Univ. of Utah Begins Work on Sustainable Research Facility

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Fall 2009
Industry News

University of Utah Breaks Ground for $130-Million, Sustainably Designed Interdisciplinary Research Facility

Masonry Design Magazine
Photo courtesy of Lord, Aeck & Sargent

The University of Utah has started construction of a $130-million, sustainably designed interdisciplinary research facility, the first of four buildings that will create a new Interdisciplinary Quadrangle, aimed at attracting some of the world’s most recognized faculty researchers, and fuel Utah’s economic development activity.

The James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building – A USTAR Innovation Center, is being funded through a $100-million commitment from the State of Utah along with private gifts, among them $15 million from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. State funding comes from the USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research) initiative, a long-term economic development initiative that promotes world-class research facilities and research teams. USTAR will create new technologies that can be commercialized, thus generating more technology-based start-up firms, higher paying jobs and additional business activity leading to a statewide expansion of Utah’s tax base.

The building, which is targeting LEED Gold certification, was designed by architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent’s (LAS) Atlanta office in association with Prescott Muir Architects in Salt Lake City. LAS, in association with Salt Lake City-based Architectural Nexus, developed the building’s program and also created the Master Plan for the Interdisciplinary Quad. The project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2011.

According to Jerry Percifield, LAS principal in charge of the project, the design team met the charge for sustainability by creating an energy-efficient building that will reduce both energy use and energy cost from current laboratory code requirements by a minimum of 40 percent. Some of the strategies used to achieve this include daylighting that will allow natural light to reach at least 75 percent of the building’s occupied spaces, and the use of sunshades to modulate the quality and intensity of light as it enters the building at different times of day and from different angles throughout the year.

To meet the charge for a distinct look, the building envelope, which will be clad in sandstone combined with a glass curtain wall, was designed to represent a dialog between contemporary science and the ancient imagery of regional Native American structures. “The selection of this local stone as a major material grounds the building in the region, while the masonry construction technique grows out of a tradition of building that reaches all the way back to ancient Native American customs specific to southern Utah,” said Randal Vaughan, LAS’s lead designer on the project. “At the same time, the contemporary glass curtain wall is recognized for its universal appeal as a construction technique and will be supplemented by sunscreens designed to filter and, at times, block the Utah sunlight.”

Some other key sustainable design strategies incorporated into the building and the site include:

  • Use of multi-stage evaporative cooling systems that include energy recovery
  • Construction of vegetated bioswales to help capture and retain surface runoff to mitigate storm water quality and quantity
  • Harvesting of rain water for use in site irrigation and sewage conveyance
  • Use of local stone and copper construction materials, as well as other renewable resourced materials
  • Use of high fly ash content concrete
  • Low VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes. MD
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