From the Vaults: Arizona Historical Society Museum

by Sarah Bell

As THA turns 31 years-old this year, we want to honor our roots through a monthly post featuring past projects. Our first “From the Vaults” project is the Arizona Historical Society Museum, a winning entry in a national design competition that put THA Architecture (then Garfield Hacker Architects) on the map in the fall of 1985.

Established in 1983 by Thomas Hacker, the then two-person practice was working on a variety of small projects until they threw their hat in the ring for this national design competition. Garfield Hacker’s design for this 75,000 SF museum located on an 11-acre desert site in Tempe, Arizona won first place, chosen from 185 national entries (unheard of for a two-person practice). The design’s sensitivity to the Arizona desert landscape to which the building belonged is a concept that remains a signature of our work today.

Of the design, Jury Chairman Joseph Esherick noted:

“The winning entry is functionally excellent, practical, buildable, and economically feasible. More importantly, the scheme proposed is a creative solution of such distinction that it should serve as a model of design excellence in the Southwest…The arrival at the building should be an exhilarating experience full of beauty and desert mystery. It is a building that will work efficiently and still be flexible – and it is a building that will endure and grow better with age.”

Unfortunately, fundraising for the project did not meet expectations and a more modest design was subsequently completed by an Arizona firm. While many important details were eliminated or dramatically simplified, the winning competition design concept and building organization were carried through.

Fun fact: The watercolor image shown at the top of this post was painted by Thomas Hacker’s father, Homer Hacker.

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1 Comment »

  1. scott magic says:

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Always wondered about this project and what became of it. Look forward to seeing more from the archive and current works.

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