Talking STICK Resort
by James Rutherford
September 1, 2010
A patio at the new Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Living with Nature, Working with People
Mountain views and structural harmony with the surrounding desert were integral throughout Talking Stick’s construction
Casino Arizona’s new Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale was conceived in the belief that large-scale casino construction could exist in harmony with the environment and foster at the same time a genuine sense of community among the people who pass through it for entertainment and depend on it for their livelihoods.
An ambitious goal, no question about it, and the fact that most of it has been realized is a tribute to its owners, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, its designers, FFKR Architects of Salt Lake City, and locally based general contractor Chanen Construction. All three in their way helped imbue this massive $440 development with a soul.
Speaking several months before Talking Stick opened — which was on April 15, appropriately enough, the eve of Earth Week — Casino Arizona CEO Jon Jenkins referred to it as the embodiment of the tribe’s “vision of balancing economic development with long-established values.”
Architect Kevin Maas, a senior associate with FFKR, designers of the first LEED-Platinum building in Utah and a firm that has been in the vanguard of “environmental design” since its founding in the mid-1970s, says it was “a relatively easy idea to pursue.”
“Because it is a Native American gaming operation, we were working with a community that was very supportive of doing something in harmony with the environment and were advocates of using so-called LEED elements in the design and structure,” he says.
Not that LEED-certification was the goal. “Sustainability was important to the community, but more in a traditional sense than in a LEED-based model,” Maas explains. “It is a building centered around a decision to honor green design.”
Talking Stick’s 15-story hotel tower rises from the stark beauty of the surrounding desert at the northwestern edge of the tribe’s 52,000-acre reservation, which is bounded by Scottsdale, metropolitan Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and the suburb of Fountain Hills. In this setting the resort hosts a panoramic view of the McDowell Mountains, echoing the significance that Red Mountain holds for the tribe, its majestic peak a symbol of home to the Pima and Maricopa peoples and visible throughout the 9,000-member community from the eastern edge of the reservation.
A queen suite at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Maas describes the interior as “a place for play and relaxation by seeing and experiencing the outdoors … a place that is comfortable and compelling for everyone in a modern sense, not a themed version of the past.”
And it is a property, he says, that “exemplifies how to correctly design and build for maximum energy efficiency,” with plenty of exterior shading and thick exterior walls, deeply recessed windows to complement the openness of its public spaces, and an abundance of natural light, even in the casino, where floor-to-ceiling windows form the backdrop for the main lounge.
Talking Stick is unique also in that these elements are carried through the back of the house in line with the tribe’s conception of its newest business as the “community’s living room,” as Maas puts it. Employees enter through a garden space, there is always access to the outside, there are indoor as well as outdoor smoking areas, and the dining room is designed to feel more like a restaurant than a cafeteria.
“We were asked to really think about the employee experience,” Maas says, “from getting to work to eating at work to uniform areas, and on and on.”
Chanen Construction, which has worked with Casino Arizona for 14 years, divided the enormous job of sheet-rocking the interior and exterior into 10 different bid packages. This resulted in five firms getting the work, instead of one, which is the norm. But Chanen wanted “to maximize opportunities for different project participants,” the company told McGraw-Hill Construction in a profile of Talking Stick published last fall. “We have a process where we let tribal members who own businesses participate as subcontractors, so we want to make the packages in smaller bites so more participation could occur.”
In all, the decision helped create 300 new jobs in the Pima-Maricopa Community.
Talking Stick employs a heat recovery system to reduce cooling loads on the building and a StormTrap water management system which consists of three large underground tanks where rainwater is collected, purified and allowed to percolate back into the soil instead of the sewerage system. The interior is designed with raised-access flooring to create a safer and more comfortable breathing environment. Underneath, a ventilation system uses outside air to circulate exhaust upward, releasing it through the ceiling.
Talking Stick also emphasized the use of recyclables for paving and for finished materials, including the carpeting, which is 100 percent post-consumer.
“The client embraced the long view when it came to selecting product materials,” Maas says, “and was willing to spend a little more to reap the benefits over the long term.”
TALKING STICK FACTS
Sub-surface ventilation constantly replenishes the casino with outside air.<
The hotel contains 497 rooms and suites. More than 800 slot machines, 50 house-banked table games, a 50-table poker room and keno are available across 240,000 square feet of casino space. The property features several fine dining and casual restaurants, including a buffet, and a number of bars and lounges, a 640-seat showroom, a spa, more than 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space and 36 holes of golf.
is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.
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