This new building in Tucson gives a glimpse into city’s future

Carmen Cueva Special to the Arizona Daily Star

When discussing the new Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing at Pima Community College’s downtown campus, many people have made a case for economic promise, but I see more value in personal engagement.

This is a place where we come together with a passion for craft and technology. The architecture creates a framework for inspiration, connection and aspiration. It is shaped by our community’s rich past and will help form our collective future. It is a tool for all of us to be contemplative and active, making meaningful contributions to the world around us. It facilitates learning and growing, individually and together, and at all stages. It’s a place we work on in faith and with great hope. With a deep desire to benefit those we have yet to meet. It’s a place to give generously and a place to receive more than your imagination permits. It’s a place that doesn’t yet exist for you, but will as soon as you arrive.

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It’s also my favorite place, at the moment.

Favorite places

Favorite Places is a five-part series featuring local architects speaking thoughtfully and personally about a favorite building, place or space in Southern Arizona.

Watch the final installment of “Favorite Places” on Arizona Illustrated Sunday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 pm on PBS 6.

“What is design?” This is a question we talk about quite a bit in my classroom, which will soon be housed in the new center. This usually comes after talking about why we make things, and how it contributes to the creation of culture. It’s a hard one for people to answer; many have never really given it much thought. They get frustrated when success seems so subjective, thinking its measure is based on personal opinion. This is one of my favorite conversations to have with students. We talk about how it is actually a balancing act between what is and what could be. And, it’s not easy. Done well, it feels like something surreal that has worked out against all odds, something impossible, that forms a new paradigm, that changes the way groups of people do things. A well-formed, clear, definition of intent becomes the metric of its success. In it all, you should hear the designer’s voice, their inquisitiveness, and their captivation.

Design is naturally a vulnerable act because it is revelatory and personal. An intimacy is shared with visitors, through their sensory inputs of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, on a very individual level. It weaves together time with memory, and its strong emotional responses. Decisions are made to flow or clash with cultural norms, making bold statements. We often emphasize what brings us feelings of joy and optimism, test new ideas to prevent the recurrence of past trauma, and allow what is to subtly fill in the rest to make a complete narrative. Design is a risky business. It’s not just a personal expression frozen in time and space, and stored. A piece like this is always exposed, fluid and malleable. Time inevitably will uncover what remains of the original narrative and what of it will shape our subsequent ones.

Watch a fly-through video of construction progress at Pima Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing building at the Downtown Campus.

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The Center is a tall building for Tucson. It contrasts with its surroundings. One feels excited and a little intimidated by it, similar to making a big decision about one’s career. There is comfort in its heavy permanence and protective shell, and yet it’s also inviting. There is a lightness and a playfulness with angled edges and planes that create beautiful dancing shadows throughout the day and year. It brings levity.

The first floor is marked by a rawness. The sound of metal clacking, being carved, being molded together. If you’re familiar with these sounds, they’ll make you feel at home. If not, they will make your body feel attentive to possible danger. Your curiosity is satisfied by being able to peek through windows and get a privileged view into the foundation of all made things in our society. This floor includes welding technology, machining technology, and a prototyping space that helps us get through many ideas quickly. You’ll notice speed here, things are moving quickly.

Ascending up the monumental stairs, you’ll pause at an impromptu stage. A place to share ideas and pitch new ones. Continuing, you’ll look out over the adjacent building edges, and you’ll hold on to the rail, feeling the strength of the steps beneath you. Reaching the second floor, you’ll observe the crane up high, over a charismatic walkway that leads your eyes from one end of the building to the other. Your body will notice you’re somewhere new, enlivening your curiosity and imagination. Peeking through these windows, you will see all sorts of new technology, catalysts and moving parts. Small collaboration rooms are sprinkled throughout the building and are a curio cabinet of ideas. These make space to cultivate group ideas, to let them simmer and distill.

In the very middle of the floor and building, you’ll see a lounge. Students are at the heart of what we do. We understand that Pima’s lasting impression is not from the classroom lectures or the tests, it’s about the relationships they create with their peers, the crazy ideas they come up with in the midst of this explosive encounter with new knowledge, and about their joy in discovering their real capabilities. They need a little informality and fun to help bring this out. The views to the Tucson and Rincon Mountains remind us all to have perspective.

Manufacturing and construction is a cornerstone of our local economy, and the munity has a deficit in skilled labor.

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Across from the lounge, there is a large room that seems to always be changing, often looking like a manufacturing floor or assembly line. Here, employers join us to do targeted training, specific to their business. It helps students remember their goal and that it’s only a few steps away, a shorter distance than they realize. You may run into your younger self here, or your older self here. What words of advice, encouragement or support did you need (or will you need) to nurture your passion?

This second floor includes automated industrial technology, an emerging field of study, an optics lab, a student lounge, and a flexible industry training lab. You’ll see adaptability here. Context, tools, processes and people are evolving rapidly to compete and it is exciting. Are you willing to build on a shifting landscape?

Climbing to the third floor, you’ll feel the stability of this community behind you as you go out on a limb, as though it’s preparing you to launch, to go out into the world and share your unique gifts. Here you can’t help but feel a shift in perspective. At first choosing to engage felt heavy and daunting, and now it’s putting you out there, you are what’s intimidating about this place. It’s encouraging you to see and take on the world in new ways.

The backdrop of the gathering extends beyond Mount Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains, and encourages celebration, gratitude and delight.

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This floor includes computer-aided design, applied technology administration, an incubator space nurturing individuals and entrepreneurial ideas specifically associated with advanced manufacturing and applied technology, and the largest meeting room on campus. The backdrop of the gathering extends beyond Mount Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains, and encourages celebration, gratitude and delight. You’ll notice convergence here, where things come together and we discover new opportunities. We are reminded that the sky’s the limit.

I am excited to see this come to fruition.

Design contributes to our larger cultural conversation. What statements does the center make?

Manufacturing and construction is a cornerstone of our local economy, and our community has a deficit in skilled labor. Those jobs are in high demand and earn significant income. Our economy depends on our ability to not only grow these areas but also replace exponential loss of those leaving the workforce. Our elevated need should correlate to an emphasized recognition. We should acknowledge those willing to pursue these careers, for our good, in more ways than a pen and a baseball cap.

Gathering today poses life-threatening risks whether from communicable disease or public violence. And yet, leveraging our collective potential is done best when we’re together. We seek new opportunities to reduce risks and treat the act of congregating with revered respect.

Human creation can be very wasteful, depleting natural resources and increasing climate change. And yet, it is absolutely necessary for innovation and progress. We no longer can afford to design and build buildings that don’t strategically offer more societal good than societal sacrifice.

This Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing centralizes, and shares publicly, a collection of tools and resources unlike anywhere in the world. It is one large, industrial-scale makerspace available to you that brings together tools, experience and enthusiasm. It promotes collaborative partnerships with businesses, industry, agencies, nonprofits, institutions and schools. It is a place for high activity and uses all the stops, including a 10-ton crane and hyflex classrooms, to facilitate all types of human exchange. It reaches to overcome limits and accelerate progress, directly or indirectly, for each and every one of us in Southern Arizona. Come and see what you have to gain.

learn more

Learn more about Pima Community College’s new Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing, 1255 N. Stone Ave., at

Carmen Cueva is the computer-aided design faculty and department head at Pima Community College.


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