Fabric canopies standing approximately 50 feet tall stretch along the Shadow Walk plaza. Providing shade along the walkways during the day, at night the canopies are illuminated with 48W fluorescent uplights and 24W compact fluorescent downlights. Each canopy mast has three uplight and three downlight fixtures.
Timothy Hursley Fabric canopies standing approximately 50 feet tall stretch along the Shadow Walk plaza. Providing shade along the walkways during the day, at night the canopies are illuminated with 48W fluorescent uplights and 24W compact fluorescent downlights. Each canopy mast has three uplight and three downlight fixtures.
A planter filled with cactuses sits adjacent to a wall of colored glass on the Shadow Walk outside the Mesa Arts Center. At night, the walls of these smaller, more intimate garden spaces throughout the project are illuminated by low-voltage halogen floodlights, which light the surrounding areas and create shadows against the panes of glass.
Timothy Hursley A planter filled with cactuses sits adjacent to a wall of colored glass on the Shadow Walk outside the Mesa Arts Center. At night, the walls of these smaller, more intimate garden spaces throughout the project are illuminated by low-voltage halogen floodlights, which light the surrounding areas and create shadows against the panes of glass.

CHALLENGE: Creating An “Oasis”—An Outdoor Civic Space for Gathering or Hosting Events—While Meeting the Demands of the Region'S Extreme Climate Range

SOLUTION The Shadow Walk, a series of landscaped spaces organized along a major pedestrian spine in front of the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Ariz., is designed to be a gathering place in an often inhospitable climate. Portland, Ore.–based BOORA Architects and landscape architect Martha Schwartz were tasked with creating a welcoming outdoor space that serves many functions. The region's climate extremes—from warm days and cool evenings in the winter to intense heat in the summer—added to the project's complexity, as the linear park is intended to engage its patrons regardless of the time of day or year. The architecture and landscape contribute to the end result, providing a cool, shady environment during the day while animating the area at night.

The 210,000-square-foot arts center incorporates four theaters, contemporary art galleries, and an arts education facility with 14 studios for performing and visual artists. “When you combine all of these elements into a single complex, you get the synergy of all those aspects of the arts interacting with each other,” says BOORA project design lead Michael Tingley. His team created numerous accessible areas that offer different views of the Shadow Walk itself and its events.

Running perpendicular to the north-south movement along the plaza are tensile fabric canopies, strung on poles about 50 feet above the ground. During the day, the canopies provide shade at the building's entry points and for people moving along the Shadow Walk's pathways. At night, the fabric is uplit with 48W fluorescents and downlit with 24W compact fluorescents, so it appears as a “beacon on the skyline and helps signify and mark the building entry,” Tingley explains.

The art center's galleries are tucked below grade, with windows opening into a sunken courtyard and translucent-glass skylights that punctuate the Shadow Walk. At night, LED strips at 7.5W per linear foot illuminate the perimeter of each box. The LEDs are programmable with the ability to create 600-plus color combinations. A series of intimate gardens are scattered throughout the landscape characterized by raised or sunken grass areas, and planters filled with cactuses sit adjacent to walls of colored glass. The walls are illuminated by low-voltage halogen floodlights, resulting in a “shadow pattern of the silhouette of the cactus and the people occupying those spaces against the glass panes,” Tingley says. “It's a brilliant punctuation of moments that you can see from a distance as you're walking through the Shadow Walk.”

Along the eastern part of the promenade is a continuous water feature called an arroyo, the Spanish word for “stream.” The idea is drawn from water channels in the desert. The system was developed so that the basin fills with water, which is then discharged on the north end and flows the entire length of the 300-foot-long channel. “The basin kind of dries out and the whole process can reoccur,” Tingley notes, adding that the arroyo, lined with lava stone blocks, is “such a favored element on the site that [the arts center] rarely turns it off.” Ambient light from the arroyo's surrounding spaces and buildings provides sufficient illumination.

To attract visitors at all hours, shadows and light play a large role in animating the outdoor area. By using elements such as the glass wall, fabric canopies, and frosted glass boxes around the skylights, Schwartz and the BOORA team successfully created a space that brings the artistic expression from inside the arts center to the exterior, resulting in an engaging oasis amid the city's bustling downtown.

Project Shadow Walk, Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, Ariz.
Design Team BOORA Architects, Portland, Ore. (design architect); DWL Architects + Planners, Phoenix (executive architect); Martha Schwartz, Cambridge, Mass. (landscape architect); Auerbach Glasow French, San Francisco (lighting consultant)
Photographer Timothy Hursley, Little Rock, Ark.
Project Cost $70 million
Project Size 210,000 square feet
Manufacturers Bega, ETC, Hydrel, Insight Lighting, Kim Lighting, Lumière, Shaper Lighting