Some of the best ideas are the simplest. Such is the case for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (ASU), which is located in a new, sustainably designed and constructed building that was completed via a superstreamlined delivery process.
In 2003, after a decentralized planning model had steadily drained development away from downtown for decades, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon met with ASU president Michael Crow to brainstorm ways to attract investment back to the heart of the city. The vision they sketched on the back of a napkin evolved into a master plan that dedicated nine blocks to the creation of a downtown campus for ASU.
Three years later, when voters overwhelmingly approved issuing the $223 million in bonds needed to realize this vision, plans to construct the Cronkite School’s 223,000-square-foot flagship building were kicked into high gear. It was clear that a fast-tracked design/build delivery process would be necessary to complete this project in 20 months on a fixed budget of $55 million while also supporting the university’s commitment to sustainability. The university’s vision statement explicitly mentions the importance of sustainability research and the impact of its social, environmental, and economic evolution on the Southwest.
Rather than being daunted by these ambitious goals, leaders from HDR Architecture, Sundt Construction, and Ehrlich Architects were intrigued. “Such a challenge is rarely met,” explains Michael Jackson, principal-in-charge for HDR Architecture, based in the firm’s Phoenix office. ”We wanted to be the ones who did it.”
To win the commission, the HDR/Sundt/Ehrlich team had to show how it would deliver this high-profile, mixed-use building on time and on budget. “We proposed using a post-tension concrete system that would allow us to start designing the foundations the day we were awarded the project,” explains Mathew Chaney, Ehrlich’s design project architect. “Sundt then took the lead by preparing a detailed budget and schedule.”
Once its team was selected, HDR set up a collaborative studio in a small, cramped area of its Phoenix office. “We literally worked hip-to-hip,” Chaney says. “We were uncomfortably close so we had to work out solutions together. When we were detailing the design we’d call the subcontractors in to make sure what we were drawing could be built as it was intended. When we were choosing materials, Sundt’s staff would check to see if the choices were available locally.” The site’s concrete, masonry, metal panels, ceramic tile, and gypsum wall boards all were locally sourced.
Digital technology helped team members rapidly evolve the design and generate detailed construction drawings. During review sessions, they would project plans on a screen, make changes, save final decisions, and upload the corrected, current information into Navisworks, a BIM software program that assembles digital drawings into a single 3D model. Team members could then check this model from all angles to ensure everything was properly coordinated. For example, if a design decision resulted in piping colliding with ductwork, the team could resolve this conflict before the final drawings were issued rather than during construction when changes are more costly and time-consuming.
“The compressed process encouraged us to conceive the whole, not the part,” Chaney says. “We focused on strategies that provided multiple benefits.” For example, using concrete and steel as the two major building materials made practical, sustainable, and aesthetic sense. These materials were strong, readily available, affordable, and could be used in ways that expedited framing of the building’s structure. They also had recycled content: flyash in the concrete, and recycled steel in exterior metal panels and the lightweight structural system used to achieve the tall, free-span spaces for sixth-floor studios.
Through ingenuity, the architects used these common materials to convey the core tenets of journalism—truth and honesty—while adding interest and articulation to what could have become a monolithic mass of gray. The exposed concrete structure, polished concrete floors, and burnished, tinted exterior masonry express the forthright and direct nature of news delivery while adding subtle texture and color. The arrangement of corrugated metal panels on the exterior was inspired by the Federal Communications Commission’s radio frequency allocation chart, which shows how the radio spectrum is broken up for usage.
In compliance with a city ordinance that requires a percentage of a project’s capital funds be set aside for public art, a kinetic sculpture was installed to further animate the exterior. Artist Paul Deeb of VOX Manufacturing in Baltimore placed a second glass wall behind the exterior curtain wall of the main circulation stairway and suspended mobiles made of highly polished aluminum in the space between the glass surfaces. As hot air rises through this solar chimney it spins the mobiles, reflecting light outward.
The project team efficiently blended passive solar strategies with a well-insulated envelope and other energy conservation measures. The building’s orientation and fenestration maximize the amount of daylight that enters the interiors. Sunscreens and shades were installed on the west and south sides of the building.
“The wire-mesh sunscreens we chose diffuse daylight, making it easier to view computer flat-panel screens,” says David Gibney, sustainable project manager for HDR. “Mathew and I made a rudimentary foam core model of a typical west section and used a sun angle calculator to determine their optimal placement. The final location and geometry of the sunscreens was fine-tuned once the structure was constructed.” The wire mesh is 50 percent transparent to preserve views while mitigating heat gain. The building’s masonry walls are insulated with R-13 and R-19 bat insulation depending on their location. The white reflective roof has an R-value of 30, twice that required by ASHRAE 90.1-2004. Viracon VE2-55 glazing with a U-value of 0.31 reduces thermal transfer. Energy-efficient lighting and motion and photo sensors further reduce electrical demand.
Interior finishes also were chosen for their practical, sustainable, and aesthetic attributes. For example, the wood-slat ceiling system suspended over high traffic and public gathering areas adds visual warmth while reducing noise levels. The FSC-certified wood slats are backed by a fiberglass pad that absorbs sound.
Sustainable Construction and Operations
The esprit de corps established in the design studio extended to the job site where team members collaborated to achieve sustainable goals while efficiently constructing the building. For example, after HDR and Sundt identified which construction materials could be recycled, Sundt drafted a waste management plan. Inside the building, workers were provided with four 40-cubic-yard plastic wheeled carts on the northwest corner of the project site. Each featured a label—metal, cardboard, gypsum board, or garbage—and when they were full, Premier Waste Services would take them to its processing facility then screen and weigh the contents. Nearly 80 percent of the waste materials were diverted from landfills.
Sundt also created a Construction Air Quality Management Plan that required all ductwork to be sealed before it arrived at the job site and MERV 8 filters to be installed when the air-handling units were operating. Sundt phased construction so finished areas could be sealed off, confining dust and debris to the spaces where it was being created.
The design also facilitates sustainable operations and maintenance. For example, each floor has a recycling hub with bins for glass, paper, metals, cardboard, and plastics. These materials are taken off site where they are sorted and routed to various vendors for reuse. Steel walk-off mats coupled with rubber-backed carpets at each main entry help maintain the desired indoor air quality. The carpets are HEPA-filter vacuumed three times a week, a process that aims to ensure that fine particles and allergens are regularly removed from the building. The designers specified low-to-no-VOC paints, sealants, adhesives, carpets, and furnishings.
Water conservation measures include harvesting condensation from air handlers and using it to irrigate landscaped areas planted with native species that require minimal water. A combination of 1-gallon-per-flush and waterless urinals, electric-sensor operated faucets, and 1.6-gpf toilets reduce domestic potable water use by 31 percent compared with similar buildings.
A New Gateway
On Aug. 25, 2008, ASU welcomed students into the new home of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Located on the corner of Central Avenue, considered to be the city’s “main street,” and near the Taylor Street Mall, an urban green belt, this gateway structure connects ASU’s new urban campus with downtown Phoenix. It also establishes quality aesthetic, functional, and sustainable standards while meeting complex programming needs that include digital media laboratories; working newsrooms; television studios for PBS member station KAET and the “Cronkite News Watch” program, a 30-minute newscast produced by upperclassmen and graduate students in the Cronkite school; a 150-seat auditorium; a gallery; general classrooms; and ground-floor retail spaces.
“The project was delivered on time, on budget, [and] with much less aggravation for all involved,” Jackson concludes. “We like to think this resulted in an architecturally significant addition to the ASU downtown campus and the revitalization of downtown Phoenix.”
ASU leaders concur. Says Kristin Gilger, assistant dean for the Cronkite School: “We don’t think there’s a finer journalism school building anywhere in the country.”