The landscape contiguous to Estrella Mountain Community College’s new Library and Conference Center is designed to reinforce the fabric of the campus by continuing a series of linked garden spaces. The building design concept was conceived as a pavilion within the landscaped campus core and as a backdrop for the garden spaces around it. Permeability and visual openness of the ground floor are key elements of the architecture as the gardens become a new campus centerpiece and central core for the campus.
Sustainability plays a key role in this landscape. Passive water harvesting increases infiltration, filters rainwater, and supplements irrigation. The land formations act as a sculptural expression of water movement; landforms of positive and negative relief orchestrate water flow from high points to low points of collection and conveyance, and serve to screen and enclose more intimate areas. Plant species within the low areas, or bio-swales, flourish in occasional excess water, while the plant species on the berms depend on a drier microclimate. Natural steel cisterns designed by the landscape architect collect and release roof rainwater through a series of spillways into the landscape in a celebratory way. Textured steel grating bridge the swales.
The low maintenance landscape appears deceivingly complex and wild; however, it consists of all low-water use, climate appropriate plantings with drip irrigation. The budget was extremely modest. Nearly all of the plant species do not require any maintenance other than strategic pruning of the Palo Brea Parkinsonia praecox and Mesquite Prosopis hybrid groves.
The building facade provides both a contrasting texture and permanent vine trellis on which Yellow Orchid Vine Mascagnia macroptera shades the building. A grove of narrow, light skinned Palo Blanco Acacia willardiana, contrasted against the rich dark building skin, creates a feeling of enclosure before opening up to the main entrance.
The outdoor break-out areas immediately adjacent to the library feature a variety of seating experiences for both individual and collaborative work, all encompassed within a rich garden experience. The Mesquite grove terrace at the conferencing center entrance provides deeply shaded spill-out space for the meeting rooms, acting as a gentle buffer to the parking and drop off area. The south side of the building is flanked by a grove of Palo Brea, decomposed garden paths and masses of colorful plantings.
The grand lawn is located centrally, both within the overall campus fabric as well as to the library, featuring a stage for graduation ceremonies as well as a social gathering space and commons used daily. This space allows for informal play and larger events such as outdoor movies, festivals and group exercise. Special care was given to size the turf area appropriately so that no more is provided than necessary. Water conveyed through the landscape ends at the lawn, supplementing the irrigation. Bermed planters on the outer edges of the grand lawn enfold the narrow garden paths of compacted decomposed granite before opening up to the green space.
The landscape, with its series of unique gardens linked by bio-swales, serves as a direct reflection on the Estrella Mountain Community College’s aim to create a sense of place that expresses the historical and cultural values of the surrounding communities, while providing students with meaningful and engaging learning environments. The success of the landscape reveals how even with the most modest of budgets, if coupled with a critical understanding of microclimate, plants, materials and detail, the campus environment can be greatly enhanced to be engaged in and enjoyed by all.
Estrella Hall at Estrella Mountain Community College
Estrella Mountain Community College, Avondale, AZ 85392
Design Firm | Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture
Client | Maricopa County Community College District
Architect | Richard + Bauer, Phoenix, AZ
Contractor | Okland Construction, Phoenix, AZ
Photography and Text Credits | All photos and text courtesy of Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture