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Terracotta meets high tech at the University of Arizona




The new Health Science Innovation Building at the University of Arizona, Tucson, was designed by the Los Angeles company CO Architects and opened in 2019. Courtesy: Bill Timmerman

With the complex and interdisciplinary academic needs at the heart of the University of Arizona’s new Health Sciences Innovation Building (HSIB), Los Angeles-based CO Architects have provided positive facilities for design impact as well as programs.

“This building is very ,” said Arnold Swanborn, Principal and Project Design Director at CO Architects. Housed in two major volumes called the porch and loft, Tucson’s HSIB supports research in the fields of medicine, nursing, pharmacies, and public health. The porch is at the end of the University of Arizona campus pedestrian paradise, with a distinctive east-facing terracotta exterior that serves as a decorative and functional feature that also corresponds to Tucson’s historical and cultural background. I am. The floor within the HSIB loft section has 90 feet wide and 220 feet long, uninterrupted by structural support.

Inspired by the native Saguaro cactus, the twisted terracotta panels are manufactured by Boston Valley terracotta and designed to soothe the harsh desert sun.Courtesy Bilt Merman

The team was inspired by the self-shading Saguaro cacti and Native American pottery associated with the Sonoran Desert, Swanborn explains. Twisted terracotta panels are manufactured by Boston Valley Terracotta in Buffalo, NY and have a handmade feel that contrasts with other high-tech components of the building, such as clinical skill training resources and laboratories.

“We mapped the features behind the façade and looked at the thermal, visual, and acoustic values ​​that someone might want when using the space,” said CO Architects Principal, steering the Building Facades Group. Alex Korter says. Given the relentless desert climate, parametric analysis allowed designers to determine the optimal shape and placement of Saguaro-inspired panels to allow for the optimum amount of light and dark.

Within the 230,000-square-foot complex, there is a four-story glass-enclosed atrium called the Forum, which acts as a flexible space for students to gather.Courtesy Bilt Merman

The 9-story HSIB, totaling 230,000 square feet, is a four-story glass-enclosed volume on the ground floor, including a portico entrance and a forum behind a series of V-shaped concrete columns. This vast space is open to the outdoors and offers flexible programs for student gatherings, local events, bookstores and cafes. “The university has put out its limbs and admitted that this could be a really great space. That’s the center of the building,” Korter adds.

The simulation deck on the 7th floor is now 25,000 square feet in size. This is an upgrade from the 2,500 square feet of space occupied by the previous building. It’s no coincidence that this faculty member, led by Dr. Allen Hamilton, served as a medical consultant for Grey’s Anatomy. This particular feature enables different hands-on scenarios of medical training and in many ways acts like a sound stage. Other institutions can also be rented, providing an additional source of income for the university.

On the ground floor, there is a presentation area, bookstore and cafe that can accommodate 50 to 400 people.Courtesy Bilt Merman

“The internal environment is created very carefully with the same level of detail as the outside,” Swanborn said of HSIB. The long time students and employees spend here has been an important consideration, as well as how some environments “fulfill their dual obligations between the teaching and learning spaces.” The team considered the composition of the outer seats and furniture of a typical desk and chair. Spaces of various scales bring a vibrant color palette and playfulness. Students and faculty members can interact in groups of various sizes or withdraw for quiet and intensive learning.

Despite the large footprint of the building, maximizing natural light throughout the interior and ensuring an uninterrupted 90-foot span in loft space was a priority. Mechanical systems and functions are strategically located internally, allowing sunlight to be used in high-trafficking areas. The distribution plan also promotes activities and exchanges, and the rooftop remains open. The wide and cozy staircase offers an iconic journey of the day as many large classes are held downstairs in the morning. On the other hand, students may go upstairs to labs and more specialized work in the afternoons and evenings.

To “integrate the building’s users with its surroundings,” the architect designed multiple terraces throughout the building for outdoor learning and relaxation.Courtesy Bilt Merman

Completed in 2019, the use of the building during COVID-19 and in the aftermath of the blockade provided an opportunity to exercise more innovative elements. “It has a very heavy infrastructure backbone,” says Korter, with state-of-the-art air circulation, IT, and AV systems. This approach has proven to be a visionary benefit. Meanwhile, plans for a food service venue on the ground floor are still underway in case the campus is fully reopened.

“It was programmed with distance learning in mind,” says Korter. “The initial assumption was always long-term flexibility, so even hybrid post-COVID models are easily absorbed into the infrastructure. This building may be one at the time of opening, but of time. It should evolve over time. ”

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