Sunday, February 26, 2006

Parts of golden sunshade from Tucson General Hospital will grace education building

[Source: Tom Beal, Arizona Daily Star] -- In a year when we celebrated the reopening of the gorgeous, 75-year-old Art Deco Fox Theatre in Tucson, we should probably be satisfied with saving pieces of a 40-year-old hospital whose modern architecture struck many as bland, if not downright ugly. Sun Belt progress has laid waste to century-old neighborhoods in the Old Pueblo. Tucson General Hospital, which stood for only 40 years on North Campbell Avenue, didn't stand a chance. Parts of the golden sunshade from the south face of the hospital (pictured above), though, were salvaged and will be affixed to a new education building at Reid Park Zoo -— a partial victory for preservationists who wanted to save the entire building. The shade will join a short list of architectural artifacts, including the dome from the El Conquistador Hotel and the archway and rose window from the original San Agustín Cathedral, that found homes in prominent places.

Tucson General, 3838 N. Campbell Ave., was designed by noted Tucson architect Arthur Brown. One of a handful of significant "modernist" buildings in Tucson, it was reduced to a steel skeleton to make room for an outpatient clinic for the Arizona Cancer Center. What made it extra-special, according to architect Anne M. Nequette, was its gold-colored aluminum shade structure, one of the first uses of passive solar design on a large commercial building in Tucson.

Modernist buildings, often steel-framed rectangles curtained with glass, have become the misunderstood ugly stepchildren of architecture. It's easy to love the tile dome and Spanish Revival look of architect Roy Place's Old Pima County Courthouse. It's tougher to appreciate the Transamerica Building across the street at 177 N. Church Ave., a high-rise rectangle with a curtain wall of glass and white- and gold-colored aluminum. The building, designed by Thomas E. Stanley, is Tucson's prime example of the international form of modernism, according to Nequette and R. Brooks Jeffery, who co-wrote "A Guide to Tucson Architecture."

It hangs a glass curtain from a steel frame, takes no bows to the place in which it stands and is not adapted to Tucson's climate. "The trouble with these middle-aged buildings is they're not old enough to be revered as historical structures and not new enough to be fresh and bold," said Bob Vint, who helped lead the fight to save Catalina High School and is gearing up to keep the Wilmot Library from being demolished. Those modern buildings, designed by the late Nicholas Sakellar, do take into account the geography and climate.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: University Medical Center.]