University of Arizona Meinel Optical Sciences Building

University of Arizona Meinel Optical Sciences Building

Tucson, AZ

Exemplifying The Science and Application of Light

The building is an abstraction of a "Camera Obscura" or "Dark Room". Within the building, daylight is introduced by a series of apertures on the exterior. This light interacts and modulates with the spaces within. Three light shafts pierce the building and occupy different elevations and orientations. Unique light effects and moments are scattered throughout, while bringing daylight into the core of the space while being sensitive to the darkroom laboratories.  Design began with University of Arizona requesting a signature building for the College of Optical Sciences. The college’s mission statement makes a simple and impactful jumping off point for architecture, being “the Science and application of light”. As an expansion and partial renovation of an existing building, the project itself houses state-of-the-art optical research labs, faculty offices, auditoria, conferencing, and interaction spaces for this preeminent university research institution.  

The need for absolute darkness created a design where the optics laboratories are clustered along the Southern, "blind" elevation. The upper level contains a conferencing center and glass-enclosed rooftop terrace. The lower-level lobby area houses exhibits and auditoriums. Offices and interaction spaces are gathered around these two-story spaces, with views of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the North.

Many elements of design exemplify the college’s mission in creative unique moments as people move throughout.

The Meinel Optical Sciences Building has redefined the campus experience of University of Arizona. It creates space for exploration within a science while exemplifying the college's mission in simple unique ways.

Project facts

Design Architect:  Richärd Kennedy Architects

Architect of Record:  Richärd Kennedy Architects

Client: University of Arizona

Size: 47,000 SF (new), 6,000 SF (renovation)

Project Type: Science + Technology, Higher Education

Services: Architecture, Programming, Planning, Laboratory Planning, Laboratory Design, Interior Design, Sustainability

Delivery Method: CMAR

General Contractor: Lloyd Construction Company, Inc.

MEP Engineer: ARUP

Structural Engineer: ARUP

Landscape Design Architect: Sage Landscape Architecture + Environmental

Photographer: Bill Timmerman

Press & Awards

2007   AIA National Honor Award for Excellence

2006   AIA Arizona, Honor Award

2006   AIA Western Mountain Region, Honor Award

2006   IIDA Southwest Chapter PRIDE, Best of Show

2006   IIDA Southwest Chapter PRIDE, Design Excellence in Education + Institutional


The building is an abstraction of a Camera Obscura or “Dark Room”. Within the simple volume, daylight is introduced by a series of apertures in the skin, interacting and modulating the spaces within. A series of vertical light shafts penetrate the building and terminate in a series of two story interaction spaces. Each features a specific optical effect, allowing natural daylight to actively integrate into daily activities within the building.

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