PHOENIX — From the street, the medical center on Thunderbird Road in Glendale, Arizona, looks like an ordinary building.
A bird’s-eye view shows a different picture.
From above, the footprint of Fountains Medical Center, at 5620 W. Thunderbird Road, resembles two swastikas.
No one associated with building the project in the early 1980s realized the resemblance at the time, according to a representative from a real-estate company that was involved.
The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, couldn’t locate the architect and original building owners.
Weburbanist.com, an urban design website, cataloged the Glendale buildings as one of many buildings in the U.S. that resemble swastikas from above.
The website also points out buildings in Scottsdale clustered in similar shapes, although it’s not as apparent from a Google Map search.
One thing is clear: As use of Google Maps and other online navigational systems becomes more common, the bird’s-eye view of buildings is becoming more accessible — and those with potentially offensive symbols are circulating online.
“It’s a relatively new phenomenon, to explore or see a city from that point of view,” said Joe Pritchard, a Scottsdale-based architect. “It reveals a lot of stuff that the day-to-day experience of people using the buildings don’t see.”
History of Glendale buildings
The medical center in Glendale is eight separate buildings with individually-owned suites for dentists, doctors and other medical offices. It’s across the street from Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.
When it was built in 1983, the land was owned by a group of individuals who lived in Chicago and were part of an organization called The Fountains Medical Center Owners’ Association, according to Maricopa County property records. The owners could not be reached for comment.
The company listed on the original site plan, Fields and Guardino, which may have been the architect, could not be located.
Before the complex was built, the land owners hired Phoenix-based Eisenberg Company, which was at the time Leo Eisenberg & Company, to help locate owners for the suites, according to the company’s president, Craig Eisenberg.
A local architect designed the complex, the city reviewed the design, and no one at the time picked up on the fact that the buildings resembled swastikas, said Eisenberg, who didn’t own or design the buildings.
It was years later that it came to his attention, he said, but he doesn’t remember how. That was years ago, said Eisenberg, who is Jewish.
“It’s unfortunate it was designed the way it was,” he said.
Buildings ‘pretty clearly’ swastikas
Pritchard said the Glendale buildings “pretty clearly” take the form of swastikas.
The swastika was the primary symbol of the Nazi party in the early 20th century, associated with racism and anti-Semitism. It is a recognized hate symbol across the U.S., including by the Anti-Defamation League.
But not everyone sees the symbol in the Glendale buildings.
Diana Smith, Arizona director of local chapters for American Institute of Architects, said her initial thought was the buildings were shaped like pinwheels.
“The symbolic meaning for pinwheel is ‘to turn one’s luck around,'” she wrote in an email. “Which could make sense for a medical facility.”
Scottsdale buildings look similar
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Office buildings in Scottsdale have a similar footprint to the Glendale buildings.
They are part of a recently renovated complex called The Quad, at 6300 E. Thomas Road.
There are four shapes total in the design, with three or four buildings in each cluster. The clusters with four buildings are similar to the Glendale complex.
There are no historical documents about the Scottsdale complex online under Maricopa County property records.
Checks and balances
Architects have a lot to consider when designing buildings, and it’s possible the swastika shapes were overlooked, Pritchard said.
He said it’s possible to get “tunnel vision” when working on a project for a long time and forget the overall vision. That’s why it’s important to have outside feedback from other professionals and the community throughout the process, he said.
Pritchard gave another example, of skyscrapers that were proposed in South Korea that were criticized for mimicking the explosions of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Jesse Westad, a principal at WERK, a Phoenix-based urban design and engineering firm, said you have to be conscious of the design decisions you’re making whenever you do anything that will appear in the public realm.
“Whether it’s unintentional or intentional, you could hurt somebody,” he said.
Follow Jen Fifield on Twitter: @JenAFifield
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