Phoenix-based architects Studio Ma, has a track record of successfully improving life for Arizona State University (ASU) students at the Tempe campus. Besides completely redesigning a student union building that dates to the early 1950s (by upgrading the facility and adding classrooms to create the award-winning Memorial Union), Studio Ma reworked the ASU Bookstore to critical acclaim (see cover story FA, Jul/Aug 2007).
Now the designers have substantially redesigned the Memorial Union Plaza adjacent to the student union. The challenge was to create an engaging and dynamic public space that could be used in the extreme heat of the Arizona desert in addition to providing an iconic entry to the union. Besides replacing the site paving, installing new plant and landscape materials and a performance platform, Studio Ma added modular shade canopies to mitigate the heat and sun.
The repeated saddle-shaped canopy support rings introduce a double curvature that enhances the fabric-clad shades and produces a dynamic visual identity. The designers specified a double layer of 50% open shade mesh that reduces the effective light transmission to 30% in addition to producing a “dappled” moiré effect typical of desert trees such as the paloverde or mesquite. The canopies’ underside is lit with LED lights programmed to cycle through the color wheel. More than 30,000 students pass through the plaza daily, making it the most pedestrian-intensive site on campus.