There is a new slot canyon on East Sixth Street on the University of Arizona campus, hidden inside a steel-shaded concrete box five stories high.

The UA’s new Environment and Natural Resources Building will house researchers committed to the principle of sustainability and hopes to demonstrate that principle in its energy-saving features, its rainwater capture and its design.

Professors, researchers and graduate students from the UA Institute of the Environment, the School of Geography and Development, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Atmospheric Sciences, the Office of Arid Land Studies and the Mathematics department will inhabit the canyon.

The building provides a curved and shaded interior courtyard designed to save on heating, cooling and lighting. It is also designed to promote intercourse among the various disciplines housed there, and to resemble the narrow canyons carved in rock by watercourses in the Southwest, said UA architect May Carr, who was the building’s design manager.

For now, the canyon walls are the dark color of milled steel, but that will change over time as the steel fins on the building’s exterior and curving staircases develop a patina closer to the terra cotta color of a sandstone slot canyon, said architect Jim Richard.

It is the third eclectic, concrete, steel-and-glass design on campus for Phoenix architect Richard, of Richard+Bauer, who worked with GLHN Architects and Engineers and Carr on the building’s design.

Richard is a UA alumnus, who also designed the Bryant Bannister Tree-Ring Building and the award-winning addition to the College of Optical Sciences.

He expects the building to save about 30 percent of its energy costs through a combination of environmentally savvy practices.

The building is shaded on the west by the original Environment and Natural Resources building. On the east, that duty is performed by the Sixth Street parking garage. Its offices are conditioned by chilled water, with minimal mechanical air circulation.

It is split on its east-west axis into two buildings, which shade each other and the interior courtyard, allowing window placement that brings natural light into the building without thermal gain.

Its carpeting and sound-insulating panels are made from recycled materials.

Carr called it is “the most sustainable building on campus to this date.”

She expects it to be certified “platinum” on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scale of the U.S. Green Building Council.

In addition to its energy savings, the building “captures all of the water that falls on or around it,” said Richard. It is being used to water the planting beds on each floor of the building, with excess dripping through tubes onto lower levels and, eventually, into a 52,000-gallon underground tank expected to capture 300,000 gallons over the course of a year.

The building, with 150,954 gross square feet of space, came in on budget, said Carr, at $75 million.

In addition to offices, lab space and lecture rooms, it includes a 575-seat classroom for popular introductory courses, and a cafe on its ground floor.

Diana Liverman, co-director of the Institute of the Environment, said the building is “starting to work like we hoped it would” in the month since its opening.

Faculty from the many disciplines housed there are interacting, she said.

“I think it has already increased people’s productivity, including my own.” Liverman said she is drawn to stay longer at work each day.

After years of being housed in temporary spaces, Liverman said she is looking forward to sharing the building with visiting scholars. She has already planned several conferences.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@tucson.com or 573-4158.