A look at Phoenix and Scottsdale’s organic approach to architecture
The colorful hues and exotic plants of the Sonoran Desert in Phoenix and Scottsdale have long inspired the impulse to design.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright first experienced this in 1927 when he visited the area as a consulting architect on the Arizona Biltmore. Wright was known for using the natural elements of his surroundings to inspire what he dubbed “organic architecture,” meant to unite humankind and the environment. “Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain,” he said.
Ten years later, Wright purchased 640 acres of land in the then-outskirts of Scottsdale, where he designed Taliesin West—a personal residence and architecture school—throughout the years of 1937–59. His apprentices and their apprentices followed, turning the Greater Phoenix-Scottsdale area into an architect’s stomping ground. Today, Wright’s legacy lives on in several buildings and meeting properties that draw on the evocative Arizona landscape.
In addition to these various architectural tributes to nature, Phoenix and Scottsdale are making green building a priority when it comes to new developments in the area. In 2009, Mayor Phil Gordon announced a 17-point plan called Green Phoenix, created to make Phoenix the first carbon-neutral city in the United States. And Scottsdale is also making its mark as the nation’s first city with a goal that all new municipal buildings be LEED Gold certified.
So, open up your eyes to design and observe the many architectural components of the buildings in both Phoenix and Scottsdale. They just might connect you to the area’s many natural offerings—and enhance your meeting and event experience in the mean time.
Greater Phoenix has more than 57,000 hotel rooms, and nearly 3,000 are within walking distance of the convention center. With funding in place to back the Green Phoenix plan, these accommodations are likely to get greener in the coming years.
In April 2009, the plan was endorsed by the City Council Economy, Commerce and Sustainability Subcommittee, with the request that the city staff focus on six areas, two of which included greening homes and businesses and making public buildings LEED retrofitted. As of December 2010, the city was awarded $429 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and effective July 1, Phoenix started observing its new green building code. The code allows residential and commercial projects, including renovations, to be certified with a green standard without requiring certification fees. Needless to say, green is top of mind when it comes to properties and venues in the area.
Major Meeting Venues
The Phoenix Convention Center is a prime example. In 2008, the center underwent a $600 million expansion that earned its West Building a LEED Silver certification, and the North Building was built to LEED standards. The 900,000-square-foot center has a photovoltaic solar energy plant—the largest installed on any downtown Phoenix building—which uses solar power to convert sunlight into renewable energy. Other green highlights include the 21,000 KI Daylight chairs made from recycled car batteries and seat belts, and the staff’s use of 95% environmentally safe and biodegradable cleaning supplies.
Opened in 2008, the 1,000-room Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel stands adjacent to the convention center, as the largest hotel in Arizona. With more than 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, it also boasts a long list of green initiatives—including high-efficiency lighting, occupancy sensors and organic waste composting—which helped earn it a Certified Green Hotel designation from the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association. Nearby, The Westin Phoenix Downtown opened in March with 242 guest rooms, 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and several environmental practices to boot, including farm-to-table cuisine in its on-site Province restaurant.
For architecture with a history, groups should look no further than the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel—the very property that beckoned Frank Lloyd Wright to Arizona’s painted deserts when he served as the consulting architect on the project. Built in 1929 by brothers Albert, Charles and Warren McArthur (Albert studied under Wright in Chicago), it remains one of the few existing hotels in the world to benefit from Wright’s influence. The creation of the Biltmore Block, a concrete block used in the construction of the property that features a geometric pattern representing a palm tree, is said to be the most obvious connection between the mentor and his student. The 738-room property provides a spot for groups to meet in its 100,000 sq. ft. of function space.
The Wigwam is another property rooted in authentic southwestern history. It was built in 1918 as lodging for suppliers at the 16,000-acre cotton ranch owned by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (as it turns out, cotton was used to help prolong the life of tires). In 1929, the lodge was expanded to accommodate 24 guests, and now it features 331 guest rooms and 43,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. In January 2011, a $7 million renovation of the property was completed and included a new entrance, designed to recall its original look back in 1929.
Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel
The Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix changed the silhouette of the skyline when it was built in 1995 by Will Bruder, who studied under Paolo Soleri (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright). The five-story building is designed to resemble Monument Valley, with a copper mesa split by a stainless steel canyon. The theme of light and illusion is incorporated throughout the building, with nine skylights in the Crystal Canyon atrium, 300-foot-long skylights on the building’s east and west walls and round skylights, made to evoke images of flames at noon during the summer solstice. Groups can draw inspiration from the building, and from the thousands of books it houses, by convening in one of its four meeting rooms that can accommodate groups of 26–250 people.
This fall, 42 solar wings will be installed in the north parking lot of the library with city funding from the ARRA. The $1.3 million project is slated for completion by Nov. 4, and when finished, the solar collectors will be able to provide 148 kilowatts of power to the library.
The Rio Salado Audubon Center also pays homage to the city’s environment. Two miles outside of downtown, groups of up to 200 can meet amid the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, a 600-acre park that provides a habitat for more than 200 species of birds and other animals. Designed by Weddle Gilmore Architects, the center is LEED Platinum certified and features a photovoltaic system, waste-water recycling system, low-water use fixtures and more.
Another noteworthy off-site attraction is The Wrigley Mansion. Built between 1929 and 1931, the mansion was the largest private residence in Arizona until the early 1960s. William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum tycoon and then-owner of the Chicago Cubs, built it for his wife, Ada, as a 50th wedding anniversary present. Featuring Spanish Colonial Revival, California Monterey and Mediterranean architecture, the property provides enough event space for up to 1,500 guests in its 13 rooms. Laura Scheller, CMP, president and CEO of Solmonte Hospitality, plans several events a year in the area and says the mansion has “that historic and beautiful view; it’s one of those unique places where you can have a dinner or reception and which allows you to get away from the meeting.”
Groups can also explore some of the oldest remnants of architecture in Phoenix at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, which is home to 1,500-year-old Hohokam village ruins. The museum has an outdoor trail lined with house replicas, native plants and a platform mound and ball-court ruin, and it features three galleries that showcase artifacts found on the site.
Phoenix Convention Center
In the past 50 years or so, Scottsdale has grown from 2,000 residents to 230,179—and it’s continuing to develop and expand. “Scottsdale offers the energy of a young city on the move and the charm and hospitality of days gone by,” says Tatum Luoma, director of public relations at the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Opened last December, the Paolo Soleri-designed Soleri Bridge and Plaza now connects the Scottsdale waterfront with the city’s downtown, changing the look and feel of the area. Soleri still lives and works at Cosanti, a site on the outskirts of the city that he designed almost 55 years ago.
Scottsdale has more than 13,700 hotel rooms for planners to choose from, and a lot of new building plans on the horizon. The city’s Commercial Green Building Program adopted the International Green Construction Code as its main component. The new code will make it easier for developers of commercial housing to become green certified and will encourage uniformity and consistency in how the buildings are built. While these green-building programs are exciting, there are plenty of places that already uphold green initiatives.
Major Meeting Venues
The 493-room Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch is one such resort. Known as one of the first resorts in the United States to create a job solely focused on environmental management, this property is dedicated to making meetings green—it even has a Meet and Be Green Commitment that planners can sign—in its 70,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space. The resort’s Spa Avania, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s youngest apprentice, Vernon Swaback, boasts a sustainable design with natural light throughout, and its holistic approach encourages the five senses to align in a perfect state, which the staff calls “avania.”
Located on 1,300 acres in the Sonoran desert in Carefree, The Boulders, A Waldorf Astoria Resort immerses visitors in nature. Ancient 12 million-year-old boulders provide the backdrop for adobe buildings scattered throughout the property, which features 160 casitas and 61 villas and haciendas, as well as more than 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Green perks: The Latilla Restaurant has an organic menu that features ingredients from the organic garden on-site (for more on farm-to-table cuisine, read our feature story on pg. 46). The Five-Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess features 649 guest rooms and 72,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Fairmont’s Eco-Meet program is a perfect way to stay green at your next meeting too, with four key components: eco-accommodation, eco-cuisine, eco-service and eco-programming.
Built in 1956 just five years after the city was established, Hotel Valley Ho was designed by architect Edward L. Varney, another Wright protégé. His minimalist approach combined modern and southwestern influences into the hotel’s décor. In 2005, the property was restored to its original hip retro feel, and by not tearing the building down, the hotel owners saved 20,000 tons of landfill waste. The hotel features 194 guest rooms, more than 10,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space and 15,000 sq. ft. outdoors, and it is certified green by the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association.
The Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, designed by Wright student Hiram Hudson Benedict in the 1950s, is set high above the city. The 53-acre resort features 105 casitas and seven private estate homes from which guests can take in the surrounding views, most notably the desert’s famous pink and purple sunsets. The resort’s spa and meditation garden invite relaxation.
Scottsdale’s many cultural influences can be seen in the architectural components of the properties as well. For instance, The Phoenician, located on 250 acres at the base of Camelback Mountain, combines European elements with southwestern colors. It features 643 guest rooms and 160,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including the $40 million, 45,000-square-foot Camelback Ballroom. The 497-room Talking Stick Resort was opened by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and draws from that rich tribal influence. In fact, the resort houses an on-site art gallery with pieces by artists of Native American descent, including works custom-created for the place. For meetings, the property features 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, located in Chandler outside Phoenix, is owned by the Gila River Indian Community. Set on a preserve where wild horses run free, the 242-room hotel features a 100,000-square-foot casino and 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 8,000-square-foot Acacia ballroom. The nearby 500-room Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa also represents the community’s heritage and culture in the architecture and layout of the property, with decorative tiles and petroglyph-ingrained furniture. With more than 180,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space, groups can meet in a variety of rooms, including three ballrooms that display murals, representing the Pima and Maricopa tribes. The on-site Kai Restaurant features a distinct menu that incorporates ingredients farmed by the surrounding Native American community and reflects its history and spirit.
Rio Salado Audubon Center
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is one of the most prominent tributes to architecture in the area. His personal winter home, studio and architectural campus is situated in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. Public day and evening guided tours are available and can be custom-designed for groups of 15 or more. Visitors will learn about Wright’s life and see how easily he unified indoor and outdoor spaces, with terraces, gardens and walkways mixed throughout the contemporary design of the estate. Groups of 20–300 can meet in several areas within the property grounds.
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is a stellar piece of art in itself. Designed by Will Bruder (who was also the lead architect of the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix), the building’s reflective exterior works as a canvas for the ever-changing desert skies. Groups of up to 300 can gather in the museum’s lobby, where five galleries feature changing contemporary art.
Get to the root of what inspired several of the architects in the area by visiting Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The 17,000 acres of multi-hued landscape, with cacti and various wildlife, include the McDowell Mountains. With various trails to take, Solmonte Hospitality’s Scheller recommends getting up higher to see the views: “Looking out over the city is a great experience; it’s a beautiful place to see, and it’s quiet and serene.”
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) has nonstop flights to more than 100 cities and is served by 23 airlines, including US Airways and Southwest.