Superstar architects and inspired builders have dotted the Arizona landscape with their eye-catching structures. Tour the mystery, innovation and whimsy of some of our most famous architecture.
American Indian Influences
Archaeologists say Casa Grande (“great house” in Spanish) was an unusually tall Hohokam building. The Hohokam lived in Arizona for more than 1,000 years before disappearing in the 1450s. The multi-story, caliche structure, preserved at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument near Coolidge, remains a mystery. Was it a meeting place, waymarker or astronomical calendar? This is one of two Hohokam national monuments; the Hohokam Pima National Monument – on the Gila River Indian Reservation south of Phoenix – is closed to the public.
Architect Mary Colter re-created a 70-foot-high Puebloan tower along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Made of unworked stone seemingly jutting from rough rock, the 1932 Indian Watchtower of Desert View provides a panorama of Colorado River bends and colorful Painted Desert. Hopi artist Fred Kabotie painted Hopi Snake Dance icons on the interior walls of the steel-framed look-out.
Architecture giant Frank Lloyd Wright’s Scottsdale winter home also served as his studio, school and laboratory. Low-slung Taliesin West, begun in 1937, blends with the Sonoran Desert, its lines mimicking the mountainous backdrop. Wright-designed furnishings fill the complex of theaters, work rooms and gardens.
Wright apprentice Paolo Soleri had his own ideas about harmoniously living within one’s environment. The experiment into compact urban living began in 1970 and continues at Arcosanti near Cordes Junction. Buildings combine residences, offices and recreational spaces. Public areas are designed to keep them comfortable using renewable resources. An on-site foundry operation makes the famed handmade Soleri windbells.
Tucson’s Mission San Xavier del Bac, Arizona’s oldest intact European structure, is an outstanding example of Mexican Baroque architecture. Opened in 1797 to serve the surrounding Tohono O’odham community that still exists today, its brilliant adobe and lime skin inspires its moniker, the White Dove of the Desert. Its surprisingly ornate interior includes colorful geometric patterns, cloth-clad statuary and a color palette of salmon, gold, burgundy and fern.
Tucked in the Tucson foothills is DeGrazia Gallery of the Sun, the home, studio and exhibition space of artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia. Its jewel is the simple adobe chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe that he called the Mission in the Sun. DeGrazia and friends built it in 1952 as a traditional expression of thanks. He adorned the interior walls with his artwork, including his endearing Native American and Mexican moppets.
After searching throughout Europe, sculptor and student of Frank Lloyd Wright Marguerite Brunswig Staude instead chose Sedona to build her deep-felt expression of thanks to God, the soaring Chapel of the Holy Cross. Completed in 1956, the rectangular chapel seems to rise straight out of a red rock butte. From inside, the giant cross that supports the glass wall appears superimposed onto the Verde Valley landscape beyond.
When one of London’s River Thames bridges, the crumbling 1831 London Bridge, was up for sale, Lake Havasu City’s founder bought it and moved it to his hometown. It was reassembled block by block around a concrete structure across a Lake Havasu channel by 1971. As a major landmark, it plays a part in many city activities, including the winter boat parade of lights and fall Havasu Triathlon.
Wigwam Village Motel #6 in Holbrook is among three survivors of the seven original motel chain locations. The 1950 lodge of distinctive teepee-shaped rooms with original hickory furniture sits along historic Route 66. Parked vintage autos and an on-site museum harken back to the romance of the Mother Road.