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Photo © Bill Timmerman
Quartzite stone graces the low buildings adjacent to pedestrian pathways, allowing people to encounter its natural character.

PROJECTS:

Chandler City Hall

SmithGroup
Chandler, Arizona

Kinetic Energy: A municipal complex redefines a desert city's downtown core with mixed use amenities, a wind-animated art installation, and a firm commitment to environmental stewardship.

By Alanna Malone
November 2011
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For more than 20 years, Chandler, Arizona, had been setting aside funds to pay for a new municipal complex. The city wished to go beyond the expected program for such a building by creating a mixed-use facility to cater to the community's needs and serve as an icon of good design and sustainability. The resulting 137,000-square-foot civic center, which opened in late 2010, is the pride of the city and aspires to become one of the first LEED Platinum-certified city halls in the country. Designed by SmithGroup, the program includes the city's department offices, council chambers, art gallery, copy center, television studio, outdoor mezzanine, courtyard, and parking facility.

KEY PARAMETERS

Location Chandler, Arizona (Salt River watershed)

Gross area 137,700 ft2

Completed October 2010

Cost $47 million

Annual purchased energy use (based on simulation) 46 kBtu/ft2 (520 MJ/m2), 49% reduction from base case

Annual carbon footprint (predicted) 18 lbs. CO2/ft2 (86 kg CO2/m2)

Program Offices, art gallery, conference rooms, lobby, council chambers, television studio, storage, outdoor mezzanine, parking structure, copy center

TEAM & SOURCES

Structural system Castle Steel Inc. structural steel

Masonry Superlite Block (Old Castle) medium weight EIFS, ACM, or other BASF Synergy

Glass Viracon VRE 1-5d, VEI 1-2M, USL-1d

View all team & sources

Chandler City Hall
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Marian Norris, Assistant City Manager, says Chandler was able to finance the entire $47-million project, so they have no debt or bonds resulting from the new construction. Prior to 2010, Chandler rented two buildings to house the various departments, always intending to build a facility downtown. "The central downtown core really represents the city's identity," says Norris.

The city of Chandler began in 1912 as an agricultural and ranching town but the population suffered after the Great Depression. The arrival of technology companies like Intel and Microchip in the mid-1970s has significantly bolstered the economy. In fact, according to Norris the population (currently around 240,000) is close to maxing out, and Chandler is no longer considered a bedroom community for Phoenix, since more people are living in or commuting into the city for work than are leaving. To encourage development in the downtown core, the city decided on a brownfield site that spans two city blocks and is close to the historic square (the city's original central park). "Most development is north of the square, but we wanted to leverage city hall [south of the square] to encourage business downtown," says Norris.

Mark Roddy, principal at SmithGroup, explains that the client's goals for the building were fourfold: achieve a minimum LEED Gold certification, connect the existing civic and municipal buildings, promote downtown development, and provide a new gateway to the historic core. The chosen site both aided and impeded these goals from the very beginning. Though the area is located adjacent to Chandler's fire department, police department, city court, and county court, and only a few blocks from the historic square, a major avenue (Chicago Street) runs right through it.

SmithGroup considered several options to deal with Chicago Street. They didn't want to shut it down because it connects to city services, so they decided to slow down traffic with several different strategies: "We narrowed the street, provided parallel parking, inserted a plant median, and added speed bumps and a crosswalk," says Roddy. Once Chicago Street was resolved, SmithGroup linked the varied components of the program across the two blocks. The team submitted a proposal entitled "Urban Edge," not because the design was particularly edgy, but since it literally pushed the facility's footprint out to the perimeter of the site. "An intimate courtyard space connects the one-story buildings which run along the edges. The rest of city hall is in the tower," explains Roddy. "A series of buildings leads to this one pinnacle."

The "tower" is the core structure of the complex, housing five floors of administrative offices for the different city departments. "Within the office floor plate, we created a very flexible plan," says Roddy. "Ultimately, the city was looking for adaptability over time as departments shrink and grow; they can easily change the office environment without major construction." A demountable wall system for interior partitions further facilitates flexibility. The lobby of this main building connects to Chandler's city service center and a small art gallery for the public. The administrative tower and the council chambers flank the public courtyard on the northern side of the site. Bordering the parking facility on the opposite side of Chicago Street is the Neighborhood Resources and Housing Redevelopment office and a print, mail, and graphics center.

"We conceived of the council chambers as a community living room, in that it really becomes a focal point," says Roddy. The frosted glass of the bell-shaped building is back-lit at night, so the building literally glows. Bamboo panels on the lower walls warm up the interior and Tectum (a special acoustic material resembling spaghetti) is left exposed on the upper portion. Different lighting schemes accommodate a variety of functions—meetings, lectures, movie screenings, even musical performances. Monitors and speakers are located in the lobby and courtyard for spillover.

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