Wearing a green hard hat and sleek black shades, Martha Schwartz bends over and draws her initials, MC2004, into a bed of wet concrete.
The signature will be covered over later, but the moment has the feeling of an artist putting her stamp on her work.
Schwartz is the landscape architect consultant for the $94.5 million Mesa Arts Center under construction. Her company, Martha Schwartz Inc., worked alongside BOORA Architects from Portland, Ore., and Phoenixbased DWL Architects + Planners on the center’s design from its inception
It’s Schwartz’s first visit to the Mesa construction site. And she likes what she sees.
"It will be wonderful when we plant this," she says, looking around the unfinished garden at Center and Main streets.
"This is really the zero-zero corner," she says. "It has to be striking." Not just as the entrance to the Mesa Arts Center complex, but as a cornerstone of the new Mesa downtown art scene. "It’s your front porch, so to speak."
When completed, the corner will be a colorful garden oasis with exotic plants, running water features, benches and metal water tables with inset blue marbles.
"This is going to be a very nice, cooling corner to be on," Schwartz says.
Schwartz envisions a space where theatergoers can socialize before a show with a glass of wine, or a soothing backdrop for people waiting for a bus.
Like a billboard for the whole project, the corner garden will draw visitors into the hidden heart of the arts complex, which will also include a sunken sculpture garden — terraced with rosemary and clinging vines — where people can gather for outdoor jazz concerts in front of a waterfall.
A promenade-style Shadow Walk will cut through the heart of the 600-foot-long space, from Main Street to First Avenue.
But the most interesting feature might be the arroyo, a dry creek bed made of black lava rock and yellow travertine that curves in a long, slow arc in front of the center’s three main theaters. Designed to mimic Arizona’s flash floods, water will collect in a cloudthemed stainless steel basin, then when the basin is full, it will "gush out" across the channel like a monsoon deluge rushing over a dry riverbed.
"It’s based on how water works in this part of the country," Schwartz says.
One of the project goals was to create an environment that felt like Arizona — not to repeat urban designs seen in a city such as New York. The design team wanted something that told a story.
The design recalls the geology of the area with big, bold pieces and on a large scale, Schwartz says.
"So much of what you see here is about putting things on display because it’s a theater center," Schwartz says. "It’s landscape as theater."