January 16, 2014

Meet Phoenix's Modern Maven: Aspire Award Winner Alison King

A head shot of Alison King

photo by: Alison King

Alison King, 2013 Aspire Award Winner, in action in Phoenix.

When asked how she got involved in preservation in Phoenix, Ariz., Alison King laughs and says, “Well, not on purpose.”

King, the winner of the 2013 American Express Aspire Award for her work with the Modern Phoenix Neighborhood Network and ModernPhoenix.net, has spent much of the last decade documenting and building a network around modern architecture in the city.

“When I moved back to Phoenix after being away for 10 years, I was interested in finding out what my lifestyle would be like,” King, who was born in nearby Scottsdale, says. As she and her husband explored the city and surrounding neighborhoods, King’s background in design and art history drew her attention to the unique design of many of the structures. As she started to delve deeper into Phoenix’s architectural back story, she realized that most of the buildings that had captured her interest had no historic preservation protections.

“When Arizona State University demolished the Valley National Bank building, I woke up and realized that our buildings that we treasure really do need to be protected,” she says. The building, a 1962 geodesic dome in nearby Tempe, was torn down in 2007. King has since been involved in efforts to educate and encourage homeowners and commercial private property owners to get their structures listed on local and national historic registers.

While King’s own passions spurred her to start a website documenting Phoenix’s modernist gems, she also had the goal of making sure that people in the larger community were aware that Modernist buildings existed, and that many of the homes weren’t necessarily pricey.

“We wanted people to be able to afford modernism,” she says. She loves Modernism because of what it can represent to a community.

Alison King interviews Jimmie Nunn

photo by: Alison King

Alison King interviews Jimmie Nunn, a member of prominent midcentury Phoenix architecture firm Haver, Nunn & Associates.

"I think it's just so optimistic," she says. "It's exuberantly designed and uplifting to experience inside and out, especially with materials adapted to our desert climate."

King cites her favorite Modernist structure in the city as being the Phoenix Financial Center, a curvaceous 19-story building with front-facing windows that look like punch card holes. “I think our banks in general are pretty amazing,” she says, a fact that fuels her love of the architectural style.

Other recent work includes managing a volunteer corps for the Postwar Architecture Task Force, spearheading architectural tours in the swanky Arcadia neighborhood in East Phoenix, getting involved with efforts to preserve iconic neon signs in the city, and compiling an inventory and archive of the work of Modernist Phoenix architect Al Beadle. This is all on top of her position as an associate professor of design at the Art Institute of Phoenix.

Of winning the award, King says, "It really changed the way that I think about my work," adding that it puts a capstone on the tireless efforts that she and other Phoenix preservationists have made in the last decade.

"If I’ve come this far in 10 years, imagine what it’s going to be like in 20," she says. “Putting a little finial on those 10 years is important.”

The National Preservation Awards are bestowed on distinguished individuals, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and corporations whose skill and determination have given new meanings to their communities through the preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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