Manzanita Hall 2.0: Rebirth of an icon

An overhead lattice feature makes shadows on the Manzanita Hall south patio.

Editor’s note: Manzanita Hall 2.0: Rebirth of an icon first appeared in the September 2013 edition of ASU Magazine.

They may not have suspected it in 1967, but when construction workers glazed in the last hexagonal “Superman” window in the newly constructed Manzanita Hall, they were putting the finishing touches on an icon.

Manzanita Hall had a lot of qualities that would make the all-female residence hall an ASU landmark. It was the tallest building in Tempe at the time, and taller than many in Phoenix. At 1,000 beds and 215,000 square feet, the building was a massive, sweeping statement to modernist architecture.

It was appropriate, too, that a newly formed university would sport such a flashy structure to house its students. Some eight years earlier, after a vote by Arizona voters and a protracted battle with the state legislature, Arizona State College was “reconstituted” as a university. Such a building fit the upstart nature of ASU as a venture – a monolith rising from the desert, newly reinvented and impossible to be overlooked.

Designed by the Phoenix architectural firm Cartmell and Rossman, the building was radical in both appearance and in the techniques used to build it. Diagonal precast concrete beams on the exterior bear up the building, creating a form that plays with light and shadow, angle and curve. The structure itself was designed to be an expression – a high-rise sculpture.

“The triangles were replacing what would have been a solid wall, but in a slightly different manner,” said Manzanita architect Wendell Rossman. “I used aesthetics on the outside of the building. I could have had a solid wall, but it would have been ugly.”

Rossman, a renowned designer and engineer who designed Armstrong Hall, Palo Verde East and West, and structures across the country including the Tacoma Dome and the Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University, decided to use what were then cutting-edge construction methods to give the building strength and to cut costs.

“It was one of the first buildings to use post tension slabs,” said Patrick Daly, an architect and associate director with the Office of the University Architect. “We’ve had several structural engineers say the building was built like a tank. It’s a very unique design. There are very few columns inside, because the building just doesn’t need them.”

The curved shape of the building also adds to its strength, Rossman said, imparting seismic stability to the building.

“If we ever had an earthquake, I would feel absolutely safe in that building.” Rossman said. “These are very simple issues. A rectangle, if you shake it any way, starts wobbling. But this shape, if you shake the ground it won’t move. Basic training of a good architect.”

A 1,000-bed Hilton

Rossman had specific instructions on the building style from Gilbert Cady, ASU vice president of business affairs from 1957-1975: make it glitzy.

Rossman recalled a short meeting with Cady in the early ‘60s. “ASU was a very small university then; there was a desire to bring more prestige to the university,” Rossman said. “Cady understood that in order to be competitive, he needed to show a certain amount of class. He brought me in his office and said, ‘Wendell, I want you to give me a Hilton hotel with a thousand beds. See that door? Don’t come back in until you give it to me.’”

Del Webb Construction Co. completed Manzanita Hall in Sept. 29, 1967, some 16 months after construction started. Enrollment hit a record that semester, and electrical workers and plumbers worked overtime on the $3.6 million women’s freshman dorm, scrambling to finish before 22,500 students poured onto campus.

Manzy memories

Details about buildings and their construction, however, are sometimes lost in the minds of the young women and men who inhabit them. Beyond the steel and concrete and terrazzo are the recollections of thousands of students who have lived, and breathed and (occasionally) let loose in the halls of “Manzy,” as the residence hall would affectionately become known.

“I was one of the first students in the dorm,” said Rene Frost ’70 B.S., ’77 M.S.W., a sociology major. “It was very exciting. I had an end room so I didn’t have to share bathrooms. The other thing we were all excited the food was supposed to be much better. Well – I think it was a little better.”

Frost remembers the “guys from the frats” pulling the fire alarm in the building. A crowd of boys just happened to appear outside the exit, so they could watch “while everybody marched out in their pajamas.”

Curfew on weekdays, Frost said, was at 10 or 10:30 p.m., and was always a challenge to make it back in time. Once, Frost said, she was running with her then-boyfriend and now-husband back to Manzanita, trying to return before time ran out.

“I looked back and he was gone. I couldn’t find him. I started looking for him and I found him on the ground underneath a tree – a branch had caught him in the head,” Frost said.

Mark Yurik ’83 B.S. said some of his best experiences at ASU happened at Manzanita Hall.

“It was my senior year. I lived off campus in a house the year before and it was too much of a hassle to walk to school. I remember everyone got along so well,” Yurik said. “It was probably my best year.”

More than anything else, Yurik said, the relationships he made in the building are what he values most.

“It was the people there, the friendships that form,” Yurik said. “There were just amazingly friendly people there.”

Heyday, headaches and hope

Manzanita Hall, like every building, was not immune to aging. After more than 40 years of hard use, building systems were failing. Plumbing and electrical problems became common. Elevator repairmen began to spend more time in the elevators than the students did.

Intent on keeping the building but not blind to its problems, university administrators began looking at options. The team hired architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz to review the building and report on the alternatives.

ASU officials wanted to renew the hall while maintaining the aesthetic of the exterior of the building. They were pleased to find out it was possible to salvage the exterior of the structure. The unique methods used to construct the building would allow designers to remove interior walls and reconfigure rooms without affecting the stability of the building.

Not all was straightforward, however. ASU presented its idea of preserving the residence hall to American Campus Communities (ACC), a third-party developer that specializes in creating new housing for students – not renovations.

At first, ACC was less than enthusiastic about the ASU plan, but finally came around once the developer understood what it meant to the university, and why it was important to preserve the hall.


ACC and ASU chose architecture firm Studio Ma to design a way to preserve the structure, while completely remaking the interior. The number of beds have been reduced from 1,000 to 816, giving space for shared student lounge spaces, study rooms and kitchen areas. More light has been funneled into the building too, especially to the rooms on the ends of the hallways.

In October 2011, workers began the exacting process of removing asbestos and preparing the building for a complete gut of the interior.

“They had to rip everything out. Interior walls. Piping. HVAC. Electrical. Asbestos containing materials, everything went,” said ASU project manager Pedro Chavarriaga. “They even ripped out the Superman windows. Though I’m sure you could find a few on eBay.”

Sustaining for the future

The decision to rebuild Manzanita Hall and not replace it outright it is in keeping with ASU’s sustainability goals.

“There is a vast amount of embodied energy in Manzanita Hall,” said ASU architect John Meredith. Embodied energy, Meredith explains, means that it takes a certain amount of energy to construct a building: all the steel had to mined, and smelted, and formed and delivered. All the concrete components too, had to be processed, brought on site and poured.

The energy footprint of a building, or the amount of energy spent just to construct the shell of a building is huge, and that’s before you start adding things like electrical, HVAC, water and wastewater, Meredith said.

“The most sustainable thing to do is not to build a new building. If you demolished Manzy, you could never build another building that would be efficient enough to recoup the energy lost from the demolition. ASU could build the most energy-efficient building ever built and never recover that much energy,” Meredith said.

Eric Jensen,
ASU Facilities Development and Management