Previously Published in Texas Architect Magazine, September / October 2011
Article by Christina Noble, AIA, LEED AP
Architecture by Lake | Flato (Design Architect) & RSP Architects (Architect of Record)
When building in the desert, landscape and climate dominate the discussion. This is the case for the Arizona State University Polytechnic Academic buildings by Lake | Flato Architects. Weathered steel screens, climbing vines, and progressive courtyards create visual and experiential layers that respond to and reflect the desert’s colors, textures and unique environment. Each of these elements tempers the desert sun, allowing “light in, but sheltered and shaded,” comments juror James Russell, FAIA.
In the first transitional layer, the buildings unfold as a series of interconnected courtyards that transition visitors and students between the harsh outdoor heat and the cooled building interior. Lush vegetation is fed by water bubblers that become an event when irrigation water overflows terraced rock gardens, creating welcoming gathering spaces that calm and cool. Vines climb the building’s metal screens as landscape cloaks the architecture. Although the vines are more assertive than originally intended, Andrew Herdeg, AIA, principal in charge of the project, comments that this is a positive and welcome result.
“Most of the school year, Arizona has a great climate. We asked, ‘How can we leverage that to create a sense of connectivity and community?”— Andrew Herdeg, AIA
The buildings themselves also contribute to a shaded environment through their dense “urbanism in which the elements of the building, the vertical circulation elements, or at least the stairways and balconies, project out from the buildings,” appreciates James Russell, FAIA. Lake | Flato envisioned a space where students were not confined to the traditional academic double-loaded corridor. Instead, they created a series of outdoor spaces where students would enjoy their time studying beyond the classroom walls. Circulation is pulled into a three-story exterior atrium shaded by perforated metal panels and cooled by oversized fans. Increased academic community will be encouraged through the atrium’s interconnection of balconies and stairs that invite students to interact and converse between classes. In addition, classrooms are designed to expand into the courtyards through oversized folding glass doors. Engineering students will be able to display their metalworking projects in the courtyard for passing-by dance students to appreciate, and perhaps discuss. As Andrew Herdeg, AIA, states, “Most of the school year, Arizona has a great climate. We asked, ‘How can we leverage that to create a sense of connectivity and community?’”
All of this adds up to a story that is about more than reacting to the desert sun, but also about living and creating active social spaces outdoors despite, or perhaps because of, the unique desert setting. The Polytechnic campus, which is still in its developing stages as a new satellite campus, offers a unique opportunity to define ASU’s vision as the “New American University.” The new academic buildings set the stage for a university that encourages trans-disciplinary collaboration among students within an exciting atmosphere that is richly connected to its environment.If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy:
“Forward 111: Landscape”
“Interview: Janet Echelman”
“Interview: Höweler + Yoon”