I've been working overtime lately to not hate the newish, ultra-modern condominium complex that was dropped into my historic neighborhood near Seventh Avenue and McDowell Road a few years ago. For a fan of early-20th-century architecture, it's hard not to be bugged by a towering clump of boxy, corrugated concrete condos, especially when they're hunkering literally across the street from a row of gorgeous '20s bungalows in what's left of what was once a gloriously old-timey housing development.
Even the name of the place — PRD845, which sounds like a license plate number or maybe a robot from one of the Star Wars movies but which is actually an acronym for "planned residential development" coupled with the complex's Eighth Avenue street address — gives me heartburn.
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The 24,000-square-foot, 12-unit complex located at 777 West Roosevelt was born about five years ago, while the housing market was still going berserk here. Urban infill experts at Greenroof Development hired a local firm called Studio Ma to create an enclosed housing project just north of downtown's fast-growing "loft community." Studio Ma architect Christiana Moss drew up plans for a dozen mid-rise "cubiform contemporary" units on the site of a parking lot just west of Seventh Avenue. Greenroof wanted to fill a void in mid-priced lofts in downtown, which was glutted with new-build and newly renovated million-dollar residential spaces, and to offer a work/live environment with studios and office spaces built right into the original design — a rarity in any part of this town.
I want to be more open-minded. Really I do. In an attempt to overcome my disdain for this big, boxy, frankly ugly complex, which looks completely out of place plopped down in an historic neighborhood, I called Moss. I was all set to do my usual whining about architects who cover Phoenix buildings in sheets of metal (because PDR845 is wrapped in what looks like expanses of corrugated tin, making it look for all the world like a big, backyard storage shed), but I never got to. It turns out that what looks like wavy sheets of tin isn't metal at all. "They're thin concrete panels," Moss told me. "They're less likely to absorb heat, as metal does."
Okay. There's one fewer reason to sneer at this hyper-modern monstrosity. And although I'm sick to death of the whole "green" movement, I'm gratified to know that this complex was built with eco-sensitive materials, and that, when the builders decided that some of the original workmanship on the project was substandard, they reportedly ripped it all out and started over. I even like that the garages are joined with studio spaces for artists, separated by a foyer and downstairs bathroom. It's a neat idea for painters and ceramicists who want to work at home but still have a cool place to park their car in the summer.
But I don't like having a set piece from Battlestar Galactica in my neighborhood. And even if I did, I hate the name of this place. Even its floor plans have stupid names: "Young Literati" and "Urban Achievers" and "Bohemian Mix."
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There was an early plan to change the complex's clunky moniker to 777 West Roosevelt, according to realtor Scott Jarson, who's sold many of the PRD845 units. "But we didn't get to it in time, marketing-wise." Jarson says those goofball names, as well as the complex's brightly painted, super-contemporary exterior, worked perfectly in drawing in the folks who snapped up all but one of the 12 units before they were done being built. The complex has drawn a mix of older suburbanites, young artists, and a celebrity restaurateur, according to Jarson. "They were sold on this project before it was completed."
(They must not have seen the complex's listing at Walk Score, an always-inaccurate Web site that alerts potential buyers to the amenities near properties for sale. PRD845's Walk Score lists Circle K as the closest "grocery store," dicey taco stand El Norteño as the closest restaurant, and Arizona Call-a-Teen, a center for troubled teenagers, under "other amenities.")
Whatever. All this good news about PRD845 has softened my opinion of the place, although I'm unable to abandon my scorn for this complex's warehouse-y design. I can't see it as something other than an eyesore, a blight on my old-fashioned neighborhood. I'll just take my daily walk in another direction and be happy that plans for Viridian, a similarly New Wave condominium complex just up the street from PRD845, were recently abandoned.
I still think the place is ugly, though.