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Boyce Thompson Arboretum Visitor Center

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c. 1988–1989, Line and Space (Les Wallach). Near milepost 223 on U.S. 60.
  • (Photograph by Henry Tom, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Designed by the Tucson-based architectural firm Line and Space, the Visitor’s Center at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is an example of critical regionalism. The building, located at the western edge of the state park near the parking lot, represented the first major expansion of the arboretum’s public facilities since its original construction in the 1920s. Dedicated in 1988 and fully in use by January of the following year, the Visitor’s Center superseded the arboretum’s original visitor center and administration building, the extant Smith Building of 1925–1926.

The architects produced a building that blends modernist functional sensibilities with the cultural, geographic, and climactic determinants of its location. Straddling the main trail through the arboretum, the building uses it as a conceptual organizer for its various functions, which include ticket sales, a gift shop, administrative offices, interpretive displays, restrooms, and a nursery. The 10,000-square-foot, concrete and masonry building consists of an assemblage of volumes: a cylindrical tower, a triangular roof form, and a concrete roof grid (waffle slab) open to the desert sky that unifies the project. In recognition of the arboretum’s preexisting architectural context, the masonry walls reflect the crude rhyolite construction of its earliest buildings. The tall cylindrical form at the entry functions as a cooling tower. Breezeways blend indoor spaces with the outdoors; lines are continued by low concrete and masonry walls as well as wood ceilings and brick floor pavers that extend outward.

Nationally recognized for pioneering the development of tempered microclimates, the Visitor’s Center received the American Institute of Architect’s Committee on the Environment/ACSA Award.


“Boyce Thompson Arboretum Visitor Center.” Line and Space. Accessed September 13, 2017.

Writing Credits

Heather N. McMahon
R. Brooks Jeffery
Jason Tippeconnic Fox



  • 1988


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Heather N. McMahon, "Boyce Thompson Arboretum Visitor Center", [Superior, Arizona], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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