Rob Paulus: Exploring Tucson's past and future through architecture

2013-10-02T11:30:00Z 2013-10-02T13:00:04Z Rob Paulus: Exploring Tucson's past and future through architectureBy Rob Paulus Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As fall begins to reveal itself out of the mirage of summer, we can again enjoy the wonderful Sonoran Desert environment of Tucson.

This week in particular, it’s not just the desert that people will be enjoying but the city’s buildings. Architecture Week, organized by a motivated group within the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects , is a mix of fun and educational activities that aim to promote a greater appreciation and awareness for the design of our built environment.

Although our event is an annual one, those of us involved can’t help feeling that, this year, it is more relevant than ever. We have seen continued strengthening of the housing market in Tucson. The streetcar is almost upon us. A walk downtown is no longer depressing, but just the opposite. Thanks to the healthy rate of new business openings (and more to come), it seems we actually have a city center again.

Tucson is changing and our architecture is playing an important role in that. And so it’s no coincidence that the theme of Architecture Week this year is “Game Changer.”

Parts of Tucson still qualify as “the ugliest street in America” (as Speedway was dubbed in Life magazine in 1970). As a community we need to do a better job of creating a city that moves in a positive direction, with the design of our infrastructure, buildings and streetscapes. Good design can make Tucson a better place. It can also make it a healthier one — both for the body and the mind.

Our “CANstruction” event, installed last weekend at Park Place mall, brought out dozens of architects, engineers and contractors to install sculptures made entirely of canned food. The 15,000 cans that we used will be donated to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. These several-ton structures will be on display until the end of the week.

“Kidstruction” invited middle school students to create structures out of business cards and toothpicks. Those, too, are on display all week at Park Place mall. It’s remarkable to see what the challenge sparks in the minds of tomorrow’s architects and engineers.

Tucson is a biking and walking town, and the popularity of our annual hike and bike tours, organized with the Living Streets Alliance, proves it. Participants took to the streets by foot and bicycle last weekend while learning about our city’s architectural history from passionate and informative guides.

The centerpiece and final event of Architecture Week comes up Sunday, with the 21st annual AIA Home Tour, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

This year we have also joined with the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, organizers of Tucson Modernism Week, for a home tour the likes of which the city has never seen. The public will get to look back to Tucson’s mid-century modern treasures, and forward to modern spaces — residential and commercial. Tour participants will see how our past accomplishments have influenced the way we’ll be living and working in the future.

Tucson has been described as a courtyard community that doesn’t freely flaunt its accomplishments. This Architecture Week, we hope to change that mindset.

Rob Paulus is Pprincipal at Rob Paulus Architects in Tucson and president of the AIA Southern Arizona.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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