Distinctive designs enhance South Mountain Freeway experience

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While providing a much-needed alternative to Interstate 10 through downtown Phoenix, the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway offers drivers a variety of distinctive designs and landscaping influenced by the natural beauty and history along its 22 miles.

Designs displayed on bridges, sound walls and landform graphics range from a leaf-patterned agricultural theme near Laveen to simple shapes based on chollas and ocotillos in the Ahwatukee Foothills. Closer to I-10 in Ahwatukee, drivers see horizontal patterns inspired by modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s connection with that area, according to a release.

Near the Salt River, drivers see curving linear shapes and decorative elements that speak to water passing over rock through time. A “mountain urban link” pattern where South Mountain Freeway meets I-10 in west Phoenix combines influences from mountain views with the work of both Frank Lloyd Wright and architect, urban designer and artist Paolo Soleri.

“Design choices are an important part of providing quality freeways for today and for future generations,” LeRoy Brady, ADOT’s chief landscape architect, said in the release. “They enhance the experience of those who use the South Mountain Freeway.”

Complementing these designs are landscape themes, such as the saguaros, native trees, colorful plants and coral-colored granite that enhance the transition between Ahwatukee and I-10 in the East Valley. In the Ahwatukee Foothills, the landscaping combines salvaged native plants with new plants.

Near Laveen, green and colorful plants complement brown granite to celebrate that area’s agricultural heritage. From the Salt River north to I-10, the landscaping includes bold shapes, brilliantly colored plants and gold-colored granite, while the freeway-to-freeway interchange in west Phoenix blends I-10’s existing landscape theme with gold-colored granite.

“Together, these aesthetic and landscape character areas tell stories by highlighting land use, land forms and history,” Mr. Brady said in the release.

With the freeway now open to traffic, crews are continuing to complete landscaping in areas.

ADOT developed these concepts, which were presented for public input, in collaboration with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Cosanti Foundation.

In Ahwatukee, an entire aesthetic character area is inspired by the 1920s camp, near what is now 32nd Street, where Frank Lloyd Wright produced designs for a desert resort that was never built after the 1929 stock market crash.

“Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by Arizona’s desert surroundings, especially the area south of South Mountain,” Mr. Brady said in the release. “He loved the area. He loved looking south across the desert landscape. It was important that we capture his view of this area in our designs.”

Working with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, ADOT’s project team designed simple patterns celebrating the area’s landscape and vegetation. Because the wood walls of Wright’s camp featured bold horizontal lines echoing the desert floor and long horizons, South Mountain Freeway sound walls have horizontal lines, in contrast to vertical lines used for sound walls along other Valley freeways.

“It represents the Arizona Department of Transportation’s foresight that this could be a pivotal project not only because of its size but also in its expression of the historical context it passes through,” said architect Victor Sidy, who worked with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on the project.

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