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Phoenix FBI Building Leaves Prints In The Desert

Phoenix FBI building
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
editorial | staff
Phoenix FBI headquarters in north Phoenix.

At the corner of 7th Street and Deer Valley Road, north of the 101, sits a glistening new building that many people drive by every day. But by its very nature, not too many people have ever been inside.

While it is open to the public, you have to show ID, go through a metal detector and pass through a security screening just to get inside.

This is the Phoenix FBI building. 

Special Agent Anthony Farinacci says, for the most part, you need to be here on official business. And loitering is not encouraged.

Despite the clandestine nature of the services they provide, the building is actually clearly and purposefully marked.

On the edge of the property is a large metal and stone sign that’s marked with a gigantic thumb print. It’s a theme that continues inside the heavily guarded building.

In the lobby, the thumbprint theme is juxtaposed with artistic representations of DNA markers. Rectangular bands with striations appear in the windows, on the tile floors and even in the carpet.

Farinacci said it’s a symbolic way to show how the agency has evolved, “taking the new technology of DNA and showing that in comparison to the fingerprint of the FBI at its inception.”

Establishing identities is still a large part of what the FBI does. But instead of dusting for prints, the agency now relies heavily on biological and technological markers to find who they’re looking for as they investigate cases across a growing field of priorities.

While they do conduct some investigative work here, the new $154 million building serves primarily as an administrative headquarters and a home base for agents across the state. Construction was finished in 2012 in an attempt to consolidate all of the FBI’s Phoenix resources under one roof.

Steve Lichtenberger was the lead architect for the building. He said, unlike most other buildings, they worked with the government to give this one an identity.

“Part of this building does have some of the sciences of the FBI,” Lichtenberger said. “We wanted to reflect that, so we wanted to find ways that we could, in a sophisticated manner, tried to embed those in the design.”

And the design ideas aren’t limited to inside of the building. The landscaping looks like typical Arizona xeriscaping. But viewed from the offices above, the bushes, rocks and cactus on the edge of the property form the shape of the iconic thumbprint as well.

Lichtenberger said a secretive assignment like the design of this building is unique.

“It’s challenging because you have to isolate the work from the rest of your studio. It’s challenging that you can only speak about certain things. It’s challenging that you may never go back in certain spaces once you’ve designed them,” Lichtenberger said.

“But it’s kind of exciting in a certain sense that you’re designing something that a lot of people aren’t going to appreciate, but you know what you did for that project and it will always be there.”

He said he hopes that just like a thumbprint and DNA, the architectural signature will give its secretive tenants a sense of identity.

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Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.