The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve / Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio

© Chris Brown

The design of the Gateway has been developed in an effort to minimize impact on the native Sonoran Desert environment while celebrating a sense of entry and passage into the 36,400 acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Preservation of native desert habitat is one of the most important environmental issues with continued growth and expansion of the Phoenix Metro area. Preserving nearby open space, and providing easy access and connectivity were guiding principles in the design and development of the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. From the Gateway, hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians can access a network of over 45 miles of trails within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The Gateway is the location individuals regardless of their physical condition or hiking capability can go to explore and experience the magic of the Sonoran Desert.

Architect: Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio
Location: 18333 N. Thompson Peak Pkwy, , Arizona, USA
Project Team: Philip Weddle (AIA, LEED AP, Principal Architect), Brandon Gowen, (LEED AP, Project Manager)
General Contractor: Valley Rain Construction Corporation (Project GC), The Construction Zone (Building GC)
Landscape Architect: JJR | Floor
Structural Engineer: Bakkum Noelke Consulting Structural Engineers
Electrical Engineer: Woodward Engineering
Mechanical Engineer: Associated Mechanical Engineers
Civil Engineer: Kland Engineering
Project Area: 6,033 sqf
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Bill Timmerman, Chris Brown

© Bill Timmerman

Volunteers worked in cooperation with the construction team to salvage well over 1,500 cacti for revegetation of the Gateway site. Habitat restoration included collecting, storing and replacing the natural desert surface with plant litter that contains rich organic matter and native seeds. In all, the salvage program included over 4,200 hours of volunteer service from the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, Corporate Volunteer programs and three Eagle Scout projects.

© Bill Timmerman

The Gateway site is designed so that the entry drive, parking and buildings integrate with the natural drainage patterns of the site. Retaining the pattern of native arroyos throughout the site minimizes the necessary grading disturbances and allows for the Trailhead to be developed with minimal habitat impact. Parking areas and driveways are constructed with stabilized decomposed granite paving, which acts to retain the natural desert character and minimizing drainage run off. The rammed earth walls of the buildings utilize only native earth materials and allow the structures to blend seamlessly into the landscape. The roof of the Gateway is covered in native desert rock cobble allowing it to disappear into the desert when viewed from the mountain trails to the east.

© Bill Timmerman

The Gateway demonstrates numerous examples of resource conservation. Renewable energy produced by the 18 kilowatt solar system generate as much solar electricity as the Gateway consumes leading to a ‘net zero’ energy consumption for the Trailhead. Water conservation is another key principle in the design. Optimum rainwater harvesting occurs by collecting approximately 50,000 gallons of rainwater annually that lands on the roof and is stored in an underground cistern, providing 100% of the water needed for landscape irrigation. Water efficient plumbing features including dual flush toilets, waterless urinals, and efficient sinks save an additional 250,000 gallons annually. Construction recycling efforts led to approximately 90% of the construction waste being redirected into local recycling programs. In addition the building contains more than 20% recycled materials, minimizing the impact to the environment caused by mining raw material resources and fabricating them into construction material. The Gateway earned US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification.

© Bill Timmerman

The Gateway contains a range of educational and interpretive amenities including an outdoor amphitheater, a ¾-mile fully accessible interpretive trail, a 3-D terrain model of the McDowell Mountains, and interpretive signage. Amenities are designed to enhance the visitor’s awareness of and appreciation for the Sonoran Desert environment. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s Field Institute, in partnership with the City of Scottsdale, conducts educational presentations at the amphitheater to instill a better understanding among participants of the Sonoran Desert and the natural and cultural history of the McDowell Mountains. The amphitheater also serves as a field classroom with lectures and exhibits for school children. The Gateway also hosts a series of formalized hike experiences. The Conservancy runs a series of scheduled interpretative hikes led by trained hike leaders that take participants on one of the nearby trails in the Preserve to learn about and experience the wonder of the surrounding natural environment.

© Bill Timmerman

The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve illustrates how innovative design, careful construction, and a community committed to habitat preservation and sustainability can create a major trailhead while respecting the environment.

© Bill Timmerman
© Bill Timmerman

View this project in Google Maps

* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve / Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio" 10 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 Mar 2015. <>