Arizona architect John Kane recently spoke to UNLV students, as part of the Klai Juba Lecture Series, about using collaborative design for creating authentic, integrated pedestrian experiences for urban desert environments. Kane is co-founder of Architekton, a Tempe-based award winning architecture practice, known for its thoughtful balance between daring and deference, simplicity and originality.
The firm is responsible for Maricopa County Community College’s $12.9 million Ironwood Hall in Chandler, Ariz., which embodies and exemplifies Architekton’s design approach. For example, the two-story 57,000-square-foot building has flexible interior spaces that facilitate future adaptation and evolution, as needed. Buildings aren’t stagnant dormant things, Kane believes, but rather living organisms that must respond to user and communal change over time.
Ironwood Hall also takes advantage of the desert climate with a central courtyard protected by a 250-foot-long shaded canopy that diffuses light, casting playful ever-changing shadows across surfaces for what Frank Lloyd Wright called “eye music.” Like all Architekton projects, the hall incorporates green building technologies that reduce heating and cooling costs while conserving water and energy.
“If we design it correctly, then we shouldn’t have to condition every space,” says Kane.
Aesthetically, the building has a clean direct form – expertly executed – bathed in native hues found in the Sonoran desert. The project physically and visually connects to its surroundings with a public artist-designed bridge linking to an adjacent existing building, enabling shared elevators and restroom, while a 16-foot south façade cantilever forms a shaded walkway to a west parking area.
“We want the building to have a dialogue with internal and external influences,” Kane says. “It should be informed by its program use but also by the surrounding cityscape.”
A reinforced street and pedestrian experience can draw external circulation indoors with engaging surfaces and semi-public, private spaces that produce a connected urban experience. Buildings integrated with people, neighborhoods and landscape form an intimate network that eventually lead to a great desert community. But it takes time.
“Great desert communities grow organically by increments over time.” Kane says. “I think Las Vegas can use a lot of the same strategies we employ in Arizona since our climate and topography are so similar.” CL