Photo by Bill Timmerman Photography
Mesa Community College-Saguaro Building
Photo by Bill Timmerman Photography
Mesa Community College-Saguaro Building

Best Higher Education Project: Mesa Community College-Saguaro Building 

This science and creative arts building embodies the move toward collaboration in education, with students and educators working in partnership with each other. The structure provides diverse opportunities for learning as well as a place for community engagement. A black box theater welcomes guests onto campus for special performances and becomes a beacon at night at the desert's edge, with nearby Red Mountain in the background.

The instructional and theater areas are each represented in the design by two large volumes that are clad in red masonry and corten steel, with a central connection made between the two volumes by a glass "gasket" that aids with natural way-finding and signifies the central gathering space. And with the addition of a much-needed cafe, the building has become a central hub for the whole campus.

Educational opportunities are naturally integrated into the design, with multiple terrariums showcasing Sonoran Desert reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Custom-designed bat roosts on the south facade were carefully crafted to attract Mexican free-tailed bats for observation, tracking and analysis.

"Because the campus and faculty asked the Saguaro Building to do so many things, from setting a new sustainability standard for the campus, to becoming a community destination for science and the arts, to being home to Sonoran Desert creatures and critters, it was destined to be 'one of a kind' from the start," says Mark Kranz, design principal with the Phoenix office of SmithGroup.

The uniqueness of the project was due to the diverse list of goals from students and faculty, who wanted a sustainable and immersive learning experience, he says. "When is the last time you've heard of bat roosts, a snake wrangling pit and wildlife terrariums on a community college campus?" he asks.

"Our biggest lesson was to embrace a spirit of experimentation as a way of getting to unexpected results," Kranz says. "If you shut the door on what initially seems like a crazy idea, you might be missing an opportunity for innovation."

Submitted by: SmithGroup

Key Players

Owner:Maricopa County Community College District, Tempe, Ariz.

Contractor: Johnson Carlier, Tempe, Ariz.

Construction Manager: Johnson Carlier, Tempe, Ariz.

Lead Design/MEP Engineer: SmithGroup, Phoenix

Civil Engineer: Dibble Consulting Engineers, Phoenix

Structural Engineer: Paragon Structural Design, Phoenix

Landscape Architect: JJR/Floor, Phoenix

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