Copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate are the original “five C’s” of the Arizona economy. While copper has spent time up and down as a commodity, its economic impact on the Grand Canyon State is roughly $4.3 billion per year, according to the Arizona Mining Association. Today, more than a century since Arizona officially gained statehood on Valentine's Day 1912, approximately 66 percent of U.S. copper is still mined here, just an hour east of the Valley.
Recently, copper has been cited as a hot trend in real estate by industry insiders, including Residential Building magazine and Realtor mag. Some of copper's advantages as an architectural building material include its durability, attractive patina, and ability to form complex shapes. Several award-winning “smart buildings” in the Valley have prominently used copper in the past decade or so.
Arizona's plentiful natural resource not only reflects the colors of the desert landscape as it glints in the Valley sun, but also serves important architectural functions like keeping a building cool.
Here are 10 architectural gems in the Valley featuring copper, many of which have won awards for design and environmental excellence, and several of which are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, which sets national standards for environmentally responsible architecture.
Built in 1901, the historic seat of Arizona’s territorial and state government on the western edge of downtown Phoenix embodies the spirit of the state's pioneer days. Copper gleams atop a nearly 2,100-square-foot dome. For the 2012 centennial, the dome received a facelift with a fresh overlay of newly milled copper (though the copper used for the project was reportedly sourced from a smelting mill in Pennsylvania that uses copper from various U.S. mines). Still, as an icon of the Copper State, the Arizona Capitol Museum dome stands as an enduring symbol of the state’s natural treasures. The neoclassical building, designed by architect James Riely Gordon, houses highlights of Arizona’s maverick history. For details on tours and other information, visit the Arizona Capitol Museum's website.
The city’s main library in downtown Phoenix is an early example of “smart building” strategies in the Valley. Designed by DWL Architects in collaboration with Will Bruder and built in 1995, the 280,000-square-foot landmark has been cited by building experts, including the American Institute of Architects, as a role model for its environmentally responsible architecture. Straddling Interstate 10 on Central Avenue, the building is covered with copper rain and sun screens on the east and west sides to keep morning and afternoon sunshine from pushing up cooling costs. A system of shutters on the south-facing exposure that tracks along with the movement of the sun maximizes use of natural lighting, while minimizing glare and heat gain, keeping library-goers cool. The shaded windows to the north offer panoramic views of the city. For library hours, event schedules, and other information, visit the Burton Barr Central Library website.
Designed to serve as a prime social gathering and study spot, this Gold LEED-certified building stands at the center of the Gateway Community College campus, located near Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and is the largest building in the Maricopa Community College District. Architects SmithGroup JJR used custom-made perforated copper panels to create shaded outdoor student spaces. The terrace on the south façade is situated to take advantage of cooling breezes and offer open views of the campus. The building, which opened in fall 2012, was a winner in the 2013 Copper Development Association's North American Copper in Architecture Awards and also received an Award of Merit in the 2015 Valley Forward Association’s Environmental Excellence Awards. For more information, visit the Gateway Community College website.
Covered top to bottom in a cooling copper skin designed to look like rock strata, this structure was recently featured on PBS’s Cool Spaces! The Best New Architecture television show. Nearly 6,000 panels of recycled copper were arranged in a layered pattern inspired by Arizona’s canyon formations to create the building’s striking exterior. Facing Seventh Street on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus of the University of Arizona Medical School, this 268,000-square-foot building in downtown Phoenix houses the U of A medical school, pharmacy and college of public health, as well as Northern Arizona University's College of Health and Human Services. Built in 2012 from a CO Architects design, this building was another 2013 winner in the North American Copper in Architecture Awards. For more information, visit the Phoenix Biomedical Campus website.
Engineered to help reduce stress for court visitors, this downtown Phoenix county courthouse tower features a winding path, terraced planters, and a plaza with public art, as well as a separate secure entrance for victims of crime. The exterior of this 16-story, 695,000-square-foot building at Madison Street and First Avenue is covered with 182,750 square feet of recycled copper, chosen for its durability and to soften the scale of the large tower. The malleable metal is textured, alternating flat and tapered standing-seam copper panels. The complex also features a copper-clad pedestrian bridge connecting the new tower to the existing court campus. This building, completed in 2012 and designed by Gould Evans Associates, was one of Phoenix’s three 2013 winners in the North American Copper in Architecture Awards. For more information about the court, visit the Maricopa County Superior Court website.
Read on for more of metro Phoenix's copper-adorned architectural gems.