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Merit Award - DESIGN

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Arizona Canal Demonstration Project Sunnyslope Community
Phoenix, AZ

M. Paul Friedberg - Landscape Architecture; Jackie Ferrara - Artist

M. Paul Friedberg, FASLA
Principal, M. Paul Friedberg and Partners
41 E. 11th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tel. 212-477-6366;
Fax 212-477-6548

Project Purpose

The earliest canals in Phoenix and the surrounding Salt River Valley were built by the Hohokam Indians between 100 B.C. and 1450 A.D. Delivering water to villages and fields as far as 16 miles from their Salt River source, the Hohokam's more than 300 miles of canals constituted the most sophisticated irrigation system in pre-Columbian North America. These ancient canals were the forerunners of the 181-mile network that brings water to Phoenix and its neighboring cities today. No one knows why the Hohokam left the area or where they went.

In addition to supplying much of the city's water, the canals also provide strong open space links between neighborhoods, cities and towns throughout the region. The Sunnyslope Canal Demonstration Project is Phoenix's first effort to exemplify the expanding urban role of the canal corridors as unique outdoor spaces for educational, recreational and cultural experiences.

Winners of an idea competition to develop 1.5 miles of canal banks in the Sunnyslope neighborhood, the team presented a concept that honored and expressed the desert character of this unique landscape. Paradoxically, the last remaining desert in the city of Phoenix are the banks of the Arizona Canal. The underlying philosophy supporting the design of the demonstration project was the preservation of this desert character while making the banks available for recreational use.

This place is rich with unexpressed natural phenomena: the heat and shadows of the Arizona sun; the color and texture of natural materials; the indigenous drought tolerant plantings; the lazy waters of the canal. As the angles of the sun change over the course of the day, the site is transformed. Color, reflection, heat, and shadow all are participants in the canal's daily evolving drama. The concept, drawn from the existing arid environment and the wishes of the community, uses local sandstone, water from the canal, and planting to restructure the canal bank into two levels and create a series of subtle non-invasive rooms.

Promenade-Bike Path: A 15-foot wide promenade alongside the canal edge was lowered, bringing the pedestrian closer to the water. The excavation material placed next to the path created the upper level, a continuous 18-inch high berm that separates the pedestrian from the cyclist. Drought resistant trees compatible in form and character with the local landscape were planted on the berm.

A sequence of five outdoor rooms at intervals of approximately 500 to 700 were carved into the berm. Each room reveals and illuminates one or more of the environmental characteristics that contribute to the uniqueness of the place. The range of materials is spare and simple. It is limited to the use of cut or fractured local sandstone, water and grasses. The color palette, with the exception of the sundial, is subtle and concentrated on desert shades of tan. As people stroll along the canal they encounter a grass room, a map room, a circle room, a time room, and a water room.

Grass Room: A rectangular space is outlined on three sides by a stone seating wall. This is a place for the visitor to sit and rest. A planting bed of tall exotic desert grass creates a spatial frame around the sitting area, thus focusing the visitors view toward the top of the grass and the canal.

The grass is an expressive plant that alters in color and appearance as it goes through the natural seasonal growing cycle.

Map Room: A massive 4-foot thick stone slab approximately 4-feet-by-10-feet is flanked by two stone seat walls. Inscribed in the surface of the stone slab is an ancient Hohokam tribe drawing of the 2000 year old canal system. Water is periodically applied to the map and remains in the grooves after the feed shuts off. Time passes, the water evaporates, and the grooves fill up again.

Circle Room: Reminiscent of the fudian kiva, is a circular stepped form is embedded in the berm 18 inches below the promenade grade. A rectangular bed of grass surrounds the room. Sitting in the room, the visitor is entirely enclosed and sequestered by the grass curtain, and sees the horizon over a sea of grass. Four surrounding trees shade the room.

Time Room: A tilted semi-circular sundial of intricately patterned red, sand and black stones is defined by an 18" high stone seat wall with an opening in the center. Through the opening three steps rise to a stone platform. Standing on the platform the viewer's shadow acts as the dial of the sun clock.

Water Room: A recessed rectangle is accessed from the promenade by three steps or a ramp. Adjacent to the path a long narrow water trough is cut into an 18-inch stone wall. The water from the trough glazes the surface of the wall and falls to a shallow pool below the floor of stepping stones. The sky is reflected in the water visible through the open grid of joints between the stones. Water spills over the wall onto the floor and then evaporates. The room is cooler than the surrounding area. An environmental microcosm has been created.

Role of the Design Collaboration

The resulting efforts of this design collaboration demonstrate the value of a seamless relationship between artist and landscape architect. A honing process occurs which encourages the best in each individual to emerge. A combined intellect, aesthetic, and sensibility begins to operate. Each discipline brought its unique sensibility to the process culminating in a richer and more interesting design. It is arguable whether the results could have been as compelling had this project been designed by one or the other alone. It would be difficult to separate the contribution of either. A third member of the collaboration was the client. They made their contribution through sensitively discriminating what would be appropriate for the canal.

Special Factors and Significance

The creation of rooms that do not intrude, yet express the subtle underlying natural character of this unique 'Place" was special. The design was about time; time as history, time as reflected by the sun; time as experienced through evaporation of water; time as represented through the birth and rebirth of the grasses. It was about the use of natural phenomena and the cooling effects of evaporation to alter climate. It was the preservation and illumination of what was existing and good. It is difficult to separate those special factors from what is significant. The public perception of the results was that artists and professionals could listen and enlighten. And that seeing through the eyes of the artist and the landscape architect can result in work that will enrich the community.

2001 Award Winners
Press Release
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