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Living Topography
Creating Vertical Shade in Downtown Mesa
Landscape Architecture by Colwell Shelor


Living Topography

Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture donated their design services to create innovative shade structures to demonstrate how to fill the need for vertical shade in Mesa, Ariz. The panels that they designed act as giant pin art toys into which passersby can press shapes with their hands and bodies.


The landscape design team of Colwell Shelor, based in Phoenix, Ariz., believes that interactive art is a great community builder, adding character to cities and helping to activate downtowns. Nearby Mesa suffers from urban sprawl that has left the downtown without a strong core. Shade in Arizona is of particular importance. As green spaces within cities disappear, the urban heat island effect increases, making some Arizona cities nearly inhospitable.

Shade is an essential element in creating walkable and more livable communities. In Arizona, multiple types of shade are crucial; trees and built overhead shade structures provide respite during the middle of the day but do little to shade sidewalks during one of the most intense times of the day - the late afternoon or the early morning hours. The need for vertical shade is unique to climates like Mesa's, and its successful execution can make an enormous difference to someone waiting at a bus or light rail stop or at an outdoor cafeA? seating area.



Living Topography

During a Mesa-based festival, two children admired the impressions that they made in one of the shade structures. Members of the Colwell Shelor team manned the panels during the event, explaining the importance of vertical shade to members of the community.


Colwell Shelor teamed up with landscape contractor company 180 Degrees Design + Build to help fill Mesa's need for relief from the sun. Upon winning the commission from an organization that was hosting a festival to sample different forms of shade designs, the team was awarded a $3,000 stipend from a grant, which paid for a very small portion of their work on the project, Living Topography: Creating Vertical Shade. In addition to a donation of almost $5,000, the firm also donated hundreds of hours designing, building and manning the prototype over a two-day festival. The Colwell Shelor design team chose to participate in this prototyping festival because they believe in strong downtowns and wanted to help make Mesa's public spaces more interactive and connected.

Living Topography: Creating Vertical Shade in Downtown Mesa is a set of artistic, interactive panels that create both protection from the harsh horizontal rays during the morning and late afternoons as well as encourage people to take another look at Mesa as a place of community, vibrancy, art and diversity. The project is representative of how each individual can help "shape" the identity of Mesa.



As seen in LASN magazine, April 2019.



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June 25, 2019, 10:05 pm PDT

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