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design cues from the universe

Matt Klein

The native Arizona desert, with varied natural landscapes, is a real-life laboratory of contrast. The harsh daytime heat is followed by cool nights and the rich flora in the spring is draped across a rugged landscape of rock and sand. The colorful mountains contrast against the blue daytime sky. There is no shortage of dramatic and beautiful vistas. Throughout the years, we’ve been lucky to work on several projects in Arizona – one of which we’ll examine in this blog post.

We’d like to first start by paying our respects to and acknowledging the Tohono O’Odham Nation –the owners of the land and the project’s owners and operators. The Tohono O’Odham Nation are a federally recognized tribe that includes approximately 28,000 members who, together, occupy tribal lands in Southwestern Arizona. The Nation is the second largest reservation in Arizona in both population and geographical size, with a land base of 2.8 million acres, approximately the size of Connecticut. The origins of the Tohono O’Odham Nation is linked to their predecessors, the Hokoham, who settled along the Salt, Gila and Santa Cruz Rivers (south of our project site) – and were master dwellers of the desert, creating sophisticated canal systems to irrigate crops. Following their ancestral heritage, the Tohono O’Odham Nation became scientists of their environment, using (to this day) meteorological principles to establish planting, harvest, and ceremonial cycles, while developing complex water storage and delivery systems. They continue to live this proud heritage today as the 21st century Tohono O’Odham. The Nation currently operates multiple entertainment venues in Southwestern Arizona, in addition to the Tohono O’Odham Economic Development Authority and the Nation’s Gaming Enterprise.

Inspired by the Arizonan desert canvas and by the Tohono O’Odham Nation’s history and culture, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Resort makes its home on cherished land, located in Glendale, Arizona – a short 25 minutes from Phoenix. TBG provided full landscape architecture design services for the entire resort, but we’d like to examine the intricacies of one design element specifically: the entry.

The entry feature of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Resort is like none other that we have designed. Serving as the focal point for guests upon arrival, the entry fountain is a one-of-a-kind piece that embodies the surrounding landscape. The fountain’s design intent was based on the concept of “reflected sky.” When coming up with this concept, we took cues from the desert night sky, filled with stars and sweeping color of distant galaxies. The dark color of the fountain reflects the daytime sky, while at night the “floating” barrel cactus mimic stars in the night sky. Barrel cactus are important to the O’Odham, appearing on the Great Seal of the Nation – and providing various uses to the Nation in forms of cooking and using for building materials.

Although the design was conceived by TBG, it would not have been possible without a partnership with Aqua Design International to execute the engineering. The vanishing edge that creates the illusion of floating barrel cacti is accomplished by a double-walled stainless steel can design that allows the fountain water to recirculate independently while keeping the barrel cactus separated. Each of the 127 cans are mounted on threaded studs, allowing them to be adjusted to the exacting tolerances necessary to create the tension edge effect and balance the recirculation flow volumes necessary to maintain water quality. Great designs are not without challenges – both anticipated and unanticipated – and lessons learned along the way. During installation and the initial startup of the fountain, there were many contractors making adjustments around and within the fountain. This ultimately created small waves that overtopped the edges of the cans and introduced chlorinated water into the inner barrel cactus pots. This unfortunately burned the bases of several that eventually required replacement.

As designers, we empathetically try to balance form and function to elevate the experience for all – and working together with the Tohono O’Odham Nation to provide a truly unique design solution was incredibly rewarding.

Information on the history of Tohono O’Odham Nation sourced from the Nation’s website.