colab studio, llc
Studio Bio

coLAB studio is a collaborative laboratory, bringing together a wide variety of professionals in a cooperative work environment.

Founded in 1999 by Matthew Salenger and Maria Salenger, the studio began by blending art and architectural concepts into thought provoking constructions. Since that time, the studio has expanded into a dynamic arrangement of diversified professionals with a common goal of creating and enabling thoughtful, creative, and sustainable work. 

Our network of knowledgeable people include poets, general contractors, interior designers, artists, and architects, as well as experts in wellness, biomimicry, development, integral design, and advanced building technologies. We all share a desire to foster projects providing the highest value to clients, sites, and the environment.

Since coLAB's inception, the studio has been recognized with over 35 major design and environmental awards as well as scores of publications locally, nationally, and internationally. The founders of coLAB have spoken at several major universities, museums, galleries, and other institutions across the nation and around the world. (Please email us for a Resume.)

We are also a proud member of Local First Arizona, since 2009.

How we elicit change to the built environment:

coLAB studio was formed in 1999 to work towards positive change in the built and natural environment of Phoenix. Since that time the studio has worked towards social change through citizen advocacy, research, sustainable design, and thought provoking experiences by seeking:

1. Community interaction and activation forming a path to environmental self-determination.

2. Ways to understand the choices people make about their environments through direct communication with various communities.

3. A better culture of ecologic and economic sustainability to provide communities with continual growth and greater social equity.

4. Stimulating environments promoting social and spiritual engagement through interactive art, architecture, and planning so people will enjoy and maintain their communities.

Who we are


We believe the best work grows out of intense collaboration.

coLAB staff includes:

Matthew Salenger, AIA, AA dipl (Hons)

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Matthew is an artist, architect, and co-founder/managing partner of coLAB studio. He was raised on the island of Maui, finished his education in Britain, and has (mostly) lived in Arizona since 1993. Matthew studied figure painting and architecture for 10 years, and graduated with honors from the Architectural Association of London in 1999. He co-founded coLAB studio after graduating, and has since constructed many stimulating environments in both architecture and public art. Deeply driven to find real-world and repeatable solutions for regenerative design, Matthew studies Biophilic Design, Integral Theory, and Sociology. In addition to pushing the boundaries of progressive construction, his volunteer work is dedicated to improving social and economic conditions, including his co-founding of the Urban Choices Group in 2012 and the Citizens for a Vibrant Apache Corridor group in 2014, both dedicated to improving thriving downtown areas in Arizona. Matthew is a member of the AIA, and member/ambassador of the ILFI. He also co-chairs the Arizona Collaborative for the Living Building Challenge, helping to educate and facilitate LBC project teams.

Why I do what I do...

"I was raised on the colorful slopes of Maui's north shore in the 1970s and 80s, where the landscapes and buildings were, at the time, mostly beautiful, historic, and unique. That is often no longer the case. Similarly, in my 23+ years of living in Phoenix, I have seen sprawl perpetuate many negative issues (economic, aesthetic, social, and health related). Because of the positive experiences I had as a young person, I feel a responsibility to make positive impacts on all the communities I work with."

Maria Salenger, AIA

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Maria earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Arizona (1994) and Master of Fine Art at the University College London (1999). Upon returning to Phoenix, Maria simultaneously co-founded the art and architectural collective, colab studio and began practice with the architectural firm of Jones Studio. With both organizations, Maria explores the integration of art, architecture, urbanism and nature in many forms of public art and institutional projects. As co-founder of the Arizona Women’s Principles Group, Maria works to provide a forum to strengthen diverse voices, ideas, and actions in design practice, making an impact to better the built environment.

Eric Watson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

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As an early adopter of building information modeling and environmental analysis tools, Eric strives to evolve the traditional role of the architect.  He believes in the value of close collaboration between architect, contractor, and client.  Eric is an expert in the craft of architecture at all scales and is passionate about the process of ‘making’.  He has worked in architecture for over 17 years and has over 500,000 square feet of award winning architecture design and construction experience.  Eric received his Masters of Architecture Degree and Bachelor of Environmental Design from Montana State University in 2001. In his free time, Eric is an avid hiker and outdoorsman, as well as an active member of the AIA and USGBC.

Why I do what I do...

"Coming from Big Sky Country I have a deep love for the natural environment. We were always taught to leave nature as we found it, or better. I strive to be a steward and instill these principals in the design of the built environment.  In my years as an architect in the Phoenix area I have worked to create a more sustainable city, from light rail design to urban infill.  I continue to focus on the development of a sustainable city in transformation, and work to preserve that which surrounds it.”


coLAB network staff includes:

Sonja Bochart, IIDA, LEED AP BD&C

Sonja’s background in creating meaningful and transformational spaces can be found in her 20 year of experience as a designer; shaping spaces for connection, healing and overall well-being. Her interior design portfolio includes award-winning educational, community, international, cultural, residential and corporate spaces. An avid speaker, instructor, leader and writer, she promotes thoughtfulness and leading-edge innovations of holistic design with a focus on human health and wellness. Sonja’s designs and workshops integrate leading edge principles of biophilia, mindfulness, evidence based design, storytelling and sustainability to create holistic places of wellness, inspiration and transformation.

Jason Griffiths

Jason Griffiths grew up in Africa and rural England. He graduated as an architect with a distinction from the Bartlett in 1994 and began a career that mixed practice with teaching and competition work. He specializes in design build projects that combine fabrication and social engagement with graduate and undergraduate teaching. His work investigates the relationship between popular culture and architecture often through digital fabrication techniques. Jason is currently studying the potentials of building large and tall buildings using heavy-timber construction, which has the potential to drastically reduce a building’s carbon footprint while improving a building’s universal appeal through the warmth of wood.


Ron Phares

Ron began exploring contextual poetry in 2004. The interface of subject, form, place, and language continue to inspire him. Ron holds Masters degrees in International Management (Thunderbird School of Global Management) and Divinity (Austin Seminary) as well as a B.A. in Religious Studies from Arizona State University's Barrett Honors College. A native of Phoenix, he has lived abroad in China, Belgium, France, and Texas. Ron currently lives in Tucson with his wife, Katie, and their twin girls, where he serves as the minister the Mountain Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation. 

Why I do what I do:

"I love crafting with words because careful use of words compels us to refine and reflect and bring more quality to life. Life opens up to time, or maybe the other way around, in the writing or comprehending of a good poem."


James Trahan, AIA

James is a licensed architect in Arizona and has practiced in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois. He holds a National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Certificate as well as residential and commercial general contracting licenses in Arizona. James is a past recipient of the AIA's Young Architect Award, as well as past president of both the AIA Rio Salado Chapter and AIA Arizona. He has received 15 Presidential Commendations for his involvement in the American Institute of Architects and is involved in the local community. He is a board member of the Rio Salado Architecture Foundation. He has designed and managed educational, religious, recreational, retail, and residential works and has built work in 18 states.


Austin Trautman, LEED AP

Austin founded vali homes, llc development company and sustainability consultancy to provide metro-Phoenix with affordable infill housing focused on contemporary design with high energy efficiency. Austin wants to live in a world where people flock to increasingly rich, comfortable and fulfilling urban centers.  As the founder of Vali Homes and general instigator he’s been applauded by a wide variety of viewpoints including Inhabitat, Residential Architect, Arizona Horizon, American Institute of Architects, Builder Magazine and the front page of the Arizona Republic. 

Austin believes the best solutions are always a combination of relentless scientific improvement that is deeply rooted in what the natural world has already figured out.  He draws on widely varied experiences combined with specific knowledge to make sure his next collaboration is always his best to come. 

When he’s not driving progress towards a more sustainable future, you can find him exploring Arizona and beyond by foot, bike or other alternative transportation in an effort to better understand this captivating planet.


Joe Zazzera, Biomimicry Professional, LEED AP ID+C, GRP, Provisional WELL AP

He has been working with nature in the built environment for 35 years. As the founding principal of Plant Solutions Inc., his company designs, installs, and maintains living walls, indoor atriums, and corporate nature programs. His mission is to create working environments which connect people with nature, enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, manage stress, and improve overall well-being.

Joe has a Masters of Science degree in Biomimicry from Arizona State University where he trained under Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister of Biomimicry 3.8. Joe is a LEED Accredited Professional, an Accredited Green Roof Professional, and a provisional WELL Accredited Professional. Joe has been awarded the “Master of the Southwest” designation for his work and artistry in the area of living walls.


Other collaborators have included:

Karl Eicher, Brett Marinoff, Sherwood Wang, Rachel Marie Frail, Sean Hartigan, Annette Park, Kate Horvat, Allie Riley, Kameron Selby, Brandy Burdick, Katie Gates, Aaron Forbes, Maria Batista, and Maria Talavera, and Abel Clutter.