Phoenix Art Museum, Phase 1

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Date of Completion: 1996
Program: Museum Addition and Renovation
Size: 50,000 SF New Construction; 90,000 SF Renovation
Awards: 1998 Arizona Masonry Guild's Excellence Award, 1998 Gold Trowel Award, 1997 Arizona AIA Design Award
Photographer: TWBTA/Michael Moran

The Phoenix Art Museum is a composite of several buildings constructed over a period of fifty years.  Our project included the renovation and an addition to the existing civic art museum.

Sited on Central Avenue, a long, flat thoroughfare which runs the full length of the city, the addition finds its presence from a sense of grounding. It is a low building with great density and a sense of weight.  Like the mountains, the building feels as if it had risen from the earth.

Two large volumes containing the new exhibition spaces form the new entry.  Walking toward the entry, visitors pass under a terne-coated stainless steel bridge, which connects the two wings at the second floor. The museumgoer enters a foyer which serves as a lobby, information center and connector between the old and new parts of the museum.  The addition contains a 350-seat lecture hall and two large flexible exhibition spaces, a changing exhibits gallery and a “Great Hall” which will host gala events as well as art exhibitions.  Two monumental stairs, one of limestone and the other of cast-in-place concrete, give a sense of dignity and ceremony to visitors.  Inclined walks installed with art connect levels and enhance the experience of the museum by foot, while serving as handicapped access and emergency exits.

The new addition is constructed of pre-cast concrete panels with a grey green calcite aggregate.  The color recalls the pale green bark of Palo Verde trees and the sagebrush of the desert.  The large yet inexpensive panels form a solid exterior that shields the museum from the desert sun. The façade creates a canvas for the moving shadows of the palms and Palo Verde trees that are planted along Central Avenue.  

Other materials used in the project are simple and common.  Blackened concrete, maple, and a varied limestone, are used as flooring.  Tectum, a wood fiber product generally found in gyms, is sprayed with metallic paint and used for ceilings and walls.  Glass and sandblasted stainless steel are used for railings.

This project was funded by a Phoenix City bond, took eight years to complete and weathered three changes in mayors and city governments.  The building, constructed for $100 per square foot, reflects the direct and maverick personality of this desert city.