Mussa + Associates
Updated: Jan 24, 2018
Where Ancient Traditions Meet Modern Design
The Red Western Tower building (aka the Tower) in the Castle Rock Plaza once looked like all the neighboring structures. Although, with its red-tiled roof, the building continues to look like it belongs to the plaza “neighborhood” in the Village of Oak Creek, it stands apart as an elegant original, reimagined by its current owners, redesigned by Simoné Mussa of Mussa + Associates, and reborn through the skilled craftsmanship of Leake Construction.
Exterior changes have transformed the Tower’s appearance: The brick wainscoting and two exterior staircases were removed (creating a cleaner line), and the raw textured stucco, ubiquitous among other plaza buildings, has been replaced by a finer grain. Dark gray panel accents adorn the building’s facade and sides, along with steel flanges, prominent backlighting of custom-welded street numbers and logos, and a steel and glass entryway that all echo the strong contemporary design features of the interior. These changes have given the once southwestern-style structure an Asian look. “We wanted the exterior of the building to reflect what is going on inside,” says Mussa.
The Red Western Tower houses the Sedona College of International Management and several other organizations that are dedicated to finding, preserving, and translating ancient manuscripts into modern languages so people can learn from these books and enhance their personal and business lives. Concurrently, there is a strong emphasis on teaching Asian languages and on fostering smooth East-West business relationships and collaborations.
With such a strong international focus, the building’s owners envisioned a remodel that would appeal to visitors from all around the world and would honor the Asian traditions studied within. Mussa explains the design intent “The goal of the design was that each visitor should feel peaceful and happy wherever they are in the building”
A welcoming reception area
From the moment visitors step into the Tower’s lobby, they are welcomed into a relaxing environment of integrated textures, subdued lighting, and Zen-like furnishings. The reception area’s dominant feature is a graceful bronze of Guan Yin, the female embodiment of compassion and mercy venerated by both East Asian Buddhists and Chinese Taoists. Lighting, from above and below, gives Guan Yin a soft aura and glow. Behind her is a panel of rain-textured glass—beautiful and evocative on its own––over which a waterfall seemingly flows from the sky.
“We wanted the entrance area to be a transformational space so when people come in, they forget what is outside and they experience the beauty and calmness of a very clean and elegant detailed architectural space,” says Mussa.
Surrounding the Guan Yin waterfall are other elements of Feng Shui, a Chinese philosophical system that strives to harmonize people’s energies with spatial arrangements that are in balance with the natural world. The Tower includes all five Feng Shui elements (water, wood, earth, metal, and fire) in an elegantly executed design. The design features many Asian details, such as real shoji screens, bamboo-looking bathroom tiles and textured wallpaper, and cushion seats.
The Tower’s Feng Shui elements
In the Tower, the Feng Shui elements are often combined for stronger structural support and aesthetic effect for both daytime and nighttime viewing. Design features appear differently with the changing light. “All buildings have two natures: There is the aspect of daytime that you can see in the building before sunset, and, perhaps most importantly, is how the building feels when it is lit. The Red Western Tower building at night is so beautiful to walk into,” notes Christopher Leake.
The interior staircase, which replaced the exterior access to the second floor, has visual intrigue during the day, but at night resembles a sensuous work of art—light, wood, and steel come together in seamless harmony, where each element highlights the beauty of the other. Backlighting on solid cherry wood panels on the wall and ceiling creates a soothing allure. Steel handrails with custom-coiled silver cables add a feeling of solidity, depth, and shadow. Handcrafted, wide-plank oak flooring from old-growth East Coast trees connects the lower communal floor (which houses the lobby; a large, divisible classroom; an audiovisual studio for livestreaming and television and video production; two bathrooms; and a kitchenette) with upper administrative spaces, work and rest areas, and the scriptorium.
The scriptorium is the beating heart and fire element of the building. It also is the most peaceful room in the Tower with subtle natural lighting and an inspiring view of Bell Rock. Here, ancient texts, wrapped in the warm colors of the sun—in yellow, saffron, and orange-hued cloth—are housed around an open seating area where translators on cushions rediscover mysteries long lost to humanity.
Looking beneath the surface
Leake points out how careful layering throughout the building, a Mussa + Associates trademark, hides infrastructure and subtle lighting options that can highlight textures, such as the lobby’s stone walls. “Often the hidden things that lie beneath the surfaces, such as proper drainage pipes and structural steel, are critical to making sure the building lasts a long time with very little maintenance,” notes Leake. Mussa agrees: “Some people think that contemporary or modern design is simple because it doesn’t have many details. But I believe it is harder to build a clean modern design because there are so many layers underneath. People don’t usually realize this.”
Construction has to be well thought out right from the start, especially in a custom-designed building. “Part of the challenge during construction is that in order for it to look so polished and integrated, we have to carefully lay out every single sprinkler head, every single light before we get to finishing. . . so all the measurements are exactly the same all the way through. All of the lines have to read well. All the walls have to be perfectly straight,” says Leake. “It took us two months to finish the trim because our foreman Jim Nash made sure that every piece of wood fit perfectly.”
“Critical thinking in construction is huge; which is why Chris and I work so well together. Chris comes up with beautiful [out of the box] solutions. He is passionate about design. He wants to have things well built and also beautiful looking. You can ask his team to do whatever, and they can do it—from welding to flooring to structural engineering. Those guys have so much talent,' says Mussa.
Story written by Sylvia Somerville | Photos by Wib Middleton
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