In retrospect, it was foolhardy of me to promise on Facebook that I would write about Phoenix's worst architectural disasters and ... could they be fixed? Then to ask for nominations by Facebook friends.
There's just too much bad architecture out there (and no, not only in Phoenix). Now it's too late, a promise is a promise, so here are my top (or bottom) three worst buildings in Phoenix.
1. Phoenix Police Headquarters. Check out the seamless intertwining of Brutalist architecture, 1960s fortress mentality, and everything from the sides of the building to the abundant, heat-radiating concrete surrounding the structure screaming "bleak!"
It is an almost perfect example of sterile, dehumanizing, soul-killing, boring hack-work. It even lacks the authority projected by the 1929 City Hall/County Courthouse. Instead, the taxpayers financed a block of ugly that has stood through some 45(!) years of indifference and civic malpractice.
2. The Arizona Executive Office Tower. Yes, this is Gov. Roscoe's aerie.
Built in 1974, only about four years after the building above, this mishap has the same dreary "pour boiling oil on the invaders" upper-story rampart as its cousin.
Yet its transgression goes further because it is attached to the charming territorial capitol building and addition. The top of the tower overpowers the modest copper dome of the capitol. The two buildings clash like a Chevy Vega front on a Rolls Royce.
3. The Wells Fargo Tower. All three of Arizona's home-based banks built new downtown skyscrapers in the early 1970s. This was the effort of First National Bank of Arizona.
Siblings of this brown International box were placed all over America but nowhere is it homelier than in downtown Phoenix. An added insult is that Wells Fargo sent most of its jobs to a Chandler office "park," rather than in new, perhaps better buildings downtown.
Someone nominated Chase Tower, which, as Valley Center, got the 1970s downtown building boom going. It is dead at street-level (that, along with the escalator-accessed interior, was done partly to dissuade bank robberies). But at least Valley Center has an interesting prism design.
4. The Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse. This was designed by the starchitect Richard Meier, who was entranced by the misters at Arizona Center. The result in the Sonoran Desert is a good approximation of hell.
My only solution for the first three is the bulldozer, sooner rather than later. "The Sandy" might be redeemed by abundant planting of mature cottonwoods, ashes, and other shade trees, as well as removing most of the concrete and replacing it with an Arizona Center-style garden.
Other nominations included the former Viad Tower on north Central (I think it is the only interesting newer tower in the city), the Vale in Tempe, the downtown Sheraton, the Scottsdale Galleria, Chase Field, the glass towers to replace Monti's, the Legislature wings of the Capitol complex, and University of Phoenix Stadium.
Phoenix was a small city during the glory days of American architecture. A few good bones remain (the Luhrs Building, Luhrs Tower, Orpheum Theater, City/County Building, Hotel Westward Ho, Kenilworth School, and Union Station). Others, most crushingly the Fox Theater, were lost.
The city was fortunate in many mid-century modern houses. Commercial buildings, not so much. One exception were the branches built by Valley National Bank.
Architecture speaks to our souls and aspirations. It is the most omnipresent visual manifestation of our civilization and civic life, especially when paired with good civic design.
Unfortunately, cities all over the country are seeing lookalike glass-skinned buildings erected. Lesser-depression Phoenix is less a victim here because fewer structures are going up, especially skyscrapers. But the egos of the architecture world, combined with the desire to build cheap, aren't likely to give way to a neo-Art-Deco movement. There are no new ideas, one definition of decadence.