Wendell Burnette in Phoenix | The Plan
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Wendell Burnette in Phoenix

Wendell Burnette Architects

Flying into Sky Harbor International Airport, passengers see Phoenix and such adjacent cities as Tempe, Paradise Valley, and Scottsdale spread out across the desert floor. With low-density suburban housing, manicured office parks and occasional, dramatic outcrops of rock, this is one of America’s fastest growing conurbations attracting both retirees and young families to a highly commercial, and at times Biblical, promise of sunshine and space. With its hotel and car rental desks, the airport is geared to tourists who come for the winter sun, organised sports and luxurious spas. Many also make it out to Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, on the far fringes of Scottsdale, where America’s hero architect established his radical yet environmentally attentive Taliesin West in the 1930s.
Wright’s immediate legacy survives hereabouts in the often derivative work of many architects trained at Taliesin. More generally, the kind of independent spirit - at once pragmatic and romantic - that Wright evoked is present today in original local talents. With its curving copper flanks, “crystal canyon” hall, and sail-like roof, Will Bruder’s Central Library is one of the freshest civic buildings built in the United States in recent years. Two of Bruder’s assistants on the Central Library were Rick Joy, now practicing in nearby Tucson, and Wendell Burnette who recently completed, in collaboration with Gould Evans Associates, the Maryvale Community Center and Palo Verde Library(1).
If there is something of Wright’s independence in many new Arizona projects - a specific American spirit of hands-on experimentation distinct from the slick professionalism or at times incestuous theoretical debates of the East Coast - there is also a rebuttal of Postmodernism’s architecture of symbol and reference… and a reinvigoration of an essentially Modernist belief in construction, space, light, analyses of programme and site that coalesce in progressive, authentic works of architecture.
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