For Teresa Rosano, RA, LEED AP, and Luis Ibarra, designing a home is about more than just eye-catching aesthetics. The couple strives to produce spaces that actually improve their occupants' quality of life. And apparently, they're so good at achieving both lofty goals, they inspire missionary zeal in others—among them, former clients Desi and Jerry Winter. Moved by the house the firm created for them, the couple offered to support the architects' own dream projects. Page Repp Jr., a trained architect and builder in Tucson, also joined in the venture and thus, Dreamspace, the design/build/development company, was launched. The ambitious name spells out the company's two-pronged goal: to make thoughtfully designed and well-built urban infill houses and, ultimately, to improve the built and natural environment of their hometown. “We like doing custom work, but those sites are out in the desert, and all of us believe in living close to work, shopping, and restaurants,” Rosano explains.

Barrio Blue Moon is the lucky in-town neighborhood where Dreamspace became a reality. Repp already had his home and office there, and Ibarra and Rosano mortgaged their own house to buy a 10,000-square-foot lot nearby. Zoning for a lot of that size would have permitted three attached houses, but only if accompanied by a parking lot big enough for a fire truck to negotiate. Instead, the architects tried to show the planning board how three single-family homes would also fit comfortably on the site and eliminate the required truck turnaround and additional paved surface.

Alas, Dreamspace lost this first battle for zoning progress, an important company objective. But the partners regrouped with another plan: two single-family detached houses that mirror each other. The buildings' contemporary material palette takes cues from commercial structures nearby and naturally accommodates the team's eco-conscious specs, which included insulated concrete block and recycled steel. In both units, single-story living spaces face the street to blend with modest neighboring houses. Two-story bedroom towers step back on the lot for privacy and preservation of scale. Colorful front doors and inviting entry gardens greet the street.

Creating structures with strong physical ties to their surroundings is at the heart of the Dreamspace partners' mission to help improve their city, one good house at a time. Says Rosano, “We know there's a market for what we're doing and so little supply.”

project: The Double, Tucson, Ariz.
architect: Ibarra Rosano Design Architects, Tucson
developer: Dreamspace, Tucson
general contractor: Repp Design + Construction, Tucson
project size: 1,770 square feet per unit
site size: 0.23 acre
construction cost: $100 per square foot
sales price: Approximately $330,000 per unit
units in project: 2
photography: Bill Timmerman

the art of the deal

what was the hardest sacrifice you had to make to do this project?

“From a financial perspective, refinancing our own house for the initial investment into Dreamspace was a sacrifice. Architecturally speaking, we miss the lasting relationships we've formed with our clients while bonding over the course of their projects.”

what was the toughest part of putting the deal together?

“By far the most difficult aspect has been dealing with Development Services, the city's permitting department. It has been discouraging to realize that the city gives only lip service to the concept of urban infill and renewal. On this project we also discovered that the zoning code encourages rental- over owner-occupied dwellings, even in a disproportionately rental neighborhood. Because of a new moratorium on demolition, if we were to do this project today, that boarded-up shack would have continued facilitating illegal activity for another six to 12 months while we navigated through the red tape.”

what delights you most about the project?

“Having replaced an unsafe, unsightly, and derelict shack with two dwellings for people who actively participate positively in the neighborhood is exciting. The ability to show our community what's possible is also a bonus.”

would you develop again?

“Yes, because we strongly believe in creating thoughtful architecture within the city. Our custom clientele is attracted to building in the desert, but we prefer to leave the land for the wildlife. We must do so by example. The problem is that Tucson's [bureaucracy] is stifling growth and redevelopment in the urban core. Every house that can be built within the existing urban fabric is a house that doesn't have to displace virgin desert.”

what was the most valuable lesson you learned?

“Architects are the ones who are trained to shape cities and towns through the buildings they create. But it's not until after planners have laid down the arbitrary, the banks have defined the compulsory, and the businesspeople have established profitability, that architects are finally brought in to put the pieces together the best they can. The realization that architects have a greater responsibility is what has gotten us into the race to make a difference.”