Form and orientation of university building designed to minimise intense climate

CO Architects' design of the Health Sciences Education Building in urban Phoenix draws inspiration from surrounding mountains and canyons and responds to the intense desert climate

:The main circulation stair in this educational facility architecture, building, condominium, daylighting, glass, handrail, mixed use, stairs, structure, gray, black
:The main circulation stair in this educational facility has a gentle rise to encourage students to use it, plus incorporates study spaces on the landings. This view looks out to a canyon-like outdoor space between the two wings of the building and towards the street.

Look at the buildings in any city around the world and there would be few that truly have a unique sense of place. Most of them could have been built anywhere and probably already have.

But CO Architects' principal, L. Paul Zajfen, is sure that doesn't apply to the Health Sciences Education Building the firm designed for a medical campus in downtown Phoenix.

"The mountains surrounding Phoenix are a reddish colour and very striated," says Zajfen. "I wanted to evoke the heaviness and solidity of those mountains and make it feel like it was only possible to build this in Phoenix."

The colour and patina of the mountains were abstracted by folding the building's copper skin, creating a visual connection to its surroundings.

The canyon between the two wings of this apartment, architecture, building, commercial building, condominium, corporate headquarters, daylighting, facade, glass, headquarters, lobby, metropolitan area, mixed use, neighbourhood, residential area, tower block, window, gray
The canyon between the two wings of this education facility gets its name from the tall and intentionally narrow nature of the space. This provides a cool, protected outdoor environment that is shaded from the sun by giant sails overhead.

But it's the form of the building in response to the intense effects of the Arizona desert climate that makes it so site specific, says Zajfen.

"The form evolved from modelling how the sun moves around the building, and how it could be given as much shading as possible."

This was achieved by dividing the facility into two east-west wings and then determining the optimum position and sizes of glazed areas and shading devices to reduce the air conditioning load.

The windowless east and west facades are both carved open to create deep crevices with shaded north and south glazing, bringing light right into the centre of each of the wings. Plus the exterior space between the two wings is tall and intentionally narrow and is referred to as the canyon.

While the eastern facade of the Health Sciences architecture, building, city, commercial building, condominium, corporate headquarters, downtown, facade, house, mixed use, neighbourhood, property, real estate, residential area, sky, black
While the eastern facade of the Health Sciences Education Building in Phoenix is windowless, the glazed areas on the north face are shaded by overhangs, or are self shaded due to the inflection of the building.

"Despite being very narrow, it's not oppressive in this climate. It's physically cool, clad in masonry to absorb heat and shaded by large sails above."

Exhaust air from the building's heating and cooling systems is also pumped into the canyon. Because the exhaust air temperature is lower than that of the ambient outside air, it helps to cool this outdoor space.

Facilities at the Health and Science Education Building include three large lecture halls accommodating 130-140 students each, simulation operating theatres with computerised mannequins, standardised patient examination rooms, and briefing and debriefing rooms for feedback sessions.

The complex provides learning environments to train 1200 medical professionals and will also serve as a learning and teaching resource for the research community.

Credit list

Health Sciences Education Building, Phoenix, AZ
Associate architect
Ayers Saint Gross, Phoenix, AZ
Civil engineer
Dibble Engineering
Climate engineer
Transsolar Energietechnik
Lighting designer
Kaplan Gehrying McCarroll Lighting
Masonry by Trenwyth Industries; metal panels by VM Zinc; metal and glass curtain wall by KT Fabrication, Inc
Facade construction
Copper by Kovach, Inc
Executive and design architect
CO Architects,
Structural engineer
John A Martin & Associates
Mechanical and electrical engineer
AEI Engineers
Fire consultant
Rof Jensen & Associates
Construction company
Joint venture between
PVC roofing by Sarnatil, Inc; PTFE tensioned fabric shade structure by Fabri-Tec Structures
Viracon; windows by KT Fabrication, Inc
AIA CAE Design Excellence Award 2015

Story by: Paul Taylor

Photography by: Bill Timmerman

11 Dec, 2015

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