ICONIC: Arizona Falls, Phoenix

Arizona Falls before reconstruction

Since 1913, the Salt River Project (SRP) managed a 20-foot waterfall along the Arizona Canal to generate hydroelectric power near Phoenix. It was a fairly typical dam site that was inaccessible to the public.

More than a century later, the Phoenix Arts Commission partnered with SRP, public artist Mags Herries and her architect-husband Lajos Héder, and landscape architecture firm Steve Martino Associates to redevelop the hydropower space into an historic-themed, thoroughly modern functioning public garden.

Photo courtesy of Darren Williams

The result was WaterWorks, a $6 million renewable energy public park oriented around Arizona Falls. In a location surrounded by desert, WaterWorks offers a cool respite in the Arizona heat. According to the Herries/Héder website, the site includes the hydroelectricity-generating waterfalls, a dance floor, an outdoor classroom, a pedestrian bridge, shade structures, seating, riparian terraces, and sustainable plantings. The space is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and features a solar-paneled roof deck that powers cooling fans in the public area.

Photo courtesy of Darren Williams

Photo courtesy of Darren Williams

Like Seattle, Phoenix, according to Markinson and Gadwa, has become a model city in public art installations, spending more than $30 million over 20 years in public art embedded in public infrastructure. The City of Phoenix weds artist and resident participation into its public art program from the earliest stages of project proposal, which Phoenix Public Art Program Director Edward Lebow describes as allowing “room for impertinent questions to be asked.”

“By questioning assumptions of how things should look and function,” says Lebow, “artists collaborating with other design professionals spark citywide debates about the nature of public design and public space. These can be heated…yet they expand the public’s understanding of the role and function of both art and infrastructure.”