Urban Oasis

Urban Oasis

One solution to suburban sprawl in Tucson, Arizona

Have you ever visited Arizona? What do you think living in Tucson would be like? According to the posters above, you might find yourself on a long horse ride with your fellow compadres – experiencing all the beauty the Grand Canyon State has to offer. And while this may be true for the occasional adventurer who seeks these things out, the reality is far different than what these advertisers would have you believe. Unsurprisingly, people are creatures of comfort. The desert lifestyle we see in the movies (or fantasized in these posters) isn’t the norm – and this is especially the case as you get closer to city centers.

Replace that faithful steed for a steering wheel and a seat belt, and you’ll be closer to experiencing what life is really like for your typical Tucsonite. Its the desert climate that drives people into their air-conditioned automobile, which in turn, literally drives them from one air-conditioned space to the next. And it is this car-dependent culture that proliferates more unsustainable behaviors.

With a car people now have a choice, perhaps excuse, to live further away from where they work and live. The commute is a 40-minute drive on the highway versus a 20-minute walk down the street. This is nothing new for those who live in densely-populated metropolitan areas but for a small city like Tucson it makes little sense. So that begs the question why?

Outside the economics of home ownership along city-fringes, this project contends its the inadequacy of proper outdoor spaces that breed these unsustainable lifestyles. And in order to combat suburban sprawl, it is first necessary to emancipate people from their vehicles and welcome them back into the environment. This project explores how through the use of appropriate courtyard/garden planning in conjunction with sustainable technologies and transportation, it is possible to create small hubs/oases within the city that can provide relief to those who choose to live outside their vehicles. These hubs will in turn help disseminate the virtues of sustainable living and begin to re-incentivize the public to living within the city.


This is the main hub to a potentially larger network, so the program of  the actual building is site specific. Functions occurring on the basement and first floor are meant to be duplicated across all points, while the second-fourth floors will respond to the sites direct needs/contexts.

Due to the proximity of the University of Arizona, it was the intention that this hub establish a connection/relationship with the school and the student body. Thus, the second-fourth floors are given to the university for classes, workshops, and faculty offices.

Basement Floor

  • Locker Rooms
  • Shower Facilities



First Floor

  • Bike Share/Storage
  • Bike Repair Shop
  • Cafe
  • Lobby

Second-Third Floors

  • Library
  • Classrooms
  • Lecture Hall



Fourth Floor

  • Gallery
  • Faculty Offices
  • Computer Lab/Study Area

Students frequently endure the desert climate to bicycle to class – which when polled was credited to their youth, dorm-to-class proximity, finances, and finally necessity for exercise. In an effort to further encourage this mode of transportation and strengthen its presence within Tucson at large, a series of cities where bicycling is popular were studied. Many of the features that made bicycling in those particular cities successful were then carried into this project.

A high-speed bike lane along East University Blvd was established, along which the building is located and has a direct connection to campus. This gives cyclists a protected bike lane and allows them to quickly move about the city without the worry of vehicular traffic. The hub itself also acts as a “rest stop” for cyclists that will ultimately increase the overall range a person can feasibly bike.

One very evident feature found across all case-study cities was the sheer amount of bike parking made available. This was most outstanding in Amsterdam, where whole pieces of infrastructure were dedicated to bike racks alone. It was determined that providing a bike parking solution at this scale would be integral to the success of this design.

To physically fit on the site and efficiently serve the community, the bike racks would need to be reimagined for this project. To achieve the necessary rack density, they were built upwards utilizing a carousel-like mechanism to rotate bikes around when stored.

With this playful take on the racks, they also begin to serve as an advertisement for bicycling in general. Visit any of these popular cycling cities and you will find the best way to convince people to get on a bike is to completely engulf them in it… the bikes, the infrastructure, and the culture. For example, many people who visit Amsterdam immediately become enamored with the idea of cycling throughout the city even though they may never have pedaled one in their life. Its that same energy and excitement that the racks infuse into this community.

Finally, and most importantly, the racks serve as an enclosure. Looking at examples of successful outdoor spaces in desert climates, it was clear that providing some semblance of a traditional enclosed courtyard was necessary. Enclosing the site with the racks creates a greater shade coefficient, as well as being a shield to the elements.

The building is lifted up off the site in an effort to welcome and capture pedestrians along the street scape into the courtyard. The courtyard itself provides additional shading through the use of carefully selected indigenous plants and trees.

To provide additional relief, misters spray-up through the limited hardscape in the courtyard, timed throughout the day where the sun is the most brutal. Along with these misters, green-wall panels have been installed to assist in that feeling of freshness made available through evaporative cooling.

The green-wall panels are designed to be completely trans-potable in the case the plants need to be replaced. The overall effect by draping the racks and building with these panels, give the courtyard a feeling lushness currently absent street scape while still being appropriately scaled for proper maintenance.

This is a partial selection from my Master’s thesis project – completed and presented in late 2007.

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