Paul Mankins, FAIA, LEED AP, connected artistically with the owner of this Des Moines, Iowa, loft right from the start. In fact, his first thought about how to approach the long, narrow shell and its panoramic skyline views resonated perfectly with the owner's vision. Because they had very similar tastes, the design process moved quickly and smoothly. “We wanted to maintain the awe of having an 85-foot-long room but make individual spaces feel more personal,” Mankins says.

The client-architect symbiosis didn't end there. Mankins prefers to establish sequences of spaces that lead to a big reveal, so he was thrilled the owner “didn't want people knocked in the face with the view the minute they walked in the door.” A foyer with symmetrical openings on either side only hints at the vista that awaits. The entry vestibule anchors a string of private rooms along the interior axis of the apartment. A home office, master bath, and closet proceed from one side of the entry and a guest suite and walk-in pantry issue from the other.

The row of service spaces resolved another major concern of the client's. “He's shockingly fastidious,” says Mankins, who recounts with amazement that every time he stops by for a visit, the place looks exactly like it does in photographs. Not a bad trait in an oral surgeon. But, best of all, it freed the architect to adopt a more refined look for the apartment, rather than the ubiquitous “industrial loft” style with exposed mechanical systems. A dropped ceiling and thick walls enclose the service corridor and conceal unsightly necessities such as plumbing and ductwork. Doorless openings along the circulation spine maintain the connection among spaces and lend visual texture to the expansive living area.

Public spaces flow uninterrupted along the exterior wall, but Mankins plotted with project architect Brad Hartman, AIA, to temper the vastness without impeding the view. Mahogany cabinets designed by the team define a series of smaller subspaces—living, dining, and the media lounge. The casework generates intimate zones within the airy room and makes it easy for the owner to keep things tidy. The rich wood built-ins reappear in the master suite and kitchen as well. “We tried to reduce the design to a handful of materials and create a consistent way for detailing them,” Mankins explains.

Elements that had to remain exposed—speakers for the surround sound system and fire sprinklers—were incorporated gracefully into the scheme. Subwoofers are hidden in the ends of the cabinet dividers, and thin rectangular speakers hang discreetly on the wall columns between banks of windows. “The client is an audiophile,” Mankins says, “but it doesn't look like the house was built around a stereo.”

Nothing could be done to mask the required sprinkler system, so instead it's celebrated. The exposed pipe becomes a center line for two rows of translucent white plastic panels that hover just below the ceiling along the loft's core. The panels top off a list of gleaming finishes that may not be pristine enough for actual surgery, but they delight the meticulous surgeon who lives among them.

Farshid Assassi

project: Juris Loft, Des Moines, Iowa

architect: substance, Des Moines

general contractor: Ryan Companies US, West Des Moines, Iowa

structural engineer: JP-SE, Des Moines

mechanical engineer: Engineering Technologies, Inc., Omaha, Neb.

audiovisual consultant: Audio Labs, Des Moines

project size: 2,700 square fee

construction cost: $445 per square foot

photography: Farshid Assassi