Scottsdale has many desirable aesthetic qualities as well as areas with unique character. Much of the character and aesthetic qualities can be attributed to the Sonoran Desert location which is essential to the community's quality of life. These attributes have been closely guarded and nurtured by programs and initiatives intended to protect them and ensure design excellence.

The Scottsdale Sensitive Design Program is a comprehensive compilation of policies and guidelines related to the City's built environment. The basic framework for these policies and guidelines are the Sensitive Design principles, approved in August 2000 and amended in march 2001. The Principles, derived from existing city policies and from concepts developed by citizen groups, such as Great Sonoran, articulate Scottsdale's design vision and outline design expectations and values.

To assist applicants, decision-makers, and staff with consistent development review, various Design Guidelines have been developed. These Guidelines, including Commercial, Restaurant, Lighting, Office, and others, are to be applied throughout the community and are structured to respond to the varying conditions and constraints inherent to individual sites and contextual settings.

The Scottsdale Sensitive Design Principles, as well as the City’s Design Guidelines, are successful due to the involvement of the community. City staff are dedicated to involving citizens, design professionals and the business community in the creation and updating of these guidelines.

Sensitive Design Principles

As amended by the Development Review Board on March 8, 2001

Development should respect and enhance the unique climate, topography, vegetation and historical context of Scottsdale's Sonoran desert environment, all of which are considered amenities that help sustain our community and its quality of life. The following design principles will help improve and reinforce the quality of design in our community:

1. The design character of any area should be enhanced and strengthened by new development.

  • Building design should consider the distinctive qualities and character of the surrounding context and, as appropriate, incorporate those qualities in its design.

  • Building design should be sensitive to the evolving context of an area over time.

2. Development, through appropriate siting and orientation of buildings, should recognize and preserve established major vistas, as well as protect natural features such as:

  • Scenic views of the Sonoran desert and mountains

  • Archaeological and historical resources

3. Development should be sensitive to existing topography and landscaping.

  • A design should respond to the unique terrain of the site by blending with the natural shape and texture of the land while minimizing disturbances to the natural environment.

4. Development should protect the character of the Sonoran desert by preserving and restoring natural habitats and ecological processes.

5. The design of the public realm, including streetscapes, parks, plazas and civic amenities, is an opportunity to provide identity to the community and to convey its design expectations.

  • Streetscapes should provide continuity among adjacent uses through use of cohesive landscaping, decorative paving, street furniture, public art and integrated infrastructure elements.

6. Developments should integrate alternative modes of transportation, including bicycles and bus access, within the pedestrian network that encourage social contact and interaction within the community.

7. Development should show consideration for the pedestrian by providing landscaping and shading elements as well as inviting access connections to adjacent developments.

  • Design elements should be included to reflect a human scale, such as the use of shelter and shade for the pedestrian and a variety of building masses.

8. Buildings should be designed with a logical hierarchy of masses:

  • To control the visual impact of a building's height and size

  • To highlight important building volumes and features, such as the building entry.

9. The design of the built environment should respond to the desert environment:

  • Interior spaces should be extended into the outdoors both physically and visually when appropriate

  • Materials with colors and coarse textures associated with this region should be utilized.

  • A variety of textures and natural materials should be used to provide visual interest and richness, particularly at the pedestrian level. Materials should be used honestly and reflect their inherent qualities

  • Features such as shade structures, deep roof overhangs and recessed windows should be incorporated.

10. Developments should strive to incorporate sustainable and healthy building practices and products.

  • Design strategies and building techniques, which minimize environmental impact, reduce energy consumption, and endure over time, should be utilized.

11. Landscape design should respond to the desert environment by utilizing a variety of mature landscape materials indigenous to the arid region.

  • The character of the area should be emphasized through the careful selection of planting materials in terms of scale, density, and arrangement

  • The landscaping should complement the built environment while relating to the various uses.

12. Site design should incorporate techniques for efficient water use by providing desert adapted landscaping and preserving native plants.

  • Water, as a landscape element, should be used judiciously

  • Water features should be placed in locations with high pedestrian activity.

13. The extent and quality of lighting should be integrally designed as part of the built environment.

  • A balance should occur between the ambient light levels and designated focal lighting needs.

  • Lighting should be designed to minimize glare and invasive overflow, to conserve energy, and to reflect the character of the area.

14. Signage should consider the distinctive qualities and character of the surrounding context in terms of size, color, location and illumination.

  • Signage should be designed to be complementary to the architecture, landscaping and design theme for the site, with due consideration for visibility and legibility.

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