The Resilient City

A Nexus of Sustainability for the City of Phoenix

The City of Phoenix is often perceived as a fledgling city of transplants, a cultural blank slate, and a disconnected, sprawling metropolis. Perhaps our strongest bond as Phoenicians is the place in which we live – an arid desert of both majestic landscape and undeniable ecological hostility – and the potential to constantly improve upon the young city. If Phoenix is to survive the merciless reality of climate change, we must address the unsustainable nature of our sprawl, the burden placed upon our antiquated infrastructure and resources, and the need for our communities to connect across culture and class. We must reframe the abstract conceits of our transforming environment into moral imperatives. We must create an infrastructure of sustainability that can simultaneously improve our quality of life and long-term environmental resilience.

The proposed infrastructure, called Nexus, creates a network of architectural interventions that supply communities with essential resources and can adapt as the surrounding environment changes; an interconnected set of architectural nodes to collect data, test innovative technology, and distribute successful strategies throughout the valley to improve the environment. Each node will contain an educational component for communicating the realities of the changing desert environment; an infrastructural component for providing or conserving resources and collecting data for the network; and social spaces and programs for bringing disparate communities together across the valley to architectural focal points. The Nexus focuses on the key resources that are most infrastructurally interdependent and that will be most stressed by climate change – water, air, and vegetation.

Nexus is hierarchical; the nodes feed data through the resource manifold to the hub and connect as an infrastructural network. The visibility of this new infrastructure is key to its success; an iconic visual manifestation will not only form a unique spatial and architectural identity for Phoenix, but will also serve as a memorial to residents of their personal responsibility to support the viability of their city. Ultimately the Nexus stands as a symbol to us Phoenicians and the world at large: our call to be reborn as a resilient city.

The Infrastructure

The central core of the Nexus, the hub is a research and education-oriented entity and public gathering space closely aligned with local universities and sustainability entrepreneurs. The hub designs, builds, and implements the nodes throughout the city. The data collected by each node is routed through the manifold to the hub for analysis, and the hub uses the data as the basis for educating the community about the changing environment via publicly accessible spaces and programs. The program includes a series of research labs, public-private co-work space, educational facilities, and public-outreach programs for education on the sustainability infrastructure.

Three nodes will be initially deployed, focusing on the key resources that will be most stressed by climate change – water, air, and vegetation. Each node collects data regarding its primary resource, feeding it back into the network. Each node exists as an architectural intervention that educates the local community on their new infrastructure and the resources they seek to protect, tests new technologies that conserve or collect resources and records findings, and connects to their community in a unique way. New nodes can be implemented to feed into the interconnected Nexus.

Once developed as successful node, each node design is then dispersed throughout the city according to the characteristics of its program, site requirements, and resource characteristics. The collection of nodes can now collect data throughout Phoenix, creating a resource/data manifold.

The collections of manifolds are infrastructurally interdependent, and their data flows from each node to the hub. A feedback loop is created as the data is analyzed and the hub continues to increase the efficiency and capability of the sustainability infrastructure and inform developing technologies.

Nodes + Resource Manifolds

Increased temperatures will increase evaporation from Phoenix’s standing water resources, such as lakes, reservoirs, and open canals, and will place more pressure on utilizing new sources, including Phoenix’s heavily contaminated groundwater. Utilizing the existing infrastructure of the CAP canal, the WATER node will act as a local water bank and harvest rainwater and runoff to be stored in an underground aquifer, detect and maintain the aquifer water quality, and a point of service for dispensing water to the local community. Data on water quality and source levels are displayed for the community to consider.

As climate change increases the temperature around the earth, moisture levels will decrease and airborne particulate will increase. Massive dust storms native to the Valley, haboobs, will become more frequent and intense, endangering critical energy and water resources. The AIR node will act as both an air quality detection sensor for advanced dust storm warning and an electrostatic air filter. As the air around the node is cleaned, the skin of the node displays the level of particulate removed from the air and information about the current air quality level and dust storm trends.

Phoenix’s combination of extremely high temperatures and minimal ground vegetation makes it one of the worst cities for heat island effect, a fact that will be exacerbated by the increased heat and decreased water volume caused by climate change. Furthermore, lower yields from Colorado River allotments will place even greater strain on local agriculture that is reliant on the canal system. The VEGETATION node will create a vertical garden and urban farm for the local community that will decrease the heat island effect in the direct vicinity. Once tree and plant saplings have matured enough, they can be dispersed from the node to further mitigate the heat island effect in the community. This node will use the alley system in downtown phoenix to plant raised gardens that span through the alleyway, and display the changing levels of surface moisture and temperature.