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Red Mountain Campus Mesa Community College, SmithGroup, Saguaro Building, desert architecture, living laboratory, shade screen

The 42,870 sq ft community college facility provides space for both the life sciences and the performing arts with classrooms and a black box performance space downstairs, and faculty offices upstairs. At the entrance to the building, a cafe and lounge area welcomes students, faculty and visitors acting as an informal student union for the growing college. Large trellis surround the building to create shady protected zones for students to gather and meet. The performance hall is wrapped on the exterior with steel space frame covered in perforated steel decking to act as a shade screen. This allows air to freely move next to the building and protects the interior from solar heat gain.

The surrounding landscape is reflected in the building’s desert architecture, which makes use of nature-inspired materials, rusty steel and rock. Drought tolerant landscaping helps the building reduce water usage by 60%. The exterior also features a series of bat roosts on the south facade as well as peep windows from which to watch and study their activity. Mexican Free-tail bat colonies will be observed with cameras and studied by students and faculty. Additionally, the cafe space is surrounded by terrariums, immersing students into the plant and animal life of the Sonoran Desert, including snakes. The project was completed in 2009 and received its LEED Gold certification in 2010.

Images ©Liam Frederick courtesy of SmithGroup