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Survey Number: HPS-251
Year Built: 1970
Architectural Style: Modern Commercial

The 1970, Modern Commercial style Tempe Municipal Building (Tempe City Hall) qualifies as a landmark as defined by the Tempe Historic Preservation Ordinance because it has achieved significance within the past fifty (50) years and because it expresses a distinctive character worthy of preservation and fulfills the criteria for designation as an historic property. 

The Tempe Municipal Building derives significance from several important associations, including surviving as an example of the Mid-Century Modern architectural style. This significant style arrived in the Salt River Valley during the mid-1960s, when local architects ramped-up efforts to reconcile the principles underlying architectural design with rapid technological advancement and the modernization of society as well as adaptation to local environmental conditions. One of these local architects was Tempe-born Michael Goodwin who, along with his father Kemper, took on the challenge of designing a new city hall for their community. The Tempe Municipal Building would go on to become the heart of downtown Tempe, serving as a catalyst for revitalization for the rest of the city center. This building is also significant for its use of new technologies and design strategies. The Mid-Century Modern movement brought with it the use of steel in a new, expressive way. Michael Goodwin’s cunning engineering, maximizing the properties of this relatively new material to construct the upside-down pyramid form, was an early attempt at a passive solar design.


The Tempe Municipal Building is located in the heart of downtown Tempe at 31 East Fifth Street, between Mill and College Avenues, just north of the Arizona State University Tempe campus, and is the centerpiece of the Harry E. Mitchell Government Complex.  Adjacent to the hustle and bustle of Mill Avenue, citizens of Tempe know this building as the “upside-down pyramid.” Its unique form has made it an iconic part of the downtown atmosphere. Its distinctive form, as well as its historical impact on the city, qualifies the Tempe Municipal Building to be recognized as a local landmark.

The Tempe Municipal Building exists on the site of the 1914 Tempe City Hall. When construction of a new city hall building was first discussed, city officials were strongly considering moving to a new, more geographically central, location on Rural Road and Southern Avenue to escape the deteriorating conditions of the downtown district. Architect Michael Goodwin thought otherwise and saw this as a challenge and a beginning for revitalization of downtown Tempe. Goodwin convinced officials to keep the location and designed a new building that sparked the beginning of downtown Tempe’s widely acclaimed revitalization.

Over the past 140 years, Tempe has held national, state, and local significance for its important role in the development of the Salt River Valley as a center of commerce and education, as a critical link in transportation networks during the settlement of the territory, and for its associations with important political figures. Tempe’s unique heritage is exemplified in its significant cultural architecture and infrastructure. These qualities exist today in the Tempe Municipal Building, as well as the rest of the downtown area.

The property retains connections to the physical environment of its surroundings evident in the walkways and bridges that radiate outward in order to connect visually and symbolically to the city’s center. The decision to keep city hall functions in the historic commercial core of the community overshadows temporal changes in the built surroundings lies at the heart of the concept of setting. A hotel, the Police/Courts Building, Transit Center, parking garage, Brickyard and the 525 Building all came later, along with a wide variety of new commercial and office buildings in and around city hall. All of these are, in many ways, the result of the continued existence of city hall at the very heart of Downtown Tempe. A practical definition of setting in the context of the Tempe Municipal Building is simply “at the heart of the community in the middle of the downtown commercial district that it helped preserve and perpetuate”.

The Tempe Municipal Building opened its doors to the public in 1970 and is a prime example of the Mid-Century Modern style of commercial architecture in Tempe.  Despite several expansions and alterations, virtually all of its original materials have been preserved. Mature landscaping around the property is well maintained. With additions of other buildings in and around the complex, the only deviations from the original site have been within the complex itself, where pathways and pedestrian bridges have either been changed or removed. This prime example of a modern style has been exceptionally preserved; guessing its age might prove difficult.


In 1970, construction of the landmark Tempe Municipal Building sparked downtown reinvestment and redevelopment that is the envy of central Arizona. As the Tempe City Council prepared to vote on what some people considered a startlingly avant-garde design, council members realized they would be deciding an even more contentious issue – where the new City Hall building should be built. Downtown Tempe had been deteriorating, shops were moving to malls to follow housing that was shifting south away from the empty store fronts. Many residents favored relocating City Hall nearer the population center to the Library site at Rural Road and Southern Avenue, while others asserted the city hall should stay downtown to encourage urban renewal. In the end it was community activists that carried the day arguing for bold design and to keep City Hall in the downtown. The decision to build in the downtown sparked redevelopment that created a destination location which is the envy of central Arizona, with hundreds of thousands of tourists and residents drawn to downtown Tempe’s interesting stores, restaurants and entertainment opportunities annually.


The building a good example of a unique style of architecture built in 1970. The "upside down pyramid" as it is commonly called is a unique structure. The pyramid sits at a 45-degree angle to the bordering streets, to gain maximum sun in the winter and minimum heat in the summer. The building consists of two major components: 1) a three-story glass and steel inverted pyramid with a concrete stair tower, and 2) a heavily landscaped below-ground courtyard surrounded by city offices below-grade. Tempe’s city hall is constructed of a sturdy steel frame which supports thick panes of tempered glass. The glass is engineered to be flexible and withstand heat, cold and the forces of gravity. The base of the pyramid measures 45 feet on each of its four sides. The walls extend at 45-degrees up to the roof which measures 120 feet on each side. A concrete plaza of exposed aggregate radiates out from the pyramid. The decking doubles as a roof for the earth-integrated offices below. Tempe’s municipal building is a unique architectural statement. Modern in style, it is as timeless as the Egyptian and Aztec pyramids it parodies. Created to save energy, the passive solar structure reduces heating and cooling costs without the drawback of repair-prone active solar collector panels. Designed by Tempe architects Michael and Kemper Goodwin, the unusual building was completed in 1970. It opened in 1971 and still provides municipal offices for the City of Tempe. Its unique shape was designed to conserve energy by shading its exterior glass. Keeping direct sunlight from striking the glass allows substantially less heat into the building. The Tempe Municipal Building received an award of excellence from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1971, and an award of merit from the Western Mountain Region of the American Institute of Architects in 1972.

Michael Goodwin designed the building as an upside-down pyramid for two reasons. First, he wanted this building to become an icon for the city, which it certainly has. Programs within the building have been organized in a way that is convenient for the public to access, with the most public necessities towards the bottom of the pyramid and the more private spaces near the top. Second, the building functions as a passive solar building because of the self-shading character of the inverted pyramid form. With the walls slanted at a forty-five degree angle, the roof becomes a shading structure for the entire building. In winter, the building is engineered to trap the heat in order to warm interior spaces. In 2010, the Tempe Municipal Building received the 25 Year Award from the Arizona Society of the American Institute of Architects, in part for its innovations in sustainable design. In addition, it was identified as one of the 25 most important buildings in the area by the Phoenix Metro chapter of the American Institute of Architects. These design aesthetics could not have been achieved without the influence of the Mid-Century Modern style that arrived in the Salt River Valley in the mid-1960s. This movement brought with it new ideas and technologies that made the design of the Tempe Municipal Building possible.

Michael Goodwin, Architect (1939-2011):  Biographical Profile

Tempe City Hall is significant as the work of a master architect, long-time Tempe architect Michael Goodwin, who passed away May 9, 2011 at the age of 72. Along with his father Kemper, Michael Goodwin left an indelible mark upon the City of Tempe and the surrounding communities through his innovative architectural designs. Tempe’s iconic upside-down pyramid arguably serves as Goodwin’s greatest architectural accomplishment and provides a lasting vestige to the memory of a highly influential Tempe and Arizona family. “He created stunning, striking works that were groundbreaking but practical for their environment,” Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman explained following Michael’s recent death. Robert Pela, writer for the Phoenix New Times, recently commented that, “he was a visual artist whose structures weren't simply attractive and functional, but also a celebration of the land that surrounded them.”

Born in 1939, Michael Goodwin was the son of prominent local architect Kemper Goodwin, grandson of early Tempe businessman Garfield Goodwin. Kemper Goodwin was born in Tempe, Arizona on April 28, 1906 and received his architectural training at the University of Southern California. Although he received his architecture license in 1931, Kemper did not establish his own firm until 1945. Kemper’s firm ultimately employed more than forty individuals and became one of the most prosperous in Arizona. He specialized in educational facilities and designed more than 200 such structures over a period spanning several decades. Their designs included several buildings on the Arizona State University campus: the Memorial Union, Wilson Hall, and the Mathematics Building, among several others. Kemper Goodwin retired in 1975 after passing ownership of the firm along to his son, Michael. Kemper died December 24, 1997.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Michael left Tempe for a time in the early 1960s to attend USC, graduating from there with a degree in architecture in 1963. Following his graduation, Michael returned to his Arizona hometown and, with his father in 1967, formed the architectural firm of Michael and Kemper Goodwin, Ltd. In addition to his work in architecture, Goodwin also became politically active, serving two terms in the Arizona House of Representatives in the 1970s (the first and only architect to serve in that capacity in the State of Arizona). As his work began to garner considerable attention among colleagues in his field he won the Arizona Architects’ Medal in 1975 and, three years later, became the youngest person ever to be awarded the distinction of Fellow in the American Institute of Architects. The firm designed relatively few homes, concentrating instead on projects such as schools and government buildings.

In Tempe, Michael Goodwin designed several middle and high schools, including Marcos de Niza High School (1971) and Corona del Sol High School (1976). The former was considered to be revolutionary in design of an open-space campus, while the latter incorporated one of his earliest solar-based technological designs. Indeed many modern architects—and historians too, for that matter—acknowledge that Michael Goodwin’s designs exuded a profound consciousness of the need to incorporate environmentally friendly, or “green,” components into buildings to make them both more practical for their surroundings and more sustainable in the long-term. Goodwin, according to one historian, “was doing all that before it was a movement. And what he was doing was simply being a responsible architect who didn’t put his ego ahead of the building’s intended function.”

Mid-Century Modern Architecture in the Salt River Valley, 1945 – 1975

Mid-Century Modern was one of the most prominent architectural styles of its time because of its impact on technological and stylistic advances. This architecture had a dramatic impact on the Salt River Valley. It has been noted as the only true attempt at creating a distinct Arizona architecture style. Mid-century modern style evolved from a coalescence of three types of modern design: Art deco, stripped classical, and streamlined modern. Although all have slight variations in modern techniques, they all aim to do one thing: simplify the building by removing ornamental details and incorporating crisp lines and curves. Mid-century modern was greatly influenced by the industrial design style that preceded it. It uses glass, concrete and steel, while also incorporating new technologies, materials and methods to produce its own distinctive forms and geometries.

The Modern style originated in Europe by a group of master architects, including Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Images of their works travelled overseas to the states and sparked the modern movement, beginning with the famous exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932. This movement was initially nicknamed the “International Style”. It rapidly spread through the nation after being featured in articles in popular magazines like Better Homes and Gardens. Overnight, architects were adopting these new ideas into their own work and structures began to go up that resembled the work of the European masters.

The Mid-Century Modern movement flourished for 30 years, between 1945 and 1975. During this time there were many local architects who created noteworthy works. Some of these include Al Beadle’s IBEW Union Hall, built in 1967, and James Flynn’s 1974 Vlassis Ruzow and Associates Office, both located in the Metro Phoenix area. These works were prominent examples of the incorporation of steel and glass construction. Another example with great impact on the valley, even more so on the City of Tempe, was Michael Goodwin’s design for the Tempe Municipal Building.

In the mid 1960s, the City of Tempe was in a state of architectural turmoil. Buildings in the downtown area had been poorly maintained and city officials were to the point of relocating the city hall complex out of the downtown area. Architect Michael Goodwin intended this building to initiate the revitalization of downtown Tempe and it did indeed become the catalyst for downtown revitalization. He envisioned the building as being a “lantern for the community.” Before the design phase started, Goodwin created the Tempe Redevelopment Committee who then convinced the city council to create the urban renewal program. This program used federal funds to acquire properties in the downtown area that were then assembled for redevelopment. Tempe Municipal Building was the start of that revitalization.

Located on 5th street just east of Mill Avenue, Tempe Municipal Building was completed in 1970. The construction of this building incorporated the latest techniques of steel construction. Goodwin used the structural properties of steel to design an inverted pyramid structure. The building is centered on 2 ½ acres of land that combines the building with plazas, gardens, pedestrian bridges and promenade decks to achieve a “center-of-the-city” effect. The site also contains a sunken courtyard space known as the “Garden Level” where additional office space is located. This sunken courtyard was designed to create an intimate feeling for its occupants when they walked into the space. The intention of inverting the glass pyramid was to keep the building cool in the summer months and allow for significant public space on a small site. The design strategy of passive solar cooling and heating was achieved by trapping heat in areas of the walls so it would radiate into the building in the winter months. In the summer months, the affect is slightly different. The building was turned forty-five degrees to the street grid to minimize glass exposure to direct sunlight. The glass is tinted with a sun-bronze tint and, in combination with the shade provided by the angled walls. City officials desired the extensive amount of glass so they could always have visual access to their surroundings and connect with the community. Tempe prides itself on being a “progressive, forward looking community” and the Tempe Municipal Building reinforces that statement with its bold form and advances in architectural technology.


Letter of Nomination : : Mayor Hallman to Historic Preservation Commission 

Research Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : Neighborhood Meeting at HPC 

Staff Summary Report to Historic Preservation Commission : : Public Hearing at HPC 

Staff Report to Development Review Commission : : Public Hearing at DRC

Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC

Staff Report to City Council : : Public Hearing at CC



Landmark Buildings: Arizona's Architectural Heritage by Ann Patterson & Mark Vinson (Arizona Highways, 2004)

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Building Survey Tempe Municipal Building (AZ-142, 1983)

National Register Nomination, 2012.

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