Maricopa Community College District
Design Bid Build
Created from a shared vision of respect for the past and a focus on inclusive and future-forward design, Phoenix College Building A is a model for elegant renovation and classroom transformation to current spatial and technological standards.
From its first class of 18 students to more than 12,000 today, Phoenix College, spread over a 50-acre campus in the heart of the city, is one of the first community colleges in Arizona. DFDG Architecture worked closely with Maricopa Community College District and the Phoenix College team to renovate Building A, a two-story, 22,500-square-foot brick academic building.
Doug McCarthy, Director of Operations at the College had several goals for the project: to provide updated technology and thermal comfort for all learning spaces, honor the 1939 historic building by preserving and enhancing its original features, and select materials and finishes that complement the building in both design and durability.
With rhythmic window placement, a pitched roof, and entrances accentuated with fluted columns, Building A’s exterior features neo-classical and art-deco elements common to the time. With both history and modernization in mind, DFDG provided programming, code analysis, interior design, and construction phase services for a complete and well-executed refresh.
As with many historic buildings, Building A had no centralized cooling system first built in 1939. Because of this, the original exterior windows were designed to extend nearly floor to ceiling to provide ample natural light and ventilation. When the centralized heating and cooling era made its way to the Southwest in the ‘60s, the College retrofitted a cooling system with ducts and air plenums located in the hallway ceiling. The cold air entered the classrooms through grilles placed in the classroom-hallway dividing walls. One goal of the new renovation was to make the HVAC system more efficient by creating air distribution throughout the classroom spaces. For this, new air ducts were placed across the ceilings of the classrooms, and the lowered ceiling meant the new ducts would partially cover the window glazing.
The owner-designer team explored sight angles and ceiling soffit-to-exterior-facade distances through sections and various detail iterations and ultimately created a bulkhead solution that meets the project goals of thermal comfort and preservation of historic spirit. Now, the ceiling stops two feet short of the exterior walls, allowing the window façade to remain unchanged and the natural light to remain ample, all while providing a mechanical system that meets today’s standards.
The successful results stemmed from team effort, exploration, and alignment, all necessary for solving issues big and small. For any well-designed and well-executed project, collaboration and commitment to common project goals should permeate design decisions, from grand design gestures to the construction details alike.
The exterior windows were also due for a replacement to meet energy efficiency standards. The team was careful to install window units in a similar historic style to preserve the original look of Building A, with a simple yet elegant 2×4 muntin pattern with silver mullions set against the red brick façade. The brick itself was due for repair, and in some places, full replacement. Fortunately, the College kept a portion of the original brick in stock and the masons were able to seamlessly infill the openings that needed to be closed due to the interior reconfiguration. Knowing the skill and craft required for old brick restoration, the team was careful to choose proven, talented masons, to ensure the building’s integrity and visual character were in safe hands.
The future of how and where we learn is constantly changing, and with that, flexible education spaces are not just desirable, but essential. Strict curriculums of the past have given way to new learning styles and teaching methodologies requiring space configurations for students to learn in a variety of settings. Building A’s interiors were reconfigured as flexible classroom spaces, connected by student/faculty collaboration spaces in the public areas. The central classrooms on the lower level, and the north classrooms on the second floor, were designed using operable foldable partitions that open and stack on the sides. This allows for multiple smaller work areas to open into larger collaborative spaces, based on curriculum requirements.
The selected interior finishes are modern materials that capture the building’s 1930s essence. The hallway floor throughout is a pattern of intersecting diamond shapes in blues and neutrals, complementary to the building-era design. The hallway walls are detailed with a 9-foot-high picture mold and two-tone paint that adds dynamics and interest to an otherwise long and uniform walkway. The restrooms were also completely renovated, with a terrazzo-like floor tile as a nod to the original terrazzo flooring. The overall color palette comprises timeless neutrals and varying shades of blue that reference Phoenix College’s signature color.
Throughout the years, Phoenix College has played an important part in building communities that fostered meaningful connections on and off-campus. During the grand opening of Building A – now both the newest and oldest building on campus – a former student reminisced of his time spent in the Phoenix College classrooms, with friends he still holds close to this day. Living elsewhere for much of his career, retirement led him back to Phoenix, and back to the very same Phoenix College classrooms where he enjoys continuing education classes among his younger peers. As one generation reminisces, new generations of Liberal Arts, Mathematics, and World Languages students will be stepping foot in updated, open, and flexible spaces.
Well-designed learning spaces encourage collaboration and creativity, create new learning opportunities, and inspire a sense of community. With this renovation project, Phoenix College Building A has managed to breathe new life into a much-loved and familiar setting, continuing to provide community and career advancement opportunities in refreshed spaces for new and returning students alike.