By Amanda White, Senior Interpretive Planner, Thinc Design

Last year, my teammates at Thinc Design and I began a journey of discovery in the Sonoran Desert. As we begin to pull concepts together for Scottsdale’s proposed Desert Discovery Center, we feel invigorated by what we’ve learnt and developed thus far. This project—with its “small footprint and big vision”—is positioned to be a site of empowerment and hope in Arizona. We are confident it will be a place to connect children with the natural environment, celebrate Scottsdale’s innovative strategies for living in the desert, and serve as a hub for understanding how we can all participate in a sustainable future.

During a week of workshops in late November/early December, the Thinc team met with local groups and partners in Scottsdale and Phoenix. It was a productive and stimulating week and as ever we are so impressed and grateful for the passionate commitment of those with whom we met. On Nov. 30, we helped facilitate a series of public workshops—a challenging, but ultimately invaluable experience that gave us a thorough insight into both the community’s concerns and support. One thing everyone shares is a deep love for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and this remains at the heart of our vision, too, as we seek to reveal its fullest potential for education and inspiration to the community. Our sincerest thanks to everyone who participated.

In addition to creative design sessions with the Desert Discovery Center team, our content partners at Arizona State University and architect John Sather of Swaback Partners, we also met with neighborhood and community groups, teachers, several conservation organizations, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy leadership, educators from Scottsdale and Paradise Community Colleges, ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and the tourism and business communities. We also had a fruitful early morning discussion on the site, starting to plan out how the Center will be designed into the natural grades of the land. This is a key feature for our design, to give visitors a rich understanding of what can be seen from multiple vantage points. We also toured the City of Scottsdale Water Campus, expanding our knowledge of Scottsdale’s innovative and leading role in water management and the importance of this story for the Desert Discovery Center.

For a full report on our work to date, you can now view our Project Definition Report. This precedes the Project Interpretation Plan we will present this spring. Thank you so much to those of you who have already looked at the Report; your feedback is invaluable. If you haven’t done so yet, please take a look!

In addition, we also sat down for a 45-minute interview that aired on the local Scottsdale government-access television station. You can still view this video on You Tube.

High on our agenda in the new year is continued work with Native American groups and local educators. These collaborations inform the stories and the way we interpret them in the Center. We also are continuing intensive design sessions with John Sather as the exhibits take shape. As our ideas mature and we work in close collaboration with those who know the Preserve best, we are increasingly excited by how the Center will be a destination for so many as they seek out a closer connection to our precious natural environment.

As one teacher said to us:

“The inspiration to connect with and value a place is a direct outcome of both experiencing the real thing and understanding what you can see.”

There’s no better reason or time to build a Center in the Preserve and ensure that many future generations recognize its worth as a site of sustainability.