Project Team Creates Platinum Home for Tucson Honors College

Photo by Frank Ooms
Courtyards are oriented to resemble the typical slot canyons in the Southwest.

Meaning 'Tree of Life' in Spanish, Árbol de la Vida is a fitting name for the LEED-Platinum home of the Honors College and its 719 freshmen at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The $72.3-million project increases resident density without sacrificing comfort and aesthetics. While the concrete, stucco and masonry building is arranged in five large sections around three courtyards, the living spaces are broken up into smaller modules. Students live together in small groups of around 15, each with its own social center, bathrooms and study areas.

All students share nonresidential spaces on the ground floor, including six classrooms, recreation and media rooms, performance spaces and two exercise facilities.

Project architect Benjamin de Rubertis says it was rewarding to visit the project a few weeks after the first class of students arrived and see them using the spaces he designed for their cello recitals, choral performances and even tryouts for a Bollywood musical.

Courtyards are oriented to resemble the typical slot canyons in the Southwest and intended to maximize shading and thermal conduction by using the large building mass. The canyon-shaped courtyards create public spaces for year-round use and are planted with rescued cacti and other native plants.

The canyon theme continues with the building's exterior skin, where specially manufactured metal panels depict Antelope Canyon—a famous slot canyon in northern Arizona—by reflecting light through thousands of tiny perforations angled in varying orientations.

The project was originally slated for LEED-Gold status, but by maximizing the climate-appropriate design, recycling 99% of construction waste and increasing the interior daylighting, the team was able to achieve 55 LEED points. It's rare for a project of this size to reach that level, says Tim Roley, project manager at CORE Construction.

The rating says as much about how effectively the project team was able to work together as it does about the building's level of sustainability, de Rubertis says.

Key Players

Contractor: CORE Construction Services of Arizona, Phoenix

Owner: University of Arizona, Residence Life, Tucson, Ariz.

Lead Design: NAC Architecture, Denver

Structural Engineer: Holben, Martin & White Structural Engineers, Tucson, Ariz.

Civil Engineer: Stantec Consulting, Tucson, Ariz.

MEP: M-E Engineers, Wheat Ridge, Colo.; Mondrad Engineering, Tucson, Ariz.

Landscape: Wheat Scharf Associates, Tucson, Ariz.

Subcontractors: Concrete Structures, Peoria, Ariz.; Jen Electric, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Sun Mechanical, Tucson, Ariz.; S&H Steel, Gilbert, Ariz.; Sun Valley Masonry, Phoenix; Romanowski Glass & Mirror Co., Tucson, Ariz.

Submitted by NAC Architecture

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