A JOURNAL OF BIG IDEAS TO ADVANCE OUR CITY
PHX AIR /
PHX AIR is a floating monument, crowning and highlighting the big sky for which our state is known. During a starry night in June, PHX AIR is seen high in the sky, softly glowing, with the air temperature and moon phase displayed at the bottom of each face. A warm autumn day, PHX AIR’s aluminum fabric skin becomes almost invisible against its blue sky backdrop. On a windy summer afternoon, PHX AIR emerges only nine feet from it’s recessed void in the park. People come to see the object’s skin up close and observe their own blurred reflections and those of the park’s trees in it’s surface. On New Years, the whole city is united, watching the countdown cycle past each face as she rises high above the city’s skyline. During a concert in March, the cube floats only fifty feet off the ground. It’s massive underbelly a silver ceiling; the park is dramatically transformed into a urban-scale room. Using conventional helium blimp technology and engineering affords the monument a scale and visual impact associated with projects of much larger budgets. PHX AIR is a monument with enough gravity to pull people from other states, and even other countries to visit our city. Did I mention you can talk a walk, two thousand feet above the city?
Phoenix Waterway is a multi-phased, city wide proposal that seeks to transform our canal system into a greenbelt of activity and connectivity'. Light-beacons illuminate paths and highlight the Waterway's trajectory, making it visible throughout the city. The project would most suitably originate in the Arcadia area, where an active canal culture is already thriving, and would eventually extend to other parts of the city. Public art pieces would be concentrated near intersections and other hubs. Landscape and hardscape phases would introduce low water use plants and trees, sitting benches, bike racks and other urban furniture, followed by pocket parks, amphitheaters, exercise circuits, food truck hookups, urban gardens, pedestrian bridges, and other public amenities. Solar shades at larger public hubs would serve to power light-beacons and other path lighting.
For years I have affectionately referred to the building on the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Roosevelt as 'the ugliest building in Phoenix'. And while it is probably not THE ugliest building we have, it sits at what I regard as the northern gateway to our downtown core, an intersection you would hope would meet patrons with a greater sense of threshold - so the pressure is on. Instead it’s a limp, dirty sock in your face as you speed towards our burgeoning metropolis - dirt fields, mirrored windows, dust colored split-faced block and a beige electrical transformer, precisely where a stunning public art piece with some stature and glow should be. Change is in the works however. A seven-story commercial/residential building called Roosevelt Point recently started construction on the south side of the street, there is buzz about a shipping container project on the northeast corner, and a streetscape revitalization project that will improve our sidewalks, street lights, and landscape from 3rd Street to 3rd Avenue along Roosevelt is presently under review.
Part of my business in the architecture and design world is visualization - to envision what should be, and communicate that vision. I Dream of Phoenix is a journal of big ideas to improve our city, and while the building at 3rd Street and Roosevelt is not a game changer in itself, it’s latent potential is representative of a great many buildings that make up our urban fabric. I want to show that it, and many buildings like it,can be given new life, radically transformed by low cost, high impact moves – what I call ‘appliqué’. The proposed design depicted in these images transforms the three story 1970’s office building into a 12 unit condo project with prime views into downtown Phoenix. A thin, single-story commercial band wrapping the site’s perimeter serves to create a defined and active street edge, and to provide a semi-public pocket park at the heart of the project. A pay-n-take Laundromat, and small restaurant/beer garden are shown occupying the commercial band.
To make the point again, I’ve included a second example of transformative, low-cost, high-impact moves, proposed for a 1960’s building at 12th street and Highland. The project is part of a larger adaptive reuse initiative called Link, by Chris Nieto of Nieto Development, and is a good example of latent beauty brought to the surface by deletion. Our study revealed a beautiful midcentury precast concrete roof structure beneath layers of mansard roof, terra cotta tile, signage and stucco. A second design iteration shows a perforated metal skirt providing shade and privacy for the suites.
A few years ago a friend and I almost started a beer garden / restaurant that was to be called Avion Cafe, just north of downtown Phoenix. A simple kit of parts consisting of box trees, a vintage Avion trailer food truck, outdoor furniture and a mobile bathroom facility. The project very unfortunately became entangled in an unyielding web of sticky red tape, and we ended up selling the venture to someone with more ‘pioneer’ in their blood, but an idea was hatched.
Phoenix Orchard Project is an idea that brings undeveloped parcels in Phoenix full circle, back to their agricultural past. We used to have citrus groves and broccoli fields in Phoenix – everywhere. They were scraped, then developed, then scraped again. POP is a proposal to bring the green back to the urban core, specifically to lots whose owners are long term hold-outs - property owners waiting to sell for high-rise prices. POP is a means to employ stagnant land in the interim, with a non-scaring, air quality boosting, heat island effect reducing, beautifying kit of parts, consisting primarily of box trees, inventory, from existing nurseries, but also sometimes food trucks and water features and outdoor movie screens, giant outdoor chess boards and playgrounds, and urban gardens. What if property taxes for vacant land owners in central city areas were increased with time to discourage urban stagnation, and at the same time fund something like the city-greening POP initiative? These aren’t city parks with endless swaths of green grass, but something that I think is much more environmentally defensible.
The site shown here is at 9th Street and Roosevelt in Garfield Historic District – a project proposed by ASU’s Desert Initiative Director Greg Esser to expand Garfield Historic District’s “Phoenix Hostel” with ancillary vintage trailer ‘rooms' tucked into a small, mobile forest of 24” box-trees and a food truck.
MetaUrban was coined as part of my graduate thesis at Harvard in 2002, to describe a typology of architecture designed to ‘fill in the gap’ between the urban and the suburban. These realms often meet abruptly and awkwardly, or remain separated by a no-man’s-land of un-development. Phoenix, especially in 2002, was an easy study in this oil and water phenomena. Our urban core was, and still is, surrounded by a surprising number of undeveloped dirt lots and blighted suburban communities. The Metaurban might be described as mixed-use typology that is urban in scale and suburban in spirit. It takes the diagram of small town America with it’s bank, bakery, church and courthouse at the center, surrounded by parks, surrounded by a community of houses, and folds it vertically. The thesis went something like this:
01 The dominant form of housing in our 20th century American city is the suburban single family detached home.
02 The conception of home is distinct from housing by means of unique, subjective yet tangible sentiments transferred to its inhabitants, such as feelings of ownership, individuality, belonging, purpose, and history.
03 These sentiments, which are inherent to the suburban single family detach home, render it superior to any other typology of housing in the eye of the consumer. This accounts for its prevailing propagation.
04 While these sentiments can be ascribed to physical characteristics and associations found in the typology, the sentiments are not contingent on the composite physical configuration of the suburban single family detached home.
05 Examination of these sentiments and physical characteristics show that the suburban single family detached home is rooted in essentially rural ideologies, hinged on the idea of living in a realm perpetually just outside the city. This image of home has not deviated from its small town and even rural origins, despite changes in our settlement patterns.
THESIS: Home and city are not mutually exclusive as our history of architecture and urban planning would indicate. The unique sentiments of 'home' can be extended to a housing typology which is sited in the city, and not in an auxiliary realm like the suburbs. If the suburbs have historically offered a retreat from the city, this typology, without forfeiting the fundamental sentiments of home, offers a retreat in the city.