Watch It: A New Documentary Celebrates an Unsung Desert Modernist

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By Heather Corcoran
Discover the late Arizona architect Judith Chafee in this new documentary.

There's something about the Southwest's desert topography that makes it an especially fitting canvas for modern architecture. One pioneering designer to take advantage of the Sonoran's otherworldly terrain was Judith Chafee, the first woman from Arizona to be named an AIA Fellow.

Chafee, who died in 1998, is the subject of a new documentary from Arizona Public Media. It's part of a series by producer Andrew Brown, who turns the lens on one local architect each year. While researching Tucson's first modernist, Arthur Brown, he stumbled on the outsize character of Judith Chafee, the subject of his latest film.

"I thought she would be an ideal person to profile based on her work alone, but quickly discovered a very complex person with a fascinating history," Brown says. "Her work is relevant right now because she was applying concepts of sustainability and low-impact building before they were widely used or recognized." 

Watch It: A New Documentary Celebrates an Unsung Desert Modernist - Photo 1 of 1 - The View Point Residence by Arizona architect Judith Chafee.

The View Point Residence by Arizona architect Judith Chafee.

Along with Chafee's work, the film also highlights the challenges that Chafee faced as a woman in the industry—something that Brown notes is still problematic today. The documentary marks another step toward getting Chafee the recognition she deserves. 

"Chafee's architectural legacy is still taking shape. Though she was under-appreciated in her time, she left a significant mark on architecture in the region," Brown says. "I hope in preserving her legacy we can inspire young people to follow in her footsteps ... I don't think I've seen an architect whose buildings made more sense to me." 

Cover image courtesy of Andrew Brown/Arizona Public Media