other, with the side bedroom modules attaching to the central modules.”

Careful placement of columns created a large, column-free, central space in each house. “With the columns only in the corners of each module, the interior spaces are column-free, creating large, open living spaces,” Hayes explains. “Then, only the interior walls for hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms had to be built on site.”

Storefront system glazing at the entrance is one of many features not typically used for houses. Photo: McCall Radavich

Developing simple, module-based designs for the buildings sped up the design and construction processes, and reduced overall costs, Hayes says.

“Each module is a simple, clear-span, rectangular metal frame, a system and size that could be cost-effective because its ability to be duplicated to create three homes. This saved time and money while producing beautiful, contemporary structures. With Bunger Steel’s design and fabrication help, we created workable ways to connect the modules, accommodate wide windows and doors, and high clerestory windows to achieve great light quality on the desert site.”

Similar to the pre-engineered metal buildings, metal roofing met project requirements for durability, longevity and contemporary aesthetics. Hayes says, “We wanted to put attractive, long-lasting roofs on the homes. The idea to slope the roofs differently on each module was in response to the lines of the desert hillside where the homes are sited. As a result, the homes are well-integrated into the desert.”

The project used Phoenix-based Western States Metal Roofing 26-gauge bonderized steel PBR roof panels and trim in Charcoal Gray and Houston-based MBCI’s 24-gauge steel Artisan soffit panels.

Architectural features such as exposed columns add an industrial feel to the contemporary residential design. Photo: McCall Radavich

Industrial Elements

In terms of the contemporary residential design, the houses have some industrial elements including exposed steel columns and clerestory windows. At the same time, the buildings are designed with the pre-engineered structures hidden from view.

Zach Nolte, project manager at Bunger Steel, says, “It’s more architectural than it is like an A-frame standard garage; it’s more of a design than just a steel building. I think if somebody looked at it, they wouldn’t realize that it was all constructed of steel, and they would think it’s just general framing and normal construction.”

While the pre-engineered metal buildings aren’t obvious, without them, the buildings would be different. The metal buildings allowed for long spans and clerestories on each house, for example.

“With our whole package, we were able to span the building with just purlins and girts,” Nolte says. “We really didn’t have to even add framing in there to go to the ground to hold the weight. We used the connection point from the roof, and then we went straight up 90 degrees, and were able to fit the clerestory window in there. Then we continued the roof from the top of the clerestory down to the back of the building without any type of support on the inside. They all have vaulted ceilings. There’s really not any framing on the floor that gets in the way; it’s all open concept.”

La Flesche House comprises three metal building systems: a column-free central module with a living room, kitchen and vaulted ceiling, and, on opposites sides of the central module, metal buildings with bedrooms. Image courtesy of hayes/interiors inc.

In addition to long spans and clerestories, another important feature made possible by the metal building systems is abundant glazing. Nolte says, “These houses are basically glass all the way around, except for a few walls that are stucco. I would assume you’d be able to do it with regular framing, but as far as the steel building goes, there was nothing in the way to impede them from putting in a 30-foot sliding glass door and have windows from top to bottom. So, that’s something different than conventional framing.”

Custom details were essential to the modular buildings. “The buildings were custom made for this project and took extensive detailing and engineering to match the architectural design and be structurally sound,” Nolte says. “It’s a simple design from the outside that took a lot of effort behind the scenes with our in-house detailers and engineer, as well as all of our in-house departments, and a lot of attention to detail in the field.”

Like La Flesche House, Moss House comprises three metal building systems: a column-free central module with a living room, kitchen and vaulted ceiling, and, on opposites sides of the central module and shifted up and down compared to La Flesche House, metal buildings with bedrooms. Image courtesy of hayes/interiors inc.