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The Beast – Project Case Study

September 20, 2023 from 4:00pm to 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time

Tampa Convention Center [Lower Level - Ballroom D]

David Venegas

Ron Stelmarski, FAIA

William C. Helm, II, AIA CNU-A

Located in a fast-growing part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the new multi-generational recreation center and water park is the first component of a 92-acre regional park, transforming an extreme, high-altitude desert basin into an inviting oasis for the community. The talk will highlight four key program areas and their support spaces: outdoor water park, natatorium (50-meter competition pool), gymnasium, and community center. Attendees will also learn about a public art installation by Dallas-based artist Brad Goldberg. Public design meetings resulted in a concept that consolidates the citizens’ insights into a formal expression which reflect the colors, forms, and light of the desert environment. The project relates to the nearby Hueco Tanks State Park, a destination for people in earlier times where they harvested rainwater pooled in the natural rock basins. Modulation of light guided the design concept throughout the project. Articulation of humble materials led to a range of experiences throughout the building. Shade structures, tilt-wall concrete, wood slats, and perforated metal filter light and views throughout the interior in ways appropriate to the desert context. Local, water-conserving vegetation and arroyos surrounding the building minimize water diversion and recognize the biodiversity of the Chihuahuan Desert. The project has won local and state AIA Design Honor Awards and has been published in Metropolis magazine and Texas Architect magazine.


  • Equity: Attendees will be able to identify the needs for a recreation center within a growing community while coordinating with a master plan to promote the highest levels of equity and social engagement. Principles of environmental analysis and public participation will be summarized.
  • Structural Systems: Attendees will be able to describe the use of tilt-wall and long-span structural systems, their function, efficiency, and beauty, and key considerations during design.
  • Climate Response: Strategies for designing in a desert climate and extreme daylight with a modest budget will be explained. Attendees will review the facility to identify use of shade structures, strategic placement of glazing, water conservation, and simple building materials in ways that adapt to the environment and enhance the quality of the user experience.
  • Public Art: Attendees will review the public art piece and be able to explain the local process for integrating public art and summarize the coordination required between the artist, the city, and the design architect during various phases of the project.

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