Created in the early 1970s when downtown Tucson underwent major urban renewal, the Convention Center site is a three-building complex that includes an opera hall, theater, conference area, exposition halls, and an arena. The city commissioned Garrett Eckbo of Eckbo, Dean, Austin and Williams to design a public space that would unify the buildings and engage passers-by. Opened in 1971, the project consists of both formal and informal components. Eckbo, who saw landscape architecture as a social art, applied principles consistent with many of his civic projects: generous space between buildings to encourage group gathering, the use of water as a unifying focal element that also animated the public spaces, and the incorporation of shade trees that reflected the regional palette.
Eckbo drew inspiration from the surrounding desert and pine-covered mountains to bring the nearby natural context into the city center. A series of connected concrete terraces feature shallow pools edged with boulders, which link together gridded groves of trees. The water and rock formations create a series of waterfalls, some smooth and sheet-like, some evoking river rapids. While the attraction of the rushing water is a magnet to children in the hot, dry environment, the terraces provide a setting for outdoor performances and informal gatherings.
On September 8, 2015, the Tucson Community Center Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, an acknowledgment of the national significance of the exceptional Modernist design by landscape architect Garrett Eckbo.