Tucson Brutalist Bank at Risk

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The cafeteria of the former Valley National Bank is scheduled for demolition. Courtesy MAPP.

After the 9/11 attacks, municipalities all over the country took note of the breakdown of communications between rescue workers during a moment of crisis. Many set aside funds to build emergency communication centers, like the ill-fated one located at Seven World Trade. In 2003, county voters in Tucson set aside $92 million to build a command center where police, fire, and emergency personnel could coordinate emergency responses. The county Board of Supervisors selected the former Valley National Bank building on East 22nd Street as the site for the new command center. But now preservationists are concerned that sections of the Brutalist building, designed by local architects Cain, Nelson, Wares & Cook Architects, will be destroyed.

Native plantings still flourish in the courtyards.

Cited as one of the 50 most significant examples of Modern architecture in Tucson by the Modern Architecture Preservation Project (MAPP), the building is considered one of the better examples of Brutalism in Tucson said MAPP President Chris Evans. “It’s an early and really an exceptional example of cast in place concrete,” said Evans, “but a lot of people look at concrete and don’t get excited.” Indeed, Tucson, like cities elsewhere, is just beginning to grapple with architectural styles from their recent past. Evans added that while there’s a pretty healthy appreciation for older historic styles, movements like Brutalism are still a bit outside of the general public’s frame of reference.

Detail of the poured-on-site concrete.

However, several of the supervisors interviewed by the Arizona Daily Star did voice appreciation for the building’s architectural merit, but were more concerned about completing the emergency management center. Several of the native plantings in the seven courtyards are still flourishing and may be saved, but the circular cafeteria building that protrudes out from rest the building like a pod is slated for demolition. Last Wednesday the Tucson-Pima County Historic Commission called for the building to be preserved and Evans said that MAPP will be seeking the support of the State Historic Commission, but neither entity has the power to stop the demolition.

Concrete arbor detail.

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