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How One Architectural Firm Is Shaping An Urban Oasis In Arizona

A photo of Marina Heights, a development along Arizona's Tempe Town Lake.

The desert community of Tempe, Arizona, 20 minutes outside of Phoenix, depends on water access to flourish. One of its most important sources is Tempe Town Lake, an urban waterfront fed by the Salt River.

DAVIS, an architectural, interior and urban design firm based in Phoenix, has been at the forefront of development around Tempe Town Lake for nearly three decades. 

“Since Centerpoint, our first mixed-use project back in the mid-’90s in the heart of downtown Tempe, we've taken an active role in the development around Tempe Town Lake,” DAVIS Principal Architect and Project Designer Richard Drinkwater said. “We want to create a unique dichotomy between the desert of Arizona, the lakefront of Tempe Town Lake and how the buildings reflect the surrounding environment.” 

Drinkwater walked Bisnow through some of the projects DAVIS has worked on that are transforming Tempe Town Lake and the surrounding areas.

Hayden Ferry Lakeside, Tempe’s First Major Development 

Hayden Ferry Lakeside is considered one of greater metro Phoenix’s most important business locations because it was the first major development along Tempe Town Lake that set the tone for future lakefront projects to follow, Drinkwater said. 

The master-planned mixed-use project features a nautical concept with boats at anchor, yachts, billowing sails and harbor motifs. Drinkwater said the wave-inspired shapes and cobalt blue glass give it an urban yet elegant feel. 

DAVIS Principal Architect Buck Yee said the city wanted to use Hayden Ferry Lakeside as a gateway to help define the Tempe skyline.  The contemporary development includes three separate buildings ranging from eight to 12 stories.

Marina Heights, One of Arizona’s Largest Office Developments

DAVIS also designed Marina Heights, a five-building mixed-use office and retail development along Tempe Town Lake. It was the largest development in Arizona history when it was constructed in 2013 and was completed quickly as a build-to-suit concept for State Farm Insurance, Yee said.

“Unlike Hayden Ferry, which was built in phases within 15 years, Marina Heights was created within four years, spanning 2M SF,” he said.

The biggest challenge was State Farm wanted all of its employees to have their own parking spaces, which would require a significant structure due to the number of workers, Yee said. 

Another challenge arose when geotechnical studies conducted ahead of the project showed that the foundation would only be a foot above the water table. State Farm was uncomfortable with the water level being that high, so DAVIS had to change its strategy, Drinkwater said. 

“We built podium office buildings on the east and west sides of the site, which kept two levels below grade instead of three from the initial plan to help keep the rising water table from entering the lowest basement level,” he said.

This parking garage set a precedent for parking arrangements in future projects around Tempe Town Lake, Drinkwater said. 

DAVIS utilized stainless steel and glass elements on the buildings’ facades to help create a floating illusion on the lakefront, he said.  

“We were able to give Marina Heights a more visually dynamic appeal that resembled its environment, rather than a typical big volume office campus sticking out like a sore thumb,” Drinkwater said. 

Marina Heights is also a transit-oriented development, where employees can have better campus-wide access to live, work and play, Yee said. 

The design planned for a modern streetcar station for easy access to Marina Heights from the light rail station on nearby Mill Avenue, its 20-acre plaza and Tempe Town Lake, he said. The light rail integration concept was also a big draw for DAVIS’s next project, 100 Mill.

100 Mill, A Link Between The Past And The Present

100 Mill is an 18-story, 287K SF podium office tower perpendicular to Rio Salado Parkway and on the busy Tempe corner of Rio Salado and Mill Avenue. The office tower's modern and sophisticated design reflects the project's thoughtfulness regarding climate change. The structure has been meticulously planned to capture the surrounding views of Tempe Beach Park, Tempe Town Lake and the nearby mountains.

The city of Tempe requested a pedestrian link from the nearby light rail station to Tempe Beach Park. DAVIS redirected the pedestrian traffic off busy Mill Avenue to a new pedestrian plaza. DAVIS also restored the historic Hayden House into a visitors' center, Yee said. 

777 Tower At Novus, A Space For Office Expansion At Arizona State University 

DAVIS also designed the 777 Tower at Novus, part of Arizona State University’s Novus Innovation Corridor in Tempe. The tower features office space, quality landscaping and public seating.

ASU started its private-public partnerships, or P3 program, when it was looking for outside developers to build commercial buildings, and DAVIS was integral in helping to craft its first one, Yee said.

“The 777 Tower was the first commercial building as part of ASU’s Novus Innovation Corridor,” Yee said. “When we got on board, there had to be a consensus between the city of Tempe and ASU, resulting in creating a joint review committee.” 

Yee said ASU was able to get guidelines from the committee and worked with the 777 Tower team’s master developer, Catellus, to help get things approved.  

DAVIS is currently designing South Pier, three multifamily high-rise towers at the south shore of Tempe Town Lake. The development will include a future entertainment phase featuring attractions, like a Ferris wheel, on the lake. The Tempe skyline is ever-changing with DAVIS at the forefront of the Tempe Town Lake experience, Yee said. 

Drinkwater said the goal for all of the DAVIS-designed buildings along Tempe Town Lake is to create a unique and cohesive design while also attracting more wealth to the city.

“With all of the buildings we helped develop on the lakefront, we aimed to produce an intentional design element that weaves them into each other,” he said. “Since Tempe Town Lake opened in 1999, we’ve been able to bring in $2B to the area while creating a timeless development that uniquely defines our city as it continues to evolve.” 

DAVIS collaborated with the following developers:

  • Hayden Ferry Lakeside – SunCor Development
  • Marina Heights – Sunbelt Holdings/Ryan Companies
  • 100 Mill – Hines/Cousins Properties 
  • 777 Tower at Novus – Developer, Ryan Companies/Master Planner, Catellus

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and DAVIS. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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