University of Arizona Environment + Natural Resources 2

University of Arizona Environment + Natural Resources 2

University of Arizona Main Campus - Tucson, AZ

Passive Design Strategies Create Significant Impact 

The vision for the Environment and Natural Sciences complex (ENR2) began over two decades ago with a University-wide initiative to push the boundaries of sustainable design. The University’s goals: this project is the centerpiece of environmental research, the building should have a definable iconic identity, with a truly integrated holistic solution to sustainability, serving as a living and learning laboratory, and be the most sustainable on campus achieving LEED Platinum Certification. Organized about a central “slot canyon”; curvilinear anodized aluminum ribbons define the walls of the central canyon, recalling the terra cotta walls of the natural canyon, leaning overhead, and falling away. The vertical striations of the scrim recall the desert varnish pattern of canyon walls. As in the natural environs, each terrace reflects the elevated desert floor, with native trees, grasses, shrub, and stone. The canyon floor is a sand and stone dry bed, which gathers the rainwater and guides it into storage cisterns for reuse.

The climatic response of the building borrows from the slot canyon; its massive stone walls provide both cool thermal mass and critical shade from the intense summer sun. The precious thread of water and active evaporative cooling combined with solar chimneys to motivate air movement, and the diurnal temperature swings provide natural thermal flushing of warm air during the evening hours.  The extensively planted gardens on each level of the building act as outdoor gathering space for the flanking office wings. Laboratories and communal spaces are organized about the courtyard. A café opens to the ground level court providing the social and interaction space as a catalyst for collaboration. The high occupancy meeting and auditorium spaces are located on the ground floor of the building to provide easy access, as well as animate the ground plane. Flanking office blocks are organized on accessible flooring systems for flexibility and adaptability over the lifespan of the building. The roof garden serves as the artificial ground plane for a departmental conference room, and an extensive roof terrace for atmospheric experimentation and instrumentation.

ENR2 incorporates many sustainable strategies. It gained LEED points for its water efficiency, waste management, use of sustainable materials, indoor environmental quality, and innovative design. The building has an outdoor air system and induction coils or active chilled beams, an innovative system, that when combined works together to heat, cool, and ventilate the building.  The building also is efficient in its water usage, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in the amount of water used annually. The water harvesting system is expected to capture 260,000 gallons of rainwater runoff each year

Project facts

Design Architect:  Richärd Kennedy Architects

Architect of Record:  GLHN Architects + Engineers

Client:  University of Arizona

Size:  155,000 SF

Project Type:  Science + Technology, Higher Education

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

Delivery Method:  CMAR

General Contractor:  Hensel Phelps

MEP Engineer:  GLHN Architects + Engineers

Structural Engineer:  Turner Structural Engineering

Landscape Design Architect:  Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architect of Record:  McGann + Associates

Photographers:  Bill Timmerman | Marion Brenner | Liam Frederick

Certification:  LEED Platinum

Press & Awards

2023 - ASLA Honor Award, General Design

2021 – The Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Awards

2021 – Green Good Design, European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies

2018 – AIA Western Mountain Region

2017 – AIA Arizona, Distinguished Architecture Honor Award

2016 – IIDA SW Chapter PRIDE Awards, Merit Award

2015 – 37th Contract Magazine Awards, Sustainability

2015 – WAN Awards, Long List, Metal in Architecture


The environmental mission of the facility compelled a fundamental tie to its region, context, and environment. The design borrows from the iconic imagery of our region’s striking landforms of canyon and mesa, with their dramatic interplay of light and shadow. These natural forms are reflected in the building’s canyon-like courtyard and dynamic façade tying it to the powerful and evocative sequence of the desert slot canyon. 

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