The Museum of the West is located in downtown Scottsdale, a suburban city known for its upscale homes and golf courses. Also located there is Taliesin West, the residence and school designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that opened in 1937.
Intended to be the centrepiece of an arts district, the museum showcases artefacts – both old and new – related to arts and culture in the American West. The museum sits near historic, low-scale buildings that contain shops, restaurants and galleries.
While conceiving the museum's design, the firm turned to various attributes of the region, from its cowboy culture to striking natural landscapes.
"Studio Ma's design takes its inspiration from a variety of icons of the West, including the horseshoe, the woven basket and the characteristic red cliffs and mesas of the Colorado Plateau," said the Phoenix-based studio that was founded in 2003.
The two-storey building houses interpretative spaces, galleries for permanent and travelling exhibitions and a multi-purpose room for gatherings and presentations.
The structure consists of an exposed steel frame and tilt-up concrete wall panels, which were formed using random-sized wood boards.
The upper portion of the building is clad in a rainscreen made of weathering steel. "The metal panel design is a series of folds that self-shade and utilise a nominal sheet size to minimise waste," the firm noted.
Public spaces – laid out "like a horseshoe around a spike" – occupy a series of volumes that wrap a central courtyard. In addition to bringing natural light into the museum, the courtyard is meant to remind visitors "of the colourful and dramatic quality of the Western landscape".
Galleries on the upper level are connected by an enclosed bridge that offers views of Camelback Mountain, one of the city's most distinctive natural features.
The firm used earthy materials throughout the interior, including columns inlaid with etched Douglas fir, and a large wall and reception desk fabricated of red cedar.
In the multipurpose room, an "undulating plywood cloud" is suspended from the ceiling and conceals acoustical blankets made of locally sourced cotton.
The building has many sustainable features, such as three bioswales that collect rainfall and a high-efficiency mechanical system to introduce humidity.
"A significant reduction in energy and water use was achieved via an innovative humidification design, producing a net-energy-use reduction of 38 per cent compared to a typical museum in this region," the firm said.
Other recent projects in Phoenix – the sixth most-populous city in the US – include an Ennead-designed law school with a sandstone and glass exterior and a folded metal canopy by Höweler + Yoon that shades an urban park.