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The Phoenix History Museum is a pilot project in an ambitious revitalization program for downtown Phoenix. The capital of a state famous for its natural beauty, Phoenix is set between mountains and wild, open land. The museum plan integrates the city with its spectacular surroundings by turning the requirement for a large parking lot into an opportunity to bring nature and open public space to the city center. The museum and the 800-car parking lot, which also serves an adjacent science museum and a museum of historic houses, are set within a sloping structure beneath a new public park. Structural elements are shared beneath this slope by the museum and garage, helping to keep costs within a very limited budget. Rising to a height of fifty feet, the earth-covered ramp shields from view an existing convention center directly behind the site from the pedestrian areas in front of the museum while providing unobstructed views from the park of the surrounding scenery. The museum's galleries, auditorium, classrooms, archives, research library and offices are located on two levels above ground within the slope, the parking areas on several levels above and below ground level. The slope's back wall faces the street and provides access to the loading dock, storage areas and curators' offices. The modest museum gains importance by borrowing from its neighbors' attributes. Its diminutive footprint, disguised by the green slope which stretches principally over the parking area's 275,000 square feet and the small museum's 20,000 square feet, appears more imposing than it actually is. In addition, the building is set back to bring its entrance on axis with a tree-lined street to be flanked with historical buildings as per Ambasz's Master Plan for this Cultural Area. In response to the museum's focus on the history of the city's early settlers, the site treatment refers to geological history with a terraced rock formation flanking the entrance at the lower end of the landscaped slope, worn away as if by a long extinct stream. Little visible architecture protrudes above the slope save one sinuous wall delineating a free-form L-shape. Like a sheer cliff face, the shorter section of the wall presents a convex mask to the visitor, providing entry through a punched gateway at its base. Passage reveals the facade of the "building" proper formed by the wall's longer section which cups and shades an open air courtyard. Triangular sections of the wall, like the buttresses of the indigenous adobe architecture of the region, protrude into the courtyard, leaving openings that flood the double height gallery behind with light. In counterpoint to this imposing surface is the lacy, undulating colonnade forming the opposite side of the patio and providing light to the library. The two sides of the oval courtyard meet in a circular double-height lobby where visitors experience the sensation of descending deep within the earth upon entry as the slope rises around them. Like the colonnaded courtyards of the Southwest's Spanish Missions, the enclosed outdoor space contains plants, reflecting pools and fountains. Cool grottoes dripping with water and moss tunnel further into the green ramp behind the colonnade to provide outdoor exhibition space. Its entrance independent of the museum proper, the courtyard can serve after-hours for concerts and other public functions.


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