Best Architecture

Mission San Xavier Del Bac
1950 W. San Xavier Road

READERS' PICK: The spectacular San Xavier Mission's been around since back when churches looked like God would like to hang out there--which, as it turns out, was sometime in the late 1600s (that's when Father Kino founded the mission, anyway). The present Spanish Baroque structure was built between 1776 and 1797. Intensive restoration over the past four years has revealed a myriad of whimsical figures and downright odd folk art designed to inspire the faithful and dazzle the tourist. Trying to ignore the worn-out informational tape is a chore, so your best bet to enjoy a visit is to buy a candle, pick your favorite saint and participate in the ambiance. Binoculars are helpful, as the finer details are astounding but tough to discern with the naked eye.

The architectural restoration orchestrated by The Patronato San Xavier, a non-profit board to benefit the mission, should be finished by the mission's centennial in the spring of 1997. Local architect Bob Vint started the exterior restoration in 1989, and funding permitting, has painstakingly persevered in removing the Portland cement that covered the mission in its declining years (trapping moisture and hastening its deterioration, we might add), repairing the underlying original brick work and refinishing the exterior with a sand and lime plaster shell, an attempt to recreate the original materials.

On the interior, The Patronato has contracted with a world-class team of restoration specialists from Italy, headed up by Paul Schwartzbaum, a distinguished mural/painting restorer and chief conservator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The six-member group has employed four Native American apprentices for the duration of the project--now in its fourth year--which will celebrate its completion on the mission's centennial in the spring of 1997. At least two of these resident experts, who are learning state-of-the-art techniques (the same used in the restoration of the Sistine Chapel), will stay on permanently to follow the care of the paintings and other artwork inside.

All work has been funded by donation, in a rare show of care for our city's architectural heritage. That, in combination with the Patronatos' tireless support, hiring and training local labor, and the project teams' intelligent discernment in using the best that traditional materials and modern technology have to offer, make the Mission a Tucson treasure in which we should all take pride...and some occasional pocket change for the coffers.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Always a bridesmaid...the Pima County Courthouse seems destined, year after year, to come in second to the Mission in the readers' poll. We understand. It's hard to proclaim anything this pink the best in Tucson. But this venerable old building, designed by Tucson architect Roy Place back in 1929, really is a regional marvel of Spanish colonial charm, with its lovely array of arches, its tiled dome, and inviting urban park waiting in the wings. Especially compared to the drab institutional buildings around it, the courthouse is a splash of color and light that beats the hell out of any rainbow on City Hall.

STAFF PICK: Going to the doctor should always be this sensually pleasurable an experience. One of the few buildings recently built in Tucson with any modicum of character or style, the new Group Health Medical Associates Building (on Ina and Shannon roads) houses offices epitomizing elegance. Brick and glass grace interior courtyards, capped by a copper roof capturing Arizona's legacy. The stone floors of the interior are broken up with comfortable, ample seating areas. Even the examining rooms, private offices, and lab areas are outfitted with taste and exude comfort. It's worth making an appointment for that dreaded physical just to experience the healthy vision imparted by the planners, architects and designers who created this impressive building.

A PERFECT 10: No one seems to know the name of the whimsical office building at 310 S. Williams Blvd. Even the tenants refer to it as the "Waterslide" or "Flintstone" building. Both names are aptly suited. At first glance, this unexpected sight may appear to be a mirage, nestled behind the granite-and-glass Valley Bank Building complex and nearby Williams Center. Architect John Campisano had playful sophistication in mind when he designed this unnamed $7-million structure a decade ago. Campisano's aesthetic eye is apparent in every intricate detail. As we pass through the stone corridor to the courtyard, we're amused by the wall etchings sporting images of a bustling city street. A woman in tennis shoes wears a Walkman, a child visits the fruit market. Nowhere in Tucson will you find a building with sensuous curves like these. There appear to be no straight edges, only rounded corners. The most distinctive feature, apart from the fire-engine red roof and trim, is an enormous sculpted panel, not unlike a waterslide, which rolls from the third floor to the main canopy entrance. As you enter, you see and hear the first of several bubbling water sculptures. A refreshing alternative to high-rise brick and mortar--who wouldn't want to have an office within this whimsical paradise? In the midst of a frenzied day, all you need is to step into the tropical courtyard to unwind. Why be cooped in a stuffy conference room when you can conduct your meeting at one of the glass-top tables shaded by large, leafy trees? Even on a hot summer day, a cool breeze flows through.

Tucson Weekly
© 1996 Tucson Weekly