Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitor Center

by Ralph Appelbaum Associates

Set inside an architectural icon–the historic Pima County Courthouse–in the heart of Tucson, AZ, the new 10,000-square-foot Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitors Center celebrates all that Southern Arizona has to offer. The Center’s design pulls its inspiration from the surrounding nature, the building’s historic tiles, the area's culture, and the rich history of its diverse people.

With such a wide range of experiences, the design had to pull together topics in a cohesive way and encourage visitors to travel throughout Southern Arizona’s stunning landscapes, interact with local people, and partake in the wealth of recreational activities and attractions.

Inspired by the Catalina Mountains surrounding Pima County, RAA sculpted a landscape of uplifted graphic surfaces, reflecting the skyline of mountain peaks. These mountain-inspired plinths rise out of the floor, becoming the foundation of the story “portals” into Southern Arizona. Each of the seven portals is defined by a memorable, well-crafted feature story that conveys the themes of: History, Arts & Culture, Food, Nature, Water, Recreation, and Innovation. Together with an interactive topographical map, the gallery echoes the richness of Southern Arizona’s flora and fauna, which culminate in the Sonoran Desert Diorama.

To tell the Courthouse’s history, an additional experience upstairs recreates the famous 1934 John Dillinger arraignment as a dramatic object-theater presentation in the actual courtroom. Another case features Tombstone icon Wyatt Earp and gives a timeline of other infamous local characters who found themselves up against the law.

The Visitor Center is a prime location to serve both the local community and tourists. Accessible by public transportation, the Visitor Center is centrally positioned to be a hub for excursions to the natural wonders that surround the city. All of the exhibit elements work together to enrich visitors’ knowledge of Southern Arizona, and inspire them to go out and explore the...


Gold in Integrated Graphic Design 2022

Created by:

Lead Designer

Ralph Appelbaum Associates


Pima County, Arizona

Design Team

Lighting Design Consultant: Technical Artistry; Illustration Consultant: (Illustrations for Diorama) Becca Rand; Exhibit Fabricator: Design and Pro...


Individual Credits

Project Director: Rick Sobel
Project Manager/Lead Designer:: Büke Kumyol
Content Developer/Script Writer: Karen de Seve