Both on and off the playing field, Arizona State University (ASU), whose main campus is in Tempe, Ariz., and the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, Ariz., enjoy a fierce rivalry that typically exists between in-state college institutions. This competitive relationship, however, recently took a turn when the two universities joined forces—and capital funds—to build the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative building in downtown Phoenix.
As a whole, the Phoenix Biomedical Campus is a city-owned redevelopment occupying 28 acres in the downtown core. Bringing together an array of stakeholders in human health—private research companies, city government, universities, and local and regional medical providers—the project fosters cross-pollination through geographic proximity. Building on this idea of collaboration, ASU and UA co-developed the new, $25-million Arizona Biomedical Collaborative, where students from both institutions’ bioscience departments conduct research in interdisciplinary programs.
“Both universities were dedicated to curing diseases that affect the people of Arizona, so this was a natural marriage,” says Mark Kranz, design principal at SmithGroup, the firm that designed the 85,069-square-foot building. “The institutions put competition aside to benefit from each other’s strengths. By combining their available funds, they were able to build something better together.”
The biomedical campus reclaims a largely empty plot of land in downtown Phoenix that includes three formerly vacant historic structures dating back to 1911. Originally the Phoenix Union High School, these buildings were refurbished to house the UA Medical School. Plans for the campus currently call for 6 million square feet of research space. In addition to bringing density to the city’s urban core and fostering important medical discoveries and cures, the campus also is a catalyst of economic vitality for Phoenix through the public/private partnerships that will attract new business ventures related to research and medical discovery.
Nestled between the neo-classical buildings and modern genomics research facilities, the compact, four-story Arizona Biomedical Collaborative provides an intentional transition in scale. Its use of concrete, steel, and zinc offers a complement to the architectural palettes of its neighbors, while the placement of glass elements creates a cascading visual connection to the glass “cube” entry of an adjacent historic building.
SmithGroup’s architects also wanted to brand the structure in a vocabulary similiar to the rest of the biomedical campus to forge a cohesive identity, a goal the design achieves through a mixture of transparency and subtle relationships. For example, the vertical tower housing the mechanical ducts is covered in zinc, which is meant to reference the cutting-edge research being conducted within the facility. Workspaces in the new building are divided between four floors: two floors house cancer and diabetes research; two floors contain biomedical informatics, which is computer medical research focused on genomics. Within each floor, work areas are further subdivided. On the exterior, a lid element wraps around half of the building, externally signifying the split of internal functions—offices on the east and laboratories on the west. Exterior views on the north and south sides contrast with this visual separation, revealing internal open stair towers that celebrate connections between the common areas, programmatic areas, and university programs.
Translucent west-facing laboratories in a region of intense sun are a highly unusual choice, but larger design objectives prevailed.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t have the labs facing west, but urban buildings don’t turn their back on the street,” Kranz explains. “We wanted to make it clear from the exterior that this was a laboratory—which meant you had to see in. So we designed a self-shading façade that delicately balanced urban, solar, and daylighting requirements.”
To mitigate the thermal gain and glare from the desert sun, SmithGroup devised an exterior aluminum veil shading system for the eastern, western, and southern façades. The static system of louvers was custom designed and is responsive to its orientation. For example, the louvers on the west mimic a very dense Venetian blind system, but much larger louver spacing preserves views at the south-facing office areas.
The other obvious advantages of the glass façade are daylight and views for the building’s occupants. Improved natural light levels and occupancy sensors also lower artificial lighting costs. David Harris, senior project manager at the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative, works in the facility and says the best thing about being in the building is the use of natural light. “People who work here really enjoy the lightness and airiness of the space. The temperature is very comfortable, it’s functional and extremely energy efficient,” he says.
Also of concern was energy efficiency, which is a particular challenge for laboratories, as national ventilation regulations call for 100 percent outside air. To help conserve energy associated with conditioning Arizona’s outside air when temperatures soar to 115 F or higher, the design team selected a hydronic runaround loop energy recovery system. The system preconditions incoming outside air by transferring energy captured in the exhaust air stream. Rather than devise a separate system for office and common areas, these spaces share the fresh air supply from the laboratory’s intake system.
The laboratories include high-efficiency fume hoods with a variable air volume (VAV) laboratory intake and exhaust system. For safety, laboratories demand that the hoods run 24/7, but the VAV system regulates the airflow to meet the ventilation and cooling needs of the laboratory space. When conditions allow, some of the exhaust fans may shut down to prevent the entire system from running at full capacity when not necessary, which saves energy. The commissioning process included integrated testing on the laboratory ventilation system to ensure that anticipated energy savings and indoor air quality protection were realized during operation.
The Arizona Biomedical Collaborative achieved a 30 percent reduction in savings on energy costs over the ASHRAE baseline for lab facilities. Water conservation also was a major consideration in the desert locale. Water-efficient fixtures help save 45 percent in potable water, and high-efficiency irrigation reduces potable water use on the surrounding site by 63 percent.
Completed in July 2007 and certified as a LEED Gold project in August 2009, the building incorporates flexibility in its planning and infrastructure systems. The mechanical and plumbing shafts were planned for inevitable future expansion, while the laboratory and office plates were planned as modular, mobile, and open. Movable casework and furniture systems create this flexibility for the future with the goal of allowing the building to endure in a rapidly evolving industry. "Research and technology changes overnight,” Kranz says. “We created robust infrastructure elements and designed with a level of flexibility so this building can remain functionally viable for the next 50 years.”