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Meet the Architect

Chris Baribeau of modus studio is the architect for ECO.  After studying architecture at the University of Arkansas, he worked for the acclaimed architecture firm Marlon Blackwell Architect.  In 2008, he and Josh Siebert founded modus studio.  They were joined this year by Jason Wright.  With the help of designers David McElyea, Austin Chatelain and Chris Lankford, the firm has designed environmentally sensitive projects from homes and schools to an airport terminal and an orphanage in Africa.  We asked Chris to tell us a little more about modus and the vision for ECO.

What sets modus studio apart from other architecture firms?

First and foremost, our energy and passion for good design.  We practice from a very strong conviction that too much of the built environment is developed without thought and without meaning. We believe our process of thoughtfully embracing a project and providing responsive design, both conceptually and practically, is the only way to operate as designers and thinkers in the modern world.  We are not afraid to engage new design opportunities and experiences, and to execute architecture in a serious and creative way.  To practice sustainable architecture is to simply design well and with an open mind…and we always seek to work with like-minded professionals that support this mode.

Projects like this one don’t come around every day.  ECO is a green renovation of an existing 1970’s apartment complex. How did you approach this unique project?

Well, sometimes you just get lucky.  The bones of this project are about as good as one can hope.  The palette of materials is simple and structurally sound and lends itself perfectly to modern and sustainable design as a rehabilitation/renovation project.  Our clients are brilliant for recognizing these qualities.

As with any project, we first made it a point to understand our site.  This includes having a keen understanding of the location, topography, and social and aesthetic context.  In the Ozarks and specifically Fayetteville, we have the privilege of working with topography and section.  Working on a hillside provides challenges in terms of hydrology and access, but simultaneously affords us great views and naturally occurring spatial devices.  The trick is to capitalize on these native aspects of the site and existing buildings to create properly scaled spaces that are both intimate and expansive to support both private functions and public gatherings.  We have used the topography and developed several different courtyard spaces as well as terraces and patios to extract this public/private potential from the given layout of the four main buildings.  All of this design work has been in close conjunction with our landscape designer, Stuart Fulbright.

Next, we evaluated many options, working closely with our MEP [Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing] and LEED consultants, HP Engineering and Viridian, respectively.  Finding the right materials and the right systems to increase energy conservation, indoor air quality, and overall health and comfort was paramount to the success of this project. We are proud to say that the renovated units are dramatically more sustainable in all ways that are important to daily life.

ECO Modern Flats is a collection of firsts—what elements of the project are you most excited about?

Luckily your question allows for there to be multiple elements and I do not have to pick just one…

Affordable, smart, modern living:  those words could sum it up for me, but to get specific I love the fact that these apartments will be the first to provide what I believe so many people want to see happen: modern, non-traditional aesthetics that are obtainable.

Also…roof decks!  People want them and deserve them.  Our site provides great views to the U of A, Dickson, Downtown Square and the beautiful mountains to the south.  No other place provides this affordably.

Solar hot water:  I have to say, after all of our research and discussion with consultants and contractors, it is just this simple…solar hot water collectors are the smartest, most economical and efficient sustainable system available that adequately meets the daily needs of people and has some fantastic tax credits to boot.  it just makes sense to use the energy of the sun to heat our water, especially in our climate, and definitely when you know that a typical hot water heater has ‘got your back’ on cloudy days.

Actual community: I see how other places are marketed for apartment living in Fayetteville, but a true sense of a local, sustainable community rarely exists.  If it does exist, it is because over a long period of time a like-minded collection of people have banded together.  ECO Modern Flats purposefully provides an armature for sustainable living from the get-go.

Healthy and configurable space: people crave open living spaces but we all need a sense of privacy.  The material selections and ability to easily manipulate the space within each unit with sliding doors, carefully designed cabinetry and storage, and furnished accessories is what really sets this place apart from the cookie-cutter apartment.  People deserve better…it’s where you live for crying out loud!

What is your favorite space (or, what will be your favorite space) at ECO?

The eco courtyard is going to be incredible.  As an architect maybe I am expected to say some interior space, but I love the outdoors as much as I love good interior space and the eco courtyard will have a nice spatial mix of both enclosure and expansion combined with lush garden areas, the pool, and very hip places to hang out.  The life of the community will be cultivated in the eco courtyard.

One last question, Chris: what’s one step that you personally have taken in the past year to leave a lighter environmental footprint?

I am a hardcore recycler, I turn the water off while brushing my teeth, and I cringe when a piece of paper is only partially-used…but doesn’t everyone?

Honestly, I feel my biggest step in the last year has been to embrace the education and professional experience with the sustainable ideologues we have encountered in the ECO Modern Flats project.  When you find yourself surrounded by like-minded, energetic people (especially the clients!) with good ideas, your own creative tendencies are expanded, you pay attention, you log your thoughts, and you find ways to push yourself into learning and implementing more sustainable design aspects.  This has been an important step in my role as an architect in the modern world.