Interiors Awards 2016: Sustainable

Photography by Bill Timmerman

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University of Arizona Environment and Natural Resources Building 2
Designer: Richärd+Bauer Architecture
Client: University of Arizona
Location: Tucson, Arizona
GLHN Architects & Engineers served as the architect and engineer of record.

“Everything in this building is so beautiful and simple; very minimal. The interior merges with the exterior, and there is a richness to it. They designed the performance requirement into the architecture really artfully.”—Jury

Designed as a living, breathing, evolving entity that interprets and abstracts the concept of a canyon, the Environment and Natural Resources Building 2 (ENR2) at the University of Arizona in Tucson is recognized as a model for both sustainability and interdisciplinary study. This is the third University of Arizona academic building by the Phoenix-based firm Richärd+Bauer Architecture, led by Jim Richärd and Kelly Bauer, who were honored by Contract as the 2007 Designers of the Year.

ENR2 is the new multidisciplinary research home for the Institute of the Environment, School of Geography and Development, and School of Natural Resources and the Environment, each of which had previously been housed separately on the Tucson campus. The university’s most ambitious sustainable project to date, this concrete, glass, and weathered-steel building is on track for LEED Platinum certification and is already achieving 30 percent energy savings, according to May Carr, a senior architect at the University of Arizona.

The centerpiece of the 151,000-square-foot rectangular building is a serpentine, five-story central courtyard, modeled on Arizona’s slot canyons. Open to the sky, this 71-foot-tall courtyard echoes natural canyons, where sunlight and shadow play against sculpted rock, vegetation grows in crevices, and seasonal rainwater flows down the walls to the floor. The architects translated this vivid imagery and natural sustainability into their design. Terraces along the courtyard are screened by carbon steel members that enhance the verticality of the space, and balcony plantings recall desert vegetation.

The building’s ground floor includes a 575-seat auditorium, a lecture hall for 145, and a lively cafe that spills out into the courtyard when 13-foot glass garage doors roll up. An abstraction of a canyon floor, the courtyard is paved with three kinds of Arizona rock and decomposed granite, and it features meandering paths, concrete seating, and drought-tolerant plants and small trees.

ENR2’s upper floors are devoted to faculty offices that are primarily located along the north and south facades, as well as open-plan areas and pods for graduate students. The contoured pods have flexible interiors and serve as shade structures for the interior courtyard. Landscaped terraces on the second through fifth floors serve as both circulation spaces and lounge areas for connecting faculty and students of different disciplines, such as geologists and geographers. “The university has been very receptive, as have the occupants of the building, in undertaking this architectural exploration to introduce the exterior environment into daily use,” Richärd says. “The stairs, elevators, and pods are all connected physically and visually by exterior terraces.”

The building design responds in both active and passive ways to Tucson’s warm climate to save energy, water, and operating costs. The responsive and sustainable strategies include operating large ceiling fans above the terraces, strategically using daylight, allowing for airflow through raised access floors, and harnessing the thermal mass from the substantial concrete walls. As a result, the need for air-conditioning is substantially reduced.

One of the courtyard’s most dramatic and effective features is the rainwater collection system. Summer monsoons provide the bulk of Tucson’s rainfall, and the building is equipped to recycle this water to irrigate the courtyard and terraces. Exposed weathered-steel pipes channel the water from the roof to the courtyard floor, where it collects in small cisterns with glistening rocks.

Carr believes the progressive approach to sustainable design for ENR2 will pay dividends for the university for years to come. “Richärd+Bauer brought an understanding of, and experience with, desert architecture that enabled them to respond to the Sonoran Desert’s harsh environment and provide an unusual respite,” Carr says. “This building uses resource-saving systems that we have not incorporated in other LEED-certified buildings, so we are hoping some of the moves play out for future use.”

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