BIG architects: phoenix observation tower BIG architects: phoenix observation tower
dec 20, 2012

BIG architects: phoenix observation tower

‘phoenix observation tower’ by BIG architectsall images courtesy of BIG architects




the capital city of arizona, USA will be receiving a new addition to its city skyline in the form of a large 70,000 square foot observation tower designed by BIG architects. a project commission by local developer novawest, the observatory is set to be a destination for tourists and city citizens alike, to enjoy the ‘valley of the sun’.


the tall slender reinforced concrete structure, whose principle feature is a large spiralling sphere at its top, stands as a metaphorical representation of a pin – as if marking a point on a map. the winding area can be reached via three glass elevators, connecting the base with its summit where panoramic views of the city and its surrounding landscape can be taken in. walking down the spiraling promenade, one is able to experience all of the tower’s programs which include flexible exhibition, retail and recreational spaces. the separation of these elements do not occur through physical vertical barrier walls, but rather progressively through the slight sloping and height difference of its pathway, preserving a continuity throughout.


instead of a constant width, the helical walkway begins from zero at the point of arrival, reaching its maximum at the middle, and shrinking back to zero at the point of departure. once visitors have reached the centre of the sphere, they can either choose to conclude their trip or continue to the restaurant levels at the lower hemisphere. the motion of navigating around it being much like that of a journey through the centre of a planet, traveling from north to south. a public plaza will be situated at ground level offering shade, water features and small retail shops with a subterranean queuing area. the new landmark will serve as a working model of sustainable energy practice, incorporating a blend of solar and other technologies.

BIG phoenix observation toweraerial view of the sprialing promenade




this is the right place and the right time for a signature project for downtown phoenix and we knew the design needed to be something extraordinary. BIG has delivered something exceptional, blending form and function in a way that will change the local skyline forever and will give visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience.‘ – brian stowell, novawest.


like the monsoons, the haboobs and the mountains of the surrounding arizonian landscape, the pin becomes a point of reference and a mechanism to set the landscape in motion through the movement of the spectator. like the guggenheim museum of new york offers visitors a unique art experience descending around its central void, the motion at the pin is turned inside-out allowing visitors to contemplate the surrounding city and landscape of phoenix. like a heavenly body hovering above the city the pin will allow visitors to descend from pole to pole in a dynamic three dimensional experience seemingly suspended in midair.’ – bjarke ingels, founding partner, BIG.

BIG phoenix observation towerthe division of space is subtle, dictated by the gentle sloping and gradual height changes of the winding walkway

BIG phoenix observation towerthe tower programs include a flexible gallery, retail and recreation spaces

terrace bar and café

BIG phoenix observation tower

BIG phoenix observation towerthe summit of the tower can be accessed by three glass elevators

BIG phoenix observation towerBIG’s structure will stand as a metaphorical pin, as if marking a point on a map

BIG phoenix observation tower

BIG phoenix observation tower

BIG phoenix observation towernavigating through the space makes visitors feel as if they are taking a journey through the center of a planet

models of the spherical structure

model depicting the gradual sloping of the promenade

general view

worm’s-eye view

model detail


BIG phoenix observation towerdiagram of the sloping structure




BIG phoenix observation towerdiagram illustrating the tower’s location and outlook



BIG phoenix observation towervisual breakdown of the programs



project info:


name: phoenix observation towertype: commissionsize: 70,000 sqf         client: novawestcollaborators: MKA (structure), atelier10 (sustainability), gensler (local architect), teneyck (landscape)location: phoenix, arizonacountry: USApartner in charge: bjarke ingels and thomas christoffersenproject leader: iannis kandyliaristeam: thomas fagan, aaron hales, ola hariri, dennis harvey, beat schenk

  • Vertigo on demand. Uggggh!

    JimCan says:
  • I’m not sure who would want to climb to the top of that monotonous orb. Though I think there is an elegance to it, part of me groans at the literal imagery.

    ChrisP says:
  • sort of nice idea; it could have been so elegant, but they settled for so so.

    nicey says:
  • and why would you want to see more of Phoenix?

    jTr says:
  • I do hope there isn’t too much open air in the design – I live in Phoenix, and from June through October open air means miserably hot. Cooling that structure should prove interesting when it is 116′ F out too. On the other hand, struggling uphill in a hot, blinding environment might be a pretty accurate synopsis of Phoenix anyway…

    Oh, by the way, Phoenix Observation Tower shortens to Pot. Might want to rethink that name…

    John says:
  • I live in Phoenix too, I can only see that this would be a total waste of money. During the summer months this place is going to be deserted. Yeah I think we need something here to accentuate our skyline, but I believe that we could have something that would be a little bit more attractive.

    Bryan says:
  • This is not the type of city that has a skyline worth looking at.
    Better to spend money to improve the schools or house people in need.

    Lawrence says:
  • I suggest that BIG consult with their local architect on the reality of such a proposal. Most seek shelter from the intensity of the sun…it is called “the valley of the sun” for a reason. If metaphors are your game, I recommend other more useful metaphors to the pin, study of a cactus might be helpful for the purpose of understanding environmental responsiveness. I am quite certain the shades on the glass will be down most of the time to not only preserve the art, reduce solar gain, and avoid glare. This will radically change the design intent. I am all for creating evocative places, however better research and deeper thinking prior to the proposal is a professional duty.

    Desert Dweller says:
  • I don’t think the conditioning of the air would be a problem, because if it is in white and the glasses reflect the sun light. Besides the spiral should ease the flow of the warm, well HOT, air upwards! further more I would put a light house in the shape of a flame on the top (alike the one on top of Statue of Liberty, NY) to represent the rebirth of the mythical bird “Phoenix”, through fire. In addition the lighthouse could be powered by solar panels.

    Bruce Sh. says:
  • In my last comment it happened that i changed the text and some sentence is a little confusingly formulated , I hope it is clear even so.
    Bruce S.

    Bruce Sh. says:
  • wheelchair access?

    chris says:
  • Perhaps the tower should rotate at a speed sufficient to provide cooling, sucking hot surface air up through the core and drawing down cool upper air to the populated floors.

    Mort D'Urban says:
  • circulation is like le corbusier’s guggenheim museum.
    inspire by it.

    parmar says:
  • Looks like Phoenix, AZ just inadvertently ticketed itself as America’s next #1 suicide location.

    RMB says:
  • reminds me of that episode of Simpsons where Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin borrowed a car and drove to 1986 world fair…

    idle_crane says:
  • looks like those thingies to grab honey

    _Chris says:

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