Adding style with stone

April 18, 2001
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The architecture of the Sun City Grand in Surprise, AZ, provides residents with a collective community identity through the common theme of stone -- especially the indigenous Arizona flagstone for the columns and the signature lay-up on the wall at the left.


Arizona sandstone was chosen as paving for the plaza, and was then repeated in the form of decorative boulders in the plaza and in the central water feature.
Dubbed an "oasis in the desert" by those who live there, Sun City Grand is one of many Sun City active adult communities offering an array of recreational activities that make up its way of life. But the amenities are not the only elements of the village that are admired, as the architecture itself has done wonders in providing residents with a collective community identity.

Seeking an experienced firm to work with on the Sun City Grand project, Del Webb Corp., the developer, selected Dahlin Group Architects of San Ramon, CA. "We've been working with Del Webb for 10 years and have done many others projects with them," said Karl Danielson, vice president of Dahlin Group Architects. "This was the first campus style community we com-pleted, however. The community and activities centers for the other projects are located within one main building while this project organized separate buildings around a community water park and garden area."

Since the buildings for this community are more spread out, it was necessary to create and emphasize a common theme among them to preserve a singular identity for the village. "One of the details we looked to establish was a signature stone lay-up which would become an icon associated with Grand," Danielson said. "Arizona flagstone was used in a lay-up pattern we had developed. Stone in selected areas would start at the top in 2- x 2-foot squares in a formal grid, and as it descends down the wall, the grid would break into a random stone pattern and then into a thicker random stone pattern."

Some of this signature stone pattern was incorporated into the exterior design of each building, including the Adobe Spa & Fitness Center as well as the Bistro at Desert Springs Restaurant. "Beyond the general stone pattern, we introduced a small 'jewel' into the overall design," Danielson said. "This Chrysocolla stone was inserted into the pattern at random, but it became the piece that everyone was drawn to. Because of the size, you wouldn't notice it from a distance, but once you're up close, you'll want to touch it."

Stone was also used in other outdoor elements of the community, such as the Sonoran Plaza and the Village Center's courtyard. Arizona sandstone was chosen as paving for the plaza, and was then repeated in the form of decorative boulders in the plaza and in the central water feature. "The Arizona sandstone was used for its native quality for the desert environment," Danielson said.

"Ledger-cut" Arizona sandstone can be found in interior applications of stone such as the floor-to-ceiling fireplace in the Bistro. The sandstone theme was carried through to the interior for the sake of continuity and to re-establish the theme of providing a community identity. According to Danielson, the "ledger-cut" Arizona sandstone replaced the unfinished sandstone used outdoors in order to achieve a stronger fireplace element as the focal point of the dining room.

The Sales Center and Social Lobby are also ornamented with Arizona sandstone. "The Sales Center columns are Arizona sandstone with 12-inch tiles on the shaft and 1 1/2-inch stone slabs for the base," Danielson said. "The four column base provides strong visual and physical support for the entry lobby tower. The Social Lobby has Arizona sandstone at the entry door surround to provide a "Grand" entrance."

Looking back on the project, the architect said the stone was an integral part of the Sun City Grand's construction. "We try to use stone where it has a sense of impact for the users of the building -- usually in places where they are up close and can touch it," Danielson said. "It is an expensive material, but it is a rich material, and they are literally touching the real thing."

Credit Box

Sun City Grand

Surprise, AZ

Owner & Developer: Del Webb Corp., Phoenix, AZ

Architect: Dahlin Group Architects,

San Ramon, CA

Construction Manager: Johnson Carlier, Phoenix, AZ

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