The building on East Sixth Street is designed to resemble a slot canyon. It will house the UA's Institute of the Environment.


Bulldozers are clearing a parking lot on East Sixth Street to prepare for the long-awaited construction of a new home for the environmental sciences at the University of Arizona - a resource-efficient building designed to resemble a slot canyon.

The $75 million building - whose project name is Environment and Natural Resources Phase 2 - will sit between a parking garage and the previously built Dennis DeConcini Environment and Natural Resources Building.

The building will house classrooms, conference space, labs and offices for researchers in an array of environmental fields, and will be the first permanent home for the UA's Institute of the Environment since its creation in 2008.

That year, university administrators promised a building and an increase in faculty in the environmental sciences as part of a package to keep noted environmental researcher Jonathan Overpeck on campus. The Institute for the Environment was created, with Overpeck and newly hired Diana Liverman as co-directors.

Liverman said recently that the lag in construction of the new building was understandable, given the economic climate of the state since the promise was made.

She said the university did follow through on its hiring promises. A special provost's fund, paired with money from various colleges, has allowed the hiring of 30 environmental researchers in disciplines ranging from English to archaeology to economics, she said.

The new building will enable researchers from a variety of environmental fields to more easily collaborate, she said.

Some of the bells and whistles originally proposed for what was once a $90 million building have been shaved.

The "slot canyon" - an interior landscaped courtyard patterned on a deep, narrow canyon formed by rushing water - will not be bordered by two giant cooling towers included in early designs by GLHN Architects and Engineers of Tucson and Richärd+Bauer of Phoenix.

The building committee also dropped plans for misters in the courtyard, a budget concession that was easy to swallow, said Liverman, because it might have sent a wrong message about water use.

A "green roof" that will be used to experiment with appropriate rooftop landscaping and solar panels will need independent funding, said Liverman. She said the institute will embark on a fundraising campaign after the building's official groundbreaking this fall.

UA architect May Carr, design manager for the project, said the university is committed to going beyond its usual commitment to sustainability for this project - aiming for platinum LEED status, the top category given out by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The building, in addition to having a radiant cooling system that uses 20 percent less energy, will capture all its rainwater and air-conditioning condensate, storing it in an underground tank to water the courtyard vegetation.

A 600-seat classroom-auditorium will allow the university to stop using Centennial Hall as a temporary classroom when the building is completed in May 2015, said Carr.

The building will house faculty from the mathematics and atmospheric sciences departments, as well as the School of Geography and Development, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and the Office of Arid Lands Studies.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or