Project: The Culture Now Project: Empower the Periphery
Location: Tucson, AZ
Designer: Grady Gillies
Year: 2011
Program: University of California, Los Angeles
Faculty Advisors: Thom Mayne, Karen Lohrmann

Project Description: Through an integrated system of power generation, Tucson’s vacant lots harness solar power for technical and cultural transformation.

TUCSON IS GROWING. A city of expansive growth since its inception in 1853, Tucson’s landscape has been a coveted since the annexation of Mexican territory to more recent population surges seeking the increasingly elusive American Dream. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Tucson and its regional population surpasses one million residents as Americans flock to the Sun Belt.

POSITIVE GROWTH CAN HAVE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES. Restricted only by geography and the reach of its infrastructure, Tucson is expanding at a pace quicker than strategies can be planned or implemented. The city’s constant expansion challenges not only the control of sprawl, but the regulation of its natural resources.

THE CITY HAS REACHED ITS BREAKING POINT. The suburban expectation of the American Dream has been replaced by the homogenous urban sprawl. Plentiful land, inexpensive energy, and the “pursuit of happiness” have promoted an unsustainable lifestyle and a city. Power, linked both to environmental exploitation and human development, remains a consumed commodity instead of a produced asset.

THE DELIVERY METHOD MUST CHANGE. The next American Dream will require power and energy. If a city’s power supply is reformulated as an integrated and performative component of its fabric, this transformation is possible. In a territory that receives 350 days of sun per year, solar harvesting provides this potential.

EMPOWER THE PERIPHERY. As a new productive surface within the urban landscape, Tucson can generate a reimagined American Dream where community health transcends individual wealth. The installation of solar canopies within existing city voids can create secondary social spaces and a new cultural identity. Tucson will become not only energy neutral, but a catalyst for innovation and transformation.

Project Background: This project is one of eight proposals presented under the 2010-2011 UCLA MArch II Suprastudio. From August 2010 to June 2011, Thom Mayne, Design Director of Morphosis, Karen Lohrmann, and a group of advisors have been leading fourteen post graduate architecture and urban design graduate students in an inquiry about the dynamics of culture now. The project is going forward next year to include thirteen other universities with the hope of creating an extensive discussion about contemporary culture and the nature of American cities. Additional work and information is available for download on the suprastudio website.

Image Captions:
Image 1: City Analysis: Observing the Geography, city image, cultural climate, and local leadership a strange network of possibilities is formed.
Image 2: City Timeline: Population growth is not sustained with water and energy resources.
Image 3: Explosive growth: Many people relocating to Tucson in search of cheaper lifestyle, work, land, or weather.
Image 4: Map of Tucson 2010:
Image 5: Solar Potential: The southwest could power the rest of the United States with solar energy.
Image 6: Secondary Programs: A varied use of program could occur at the base of each heliostat reflector
Image 7: Commerce corridor: Heliostat reflectors provide shade in a region that needs it.
Image 8: City Image: Helios