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Defining the Great Desert City Part Three of Four

Defining the Great Desert City Part Three of Four

Recently Scott Jarson was asked to present as part of his involvement with the AIA Phoenix Metro Advisory Council, on exploring the concept of what makes up a great desert city. This week, azarchitecture will post a full version of this presentation as a four part series. We continue with Part Three:

Can we become THE Great Desert City? We seem to be following the same path that we always have.  Are there opportunities for us to change as a Community?  Yes, and we should begins with some basics:

First stop on the road to change? It’s time to eschew denial. We should embrace the fact that it’s hot as hell here…

The heat is more manageable than ever but we still for the most part act as if nothing needs to be altered to accommodate for it.  We used  to accommodate our climate here, from clothing, to trees and houses, we have simply forgotten to do it.  It’s irresponsible to ignore it.

What should we expect in the future from the Great Desert City?  What do people tell us that they want?  Here’s the list of priorities:

Location:  We should define a “new” Desert City within the boundaries of the current one.  An “Urban Core” to focus attention on.  This is where clients tell me they want to live, work and play.  A vibrant mix of Residential and Commercial.  In our practice, we have never before experienced such a strong demand and inquiry for an urban experience here.

Create Shade: shade, shade, shade, shade. Landscape and tree considerations should become a material to design with like anything else.  In-fill buildings themselves create shade. Take our Offices at Loloma 5 for example.  Our entry court plants suffered every summer from sun thanks to an open Southern Exposure.  Now with a building next to us, the courtyard thrives and our south rooms are cooler.  Civic and open spaces have to be a little less open to provide relief from the sun. The era of concrete pedestrian malls are over.

Create Appropriate Scale:  I love the strong horizontal line of the desert but we need to admit that Great Cities are not 18-24 feet high.   We should embrace height more than we are. Routinely, buildings should be four to six stories in the core.  We have elevator technology, so let’s use it.  People will accept multi levels provided they retain access to mobility.  This applies to commercial and residential, hopefully a mix of the two. But in-fill residential does not have to be solely multi-family.  Fill up some vacant lots that are already zoned and ready to build with new Single Family Homes where appropriate.

Water and Where To Waste it.  We waste so much water it’s abhorrent.  That’s an issue that we can confront.  And part of that, is to make the decision to re-allocate a portion of that waste to civic and shared water uses.  Water draws the eye in the desert.  It will draw people to a shared asset.  I’m okay with that.  Let’s design for it.  Let water use be a tool that get’s people out of the car and onto the sidewalk, into the park or as a transit destination. It’s a fair trade. Water can become a tool used to fill buildings in the Core.  For decades, Developers get away with lakes and golf courses built to sell suburban homes.  We should use waterworks to entice urban density.  It’s far less wasteful.  Consider Optima Camelview Village.  It remains a desirable building.  One strong reason?  It’s the shade, it’s the plants (Plants = Water), it’s the courtyard…

Re-introduce courtyard living. Under the Tuscan Sun:  Everyone wants a Tuscan Villa.  Okay, let’s give them some portion of one…courtyards not lawns.   A central courtyard creates it’s own shade.  It is the oasis within the oasis.  This goes for commercial design as well. We got away from this thinking…  It’s a valid solution for the Desert.