In 1990, Antoine Predock completed the Nelson Fine Arts Center on the ASU’s Tempe campus. The complex houses the ASU Art Museum, the Galvin Playhouse as well as dance classroom and studios. The structure is known as the “magic mountain” or the “oasis,” as the design learns from the vernacular desert architecture to respond to the site’s environment and climate.
Nelson Fine Arts Center Technical Information
- Architects: Antoine Predock
- Location: 51 E 10th St, Tempe, AZ 85281, Tempe, Arizona, United States
- Client: Arizona State University, Tempe
- Topics: Concrete, Art Center, Color in Architecture, Desert
- Project Year: 1985 – 1990
- Photographs: © ArchEyes
I try to understand place on a deeper level than just the physical or environmental aspects. It includes cultural and intellectual forces, too. It’s an inclusive approach that brings in many disciplines and sees place as a dynamic thing.
– Antoine Predock
Nelson Fine Arts Center Photographs
Text by the Architects
The arts center’s design, containing a museum, theater arts, and dance departments, involved a special attitude toward the desert – much more than simply imposing the building program on the quasi-urban university site. The harsh and relentless desert presence in Arizona is often denied; the prevailing tendency (in terms of development and attitudes toward public architecture) is to convert the desert into a midwestern oasis, to tame the desert.
The building defines a journey, a procession; it defines options and potentials rather than particular paths. It is an open matrix of possibilities for engagement both vertically and horizontally. Art galleries extend the procession. Exterior terraces anchor them for sculpture installations. Steel-plate trellises partly shade these terraces. The gallery sequence is open-ended; visitors can use the sculpture terraces to explore inside and out. They can proceed indoors to the large upper gallery, which has the highest ceilings and straddles the main entry.
At the center is the Galvin Playhouse with The Dance Studio Theater. The curving arcade/aqueduct delivers water to three fountain locations, one of which is at the theater entry. The theater is reached through the foreground arcade, which has aluminum louvers that form a trellis—the color graduates from light to dark, ending with purple-black side walls inside the theater.
The building defines a journey, a procession; it defines options and potentials rather than particular paths. It is an open matrix of possibilities for engagement both vertically and horizontally.
The poetry of Garcia Lorca describes the desert dualities “sol y Sombra.” This building acknowledges those aspects of the terrain, both spiritually and physically. Necessary respites from the sun are created by zones of lacy shade like the patterns palo verde leaves cast on the desert floor. Spiky trellis elements help to cool spaces, both cavernous and labyrinthine.
Another journey extends to the sky, via terraces and balconies toward towers that define the west campus entry as a gateway. There is both an ascent and a descent from the middle ground, where the theaters and the theater arts spaces are located. The multiple journeys are possibilities that become trails as each visitor experiences the building.
Nelson Fine Arts Center Floor Plan
Nelson Fine Arts Center Image Gallery
About Antoine Predock
Antoine Predock is an American architect based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he founded his studio in 1967. Predock first gained national attention with the La Luz community in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work includes the Turtle Creek House, the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, and a new ballpark for the San Diego Padres, the Petco Park.