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Adaptively Reused Tucson Ice House Lofts Keep Their Cool

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

For eight decades, the industrial plant at 1001 E 17th St. in Tucson, Arizona, produced a commodity highly valued in the desert: ice. Now home to the Ice House Lofts, the building’s use may have changed, but it continues to play an important role as a model oasis of sustainable residential redevelopment in sweltering Tucson.

? Built in 1923, the facility, which includes the original brick warehouse and two additions, was home to the Arizona Ice and Cold Storage Building Co. Architect Rob Paulus first encountered the vacated complex in 2002. “The cold storage buildings never had a leak since the interior of the building was kept at minus 15 degrees” Fahrenheit, he said. “They basically never fixed the roof over the years, and water would enter the ceiling cavity and freeze. When we first walked the building, the freezers had been turned off for two months, yet the ceiling was still thawing out and dripping.”

? Despite the building’s poor condition, Paulus, wife Randi Dorman, Warren Michaels, and Phil Lipman united to redevelop the site into residences: the Ice House Lofts. “Part of the allure of the large volume space was how peculiar it was to have this ice house in the middle of the desert,” Paulus said. “Our marketing slogan was, ‘Living in Tucson just got cooler.’”

? Paulus was tasked with preparing the sprawling cold storage spaces—measuring 400-by-80 feet with ceilings as high as 40 feet—for habitation. Balconies and sunshades were introduced to scale down the exterior, and the inside was sliced into 48 units that range from 621 to 2,344 square feet. A new triangular-shaped building added three more homes to the site.

? The Ice House Lofts are a model of sustainability. The foot-thick walls and energy-efficient windows block out the Sonoran Desert heat. Visual reminders of the ice plant are everywhere. “We strived to keep as much as possible—brick, concrete, hot-riveted steel trusses, Douglas fir wood decking—to retain the original feel of the structure,” he said. “Any materials that were pulled out were reused.” Some metal piping was reconfigured into bike racks. Still more was sunk into the ground to fence off the pool and hot tub. Ice-making machines were stationed in the public areas to serve as art pieces, and the property’s water tanks were left in place and repainted. Even old valves were used as gate handles. The contemporary materials that were added, such as exposed ducts and steel stairs and railings, play off the site’s industrial character.

? When the Ice House Lofts opened in summer 2005, units sold from $100,000 to nearly half a million dollars. Though each unit is unique, a 1,600-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms recently was available for $140,000.

? The Ice House Lofts demonstrate the stunning aesthetics possible when historical industrial spaces are adapted for residency. It also has proven to be comfortable during those intense Arizona summers. But, most importantly, the project has helped enliven a formerly run-down area, and that is very cool.
· Ice House Lofts [Rob Paulus Architecture]
· A 'Cooler' Edge to Tucson [NYT]