Text description provided by the architects. The design for the new facility for a School of Earth and Space Exploration clearly delineates the research, science and educational programs it houses. The 300,000-square-foot, seven-story (plus basement level), LEED Gold structure consists of a block of offices which face north, capturing ambient light and dramatic views, while research laboratories form an L-shape on the south and east side of the site. At ground level, the building’s entrance admits visitors to a two-story public educational outreach gallery and multiple classrooms. With a state-of-the-art 250-seat auditorium-planetarium, shaded entry and large arcades with exhibit spaces, this important gathering place communicates the facility’s exciting activities to the larger community.
Research labs and offices on floors three through seven, secured and closed to the public, are linked by an internal atrium. This “vessel of light” connects the floors visually, psychologically and physically with open stairways and meeting spaces called “living rooms in the sky.” A paramount design goal was to encourage collaboration between scientists and engineers conducting research projects; the atrium serves as a mixing bowl, fostering chance encounters. A custom carpet for the atrium floor was created from images of moon and planet craters selected by the scientists.
Exterior materials signify the building’s organization and form a kinetic composition. Cast-in-place concrete structure and shear walls are left exposed. The vertical mechanical shafts serving the laboratory block and the massive mechanical penthouse are wrapped in a rich hue of locally-sourced red brick which relates to surrounding buildings. Northern light is brought through high performance glass into the office area, while the Western façade of the office block has a double-skin metal sunscreen that modulates the intense sun. Exit stairs are clad in channel glass. Envelope design and material selection were carefully studied to achieve the highest level of energy efficiency, sustainability and value. The form of the theater’s exterior box office was inspired by sedimentary desert geology.