Downtown Rising

Today, I did this quick visualization to get a better understanding of how a generic 600′ tower would impact the Phoenix skyline.

I was having a conversation with a good friend on Facebook about why Phoenix does not have buildings taller than the 483′ Chase Tower. After doing some research out of personal interest during the conversation, curiosity led me to create a “what if” type image depicting the Downtown Phoenix skyline, as seen approaching from the west on Interstate 10, as it would look if a generic 600′ tower were constructed somewhere between Adams and Monroe Streets. The tower was not designed by me, although i did edit it to get the proportions I wanted, and is not necessarily anything more than a massing and formal placeholder for a tower of similar shape, proportion, height, and materiality. It’s proportions are similar to that of the Alliance Bank building at Cityscape, although extrapolated another 350-400 feet to avoid the stubbiness that unfortunately plagues so many Phoenix highrises.

My friend was curious as to why downtown did not have that one tall landmark tower that anchors the skyline that so many other cities have. I think he is also implying that, an underwhelming 480′ futurist tower built in the 70’s no longer should represent the now 5th largest city in the country as the city’s tallest building. On that note, I completely agree, but there are a myriad of factors go into this.

The first is that, being in the flight path of Sky Harbor, Phoenix implemented zoning ordinances on most downtown parcels that limit building heights to around 500’ (Chase is just over 480’). The FAA has always made it difficult for developers to get approvals for towers taller than that. As downtown grows north along central (and away from the flight path), and as midtown begins to feel the effects of the recent urban boom, we’ll likely begin to see realistic proposals for towers at 500’+ if the market is there.

The second factor mostly revolves around demand. Historically, downtown hasn’t had the demand for tall buildings and skyscrapers. Like you said, land is cheap and available all over the place in the Valley (although studies consistently show long term life cycle costs related to suburban and low density development are much higher). That has mostly changed with the recent revitalization of downtown and Central Phoenix. I couldn’t tell you if it was merely a mindset change or if it was reactionary to the housing crisis earlier in the decade. It was likely a little of both. Regardless, there are probably about six or seven highrise projects down the pipeline for downtown and midtown, and plenty more on the way, I’d assume. There remains plenty of surface parking and a variety of still vacant parcels in downtown, so I’d expect to see the skyline dramatically fill in over the next 10 or so years. I am excited to see Downtown Phoenix continue to change for the better and morph into the dynamic urban core the nation’s 5th largest city deserves. 

I hope to do more quickie visualizations like this one to explore the realm of ideas and possibilities within architecture and planning, and gain a better understanding about how architecture can greatly impact and alter the perspective of a place, be it through a tower like this, a school, a single home, etc. I’ll also likely be doing some commentary on new downtown projects in the near future, so look out for that as well.


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