Central Arizona College is betting on sustainable construction and higher education to bring the community of Maricopa, a poster child of the housing crash, back to its feet. The university hired SmithGroupJJR to design and build a stunning new college campus that boasts a modern appearance and facilities, but uses traditional and eco-friendly materials that tie the campus to its landscape’s history. In addition to celebrating the local heritage and vernacular, the new campus takes an ecologically sensitive approach to the desert landscape by reintroducing valuable habitat, increasing biodiversity, reducing erosion, and responsibly managing stormwater runoff.
Spanning 720,000 square feet, the first phase of Central Arizona College’s Maricopa Campus promotes cross-disciplinary learning with a small collection of buildings—a student services building, learning center, instructional building, and central plant—strategically placed to promote transparency and energy efficiency. The masterplan was designed with future development in mind. The contemporary shed-like structures are constructed from low-maintenance Corten steel and rammed earth for a beautiful dusty red appearance that matches the desert environment.
“The main campus entry acts as a beacon for the community, promoting education and community based activities,” write the architects. “A new campus language is born out of its unique desert context, a model for the campus of the future.” The interiors feature unpainted structural steel and galvanized acoustical decking. Natural light floods the buildings through large glazed sections, north-facing clerestory glazing, and large light scoops. Deep overhangs and a continuous shaded arcade on the south side protect students from the harsh sun. The site’s stormwater channels and pedestrian circulation draws inspiration from the desert’s dry streambeds.