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A Sonoran Desert Masterpiece Is Recognized


November 21, 2005

Creating a lush desert landscape on stark barren land is no easy feat. However, over the last four years, Scott Cisson has accomplished it and is being recognized for his and his co-workers' efforts in transforming a portion of a former military base into a more user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and cohesive university campus.

For their efforts, the Desert Arboretum project at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus is being cited by the American School and University magazine in its annual special section, titled "Architectural Portfolio."

Cisson, assistant director of Facilities Management at the Polytechnic campus, has been with ASU since 1986. He was hand picked to help build and design the landscape for the campus by former Provost Charles Backus and Cliff Douglas, owner of Arid Zone.

When Cisson arrived, he did not have much to work with – no communications systems, only a handful of skilled employees and a few pieces of equipment he had to borrow from the Tempe campus. Determined, Cisson set up shop, developed goals and objectives, and got to work on creating the premier Sonoran Desert arboretum on a university campus.

"There were very little funds to make this happen, but thanks to Development Director Rita Locke, we went after donations," says Cisson. "Just about everything you see came from somewhere else.

"The only desert plants on the campus was the large trees in a drainage ditch near the housing in West Desert Village. We immediately boxed all those trees in that area, and today you can see them providing shade in the walkways and in the courtyard by the Administration Building," says Cisson.

The other consideration in this project was water. The campus does not have the water supply to support the oasis type of landscape like in Tempe, according to Cisson, so only drought tolerant plants are used in the landscape.

"As one of the founding members of the ASU Arboretum at the Tempe campus, I was able to take and develop that concept and adapt it to fit the Polytechnic campus to create a lush desert environment for students here."

While a portion of the Desert Arboretum at the Polytechnic campus is completed, it will always be a work in progress, especially as the campus continues to develop and new facilities are brought online.

"There is so much more to do, but our ultimate goal is to develop an environment that will stand the test of time – that is, it looks as good today as it will look 100 years from now," says Cisson.

To help symbolize the campus's growth and future, Cisson created steel agaves from recycled metal, which are located on the monument at the entrance to campus and another at the round-about on campus, both at different stages of growth.

"The pioneers used to say that it took 100 years before the agaves would blossom," says Cisson. "I felt there was some hidden symbolism with the new Polytechnic campus and the saying. The current steel agaves start to bloom at the Power Road monument wall and the stock gets bigger at the second monument by the round-about. By the time we finish, or I move on, I will create the last agave which will be in full bloom."

This project will be profiled in the November issue of the American School and University magazine and will be featured online in February 2006 at www.schooldesigns.com.