Health Building Uses Nature's Blueprint
By: Sameea Kamal (02/24/2011)

PHOENIX — Construction continues on the city-owned sustainable Health Sciences Education Building in downtown Phoenix, designed to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to health sciences education and research.

The 268,000-foot educational facility, located on the 28-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus, broke ground in May last year and is slated for completion in August 2012.

The $129 million facility will be used by the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, the UA College of Pharmacy and the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, along with Northern Arizona University’s College of Health and Human Services programs, according to a statement from the architecture firm.

As part of the latest trend in medical education, the building’s layout allows for interdisciplinary curriculum taught to small groups of students by co-locating several different departments into the same building, according to L. Paul Zafjen, principal on the project from Los Angeles-based design firm CO Architects.

The building is laid out with common areas along a north-to-south bar that connects its two wings, with simulation labs, specialized pharmacy labs, a learning resource center and other common areas grouped to encourage interaction, he said.

“The collaboration stretches taxpayer dollars and merges elements of health programs formerly taught separately,” Zafjen said.

The firm says the building’s architecture is a response to its function, as well as the local climate, with desert earth forms and regional materials.

“The idea for the building was, in Phoenix, it’s surrounded by these mountains – a fairly flat plateau with these mountains. We kind wanted to bring nature downtown,” he said. “We thought one of the ideas would be this would be this kind of building, redolent of masonry. Things would be carved out of it.”

The facility will face east-to-west, with big windows facing north-to-south to allow in sunlight.

To reflect the city’s natural environment, the dual wings of the building are inflected so they shade the walls and create east to west canyons, the statement said.

A tall, narrow space between the two wings serves as a path to an interior courtyard, which will be clad in light colors, with burnished concrete blocks to provide cool thermal mass and reflectivity.

“What we did was, we carved away a big, kind of, canyon to let light into the center of the building,” he said. “Because of the climate, it’s a fairly tight canyon — six stories high — it varies in width but it’ll feel like you’re in a canyon.”

To shelter the space from the sun, the building will feature a scrim roof that prevents any high, direct sun going into the canyon. Its long, narrow design will keep out sun as well, he said.

Zafjen said that in addition to fostering a naturally interdisciplinary space, a key factor in designing the building was making sure it performs well in the city’s harsh climate.

“(The climate) also informs the choice of materials — the skin on the building is copper but it’s a skin that makes a stack effect so it heats up behind it and keeps the heat out from inside,” he said. “Masonry in the canyon … helps absorb whatever heat is in that canyon.”

Aesthetic features of the building reflect the local surroundings as well, the university reports.

“To connect the built environment to the surrounding landscape and bring nature into the heart of downtown Phoenix, the color and patina of the building skin draw from the peaks and mountains prevalent in Arizona,” the statement said. “Photographs of the mountains have been transformed into an abstract pattern embossed onto the copper cladding on both the skin and louvers.

Zafjen said the building design aims for LEED Silver or Gold, and that the certification is in the process.

Other sustainable features include south-facing façades that combine overhangs with perforated screens to function as sunshades, and vertical fins that control sun penetration on the north.

The biggest challenge in the design process was the changing economy, as well as political shifts, according to Zafjen.

In addition to a new governor, the economy “went south” during the project, with resulting budget constraints causing university partnerships in the project to change.

In light of those changes, the firm had to readjust the design and downsize it to half the original plan. The current facility is designed to allow for expansion of a research wing in the future, he said.

Despite the changes, the project has progress quickly from the beginning, he said.

The project was recently awarded a 2010 NEXT LA Citation award given to projects in the works by the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“This one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary facility will provide greater access to medical education in Arizona and will have a tremendous economic impact on the state by creating new jobs and pumping revenue into the economy,” said Ernest Calderón, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.

The project team included CO Architects as the Design and Executive Architect firm, Ayers Saint Gross as the Associate Architect and Master Planner and DPR &bull Sundt, a Joint Venture of DPR Construction and Sundt Construction, Inc., as the preconstruction and construction manager at risk contractor.

“As a project team member, the DPR &bull Sundt Joint Venture is extremely proud to be constructing the landmark HSEB for the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus and to be part of an institution that will serve the State of Arizona for many generations to come,” said DPR Construction project director Peter Berg.

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