The new Tempe Center for the Arts, designed by Tempe Arizona's Architekton is a 90,000 sf arts center designed to support community performing and visual artists. Under the protective roof, individually expressed venues consist of a 600 seat proscenium theater, a 200 seat studio theater, a 3,500 sf gallery and a multi-purpose lakeside room. Each venue opens up to a central "city room" with dramatic views to the North. Unlike most theaters, this lobby is open to the public without a ticket and becomes a popular gathering place that brings art and community together while enhancing the Tempe landscape, promoting positive quality of life issues related to sustainability, recreation and culture.
What was once a 33 foot deep landfill cris-crossed with towering high voltage power transmission lines has been thoughtfully transformed into a park masterpiece and cultural arts center that will enrich the quality of life for Valley residents and businesses for decades. The landfill was carefully screened of deleterious materials and re-engineered for used as the building foundation. The 230 kva transmission lines that were once 125 feet in the air over this site were buried out of sight for a half of a mile. Cues were taken from the ancient Ho-Ho-Kam civilization irrigation canals that covered this specific site to layout the land uses creating a wonderful building, park and parking environment. All of which is place atop the levee that protects the city from catastrophic flooding.
A variety of special zones were created from contemplative to large gathering areas, all designed to frame the tremendous views from this site and all accented with visual art. At the entrance, environmental designer Ned Kahn uses 8,000 embedded marbles and tiny mirrors to create a shimmery sunlit effect at the Center’s marquee. He echoes this shimmering effect on the west wall of the Lakeside room where a massive array of mirrors capture and digitize the available light reflecting off of the Center’s expansive negative edge pool.
Great care was taken to ensure that the Center presents a new sculptural form from every angle near, far and from above giving the region an iconic and identifiable form. The building uses the travel of our sun reflecting off its many facets to transforms itself every minute of the day and every day of the year. The materials and overall shape were chosen to engage the building with its environment (concrete, sandstone, copper, and native river rock). Look closely and you can almost see the similarities to nearby Haydon Butte in shape and texture. Our scarce rainfall is celebrated with a monumental water spout on the east end of the building that thrills passers by during rainstorms.
The Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) is an excellent example of regional architecture that responds to the unique Arizona desert climate. The building is sited so it can open its main public gathering spaces to the north. All openings are triple glazed and deeply recessed or protected by extensive building elements. The base walls are three feet thick providing an excellent thermal mass protecting the interior spaces. TCA also pays tribute to earlier Arizona traditions, especially those of Native Americans and the geometry of stealth fighter jets.
The massive circular wall protects the spaces within from the harsh natural (climate) and man-made (sound and vibration) elements creating a communal area (lobby) to mirror the layout of pueblo villages to the north of the city. The carpet designed, by Hopi artist Ramona Sakiestewa, and accents of copper–a symbol of the state’s mining history–appear throughout the Center adding excitement to the theater experience. Even the bathroom tiles are intended to be an interpretation of Native American jewelry. Outside, the building’s design picks up the rugged forms of Arizona’s landscape. The swooping, angular steel and copper roof is an architectural nod to nearby Hayden Butte, and the buttes in Monument Valley, in northern Arizona and southern Utah.
The site offers significant challenges to the performing and visual arts. The site lies directly under the flight path into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; light and heavy trains traverse the Lake on an elevated trestle directly across the water; a ten-lane freeway is located directly across the water. Combined, these challenges assault the site with sound and vibration demanding a response that prevents infiltration to the performing and visual arts spaces. The design solution utilizes a building within a building strategy to block sound from the critical spaces. The outer building is defined by the thick concrete walls, concrete roof planes and triple glazing to provide the first line of defense while the 10” thick walls and roofs of the two theaters and gallery provide a second. The result is an exceptional acoustical environment for the arts.
Construction of the TCA and adjacent Art Park required clearing 24 acres of land, undergrounding power lines and relocating a nine-foot diameter, primary storm drain. Additionally, nearly 150,000 cubic yards of landfill material was extracted and cleaned with nearly two-thirds reused as suitable fill. The result is an oasis in the desert that offers residents and visitors respite from urban life among natural plants and trees.
More than nine community groups call the TCA home, bringing an array of diverse dance, music and theatre opportunities to the community. Additionally, numerous touring groups bring shows to the Center. Visual art experiences add to the diversity of the Center, as well. Through the Gallery at TCA’s education program, teachers are provided with the tools to help elementary and secondary students learn more about visual art and the architecture and history of their communities. Specific lesson plans focus on TCA’s architecture and public art, educating students on the connection between the pieces and the heritage of the desert.