Blank Studio Design + Architecture

Jacaranda Avenue

Phoenix, Arizona, USA 

This proposal aims to craft unique corridors of inhabitable, comfortable, public space within our city, adapting areas that are part of the existing transportation infrastructure (streets), rather than requiring parcels (blocks) appropriated as destinations.

A Japanese word, komorebi, describes the ephemeral dappling of sunlight beneath a tree canopy. We asked what could happen if this dappled shade condition was generated over large swaths of this Sonoran Desert city. We propose a framework spanning our wide streets creating an armature to suspend thick strands of natural fiber rope – sisal rope (2” diameter, lengths up to 25’ at the assembly center). This natural fiber is lightweight, durable, warm in tone, and repairable or replaceable as it weathers with age. This cloud-like fabrication would reduce the initial intensity of the sunlight by more than half. The material is attached rigidly to the framework; however, the coiled fiber extensions sway gently below. Not a rigid canopy, the form becomes more reminiscent of a field of swaying grasses or the kinetic sculptures of artists Ned Kahn or Christo + Jeanne-Claude.

Below this 'cloud,' the streets now belong wholly to the pedestrian. Only mass transit exists within these corridors, no cars. Dense ribbons of fragrant flora supplant former asphalt drive lanes. Bioswale channels collect and direct precious rainfall. Graywater waste from adjacent buildings support the extensive plantings. Riparian habitats are encouraged, and urban wildlife will take hold. Comfortable, walkable public space now contains the amenities of urban life: cafes, playgrounds, sculpture gardens and art displays, markets, film screenings, and so on. 

Numerous traditional infill possibilities of various sizes exist here (underutilized parcels, surface parking lots, or vacant) and developed as the market demands. These alleys are defined and maintained by access easements. They are commonly 20’ to 26’ in width and are typically around 300’ in length, with some reaching up to 500’. These areas represent several hundred, thin potential building sites. In either configuration, these alleyways are liberated for the development of an unprecedented (in Phoenix) building typology  – narrow slice, vertical architecture. Implementation of this proposal would require the adoption of a new zoning ordinance, permitting the release of these properties for quality development of up to 50% of the existing alleyway condition. The former mid-block voids may now be filled in and the street facades unified – completed for the first time. 

The Japanese have an artistic concept dating back to the 15th century, called Kintsugi, which means “golden repair.” The process involves repairing broken pottery with a lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Thus the artifact’s unique history is celebrated by emphasizing the breaks instead of hiding or disguising them – often making the repaired piece more beautiful than the original. We propose finding beauty in the flawed or imperfect – the ‘broken’ voids. Since these development plots are so much smaller than traditional ones, more resources may be afforded in their unique creation. The smaller size also lowers the barriers to entry for smaller developers, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, or similar boutique businesses. This bespoke typology stands in opposition to the faceless, mid-rise blocks that consume much of new Phoenix. These building opportunities are the types sought by renowned proprietors such as Patrick Roger, artiste-chocolatier MOF.

The success of a concept such as this is not dependent upon other public actions, but it can work most efficiently when supported with complementary ideas. For example, innovative solutions such as removing specific streets where mass-transit exists and supplanting them with vast zones of newly shaded, verdantly landscaped districts that offer the pedestrian comfortable public space. This proposal presents the potential for unique shops and services on the ground level and efficient dwellings on the levels above. These new narrow slice vertical buildings exist seamlessly within the gaps of these uniquely Phoenix districts.

If Phoenix is intense sun and unyielding heat, then the essence of Phoenix is the sudden, fragrant saturation following rain. The aroma of creosote and sage, steaming asphalt, and moistened soils, this essence forms the very basis of next Phoenix.


Client: AIA Phoenix Metro

Status: Open competition complete – First Place Awarded - 2016 + 2017

Architect: Matthew Trzebiatowski

Project Team: Samuel Martin

Landscape Architect: Soren Deniord Design Studio

Image: Forbes Massie