Just a little over a decade ago, the downtown area of Phoenix, Arizona was not unlike the desert in which the city is located: largely desolate and assaultingly hot. Over the last few years, though, the area has undergone a revitalisation. The temperature hasn’t let up, of course, but with a new set of galleries and restaurants, an expanded residential market and real estate activity from the state’s top university, downtown Phoenix has become a more vibrant place to live and visit.

To accommodate and catalyse this activity, the city has made considerable investments in public infrastructure, including a light rail system and pedestrian-minded streetscape improvements. For a triangular median wedged into a particularly busy corridor along Roosevelt Street, Phoenix invited Boston-based architecture firm Höweler + Yoon to design a public art project.

'My agenda was to create public space and the best way to do that for this site was to create shade,' explains the firm’s principal Meejin Yoon. For its opening in July, temperatures hit 42°C, so the benefits of this design remit were realised almost instantly.

By adapting a single structural system, Yoon and Höweler were able to build elements at different scales, including benches and the canopy itself. Corian surfaces on the seats help avoid potentially scalding heat gains; while photovoltaic panels attached to the canopy collect enough energy to power the project’s nighttime lighting.

Openings in the folded plate-steel help funnel breezes down to the plaza and let light pass through while the sun is low, creating dynamic patterns on the ground. 'At certain points of the day, it’s a complete block of shade,' Yoon explains, 'but at other parts of the day, you get slivers of shadows.'