University of Arizona Applied Research Building
The University of Arizona has played an integral role in U.S. space exploration for decades, with a robust research program essential to storied missions like the Giant Magellan Telescope and Mars Exploration Rover. Partnering with NASA and other federal agencies, it is the nation’s top academic institution for research funding in astronomy and astrophysics, and space science is a key component of the University’s strategic plan to tackle “pressing grand challenges.” As part of that initiative, it identified the need for a new applied research building that would bring together key space science, advanced manufacturing and imaging technology researchers and research programs.
Befitting the cutting-edge work occurring within, the Applied Research Building (ARB) is a space-age marvel. Radical in design, the building itself is a highly calibrated machine, uniquely suited to house complex and sensitive research demands with optimal performance in its desert environment. It strikes an elusive balance, extremely secure and yet a stunning showcase of scientific advancements.
The first integrated facility in the country to house all research spaces related to the fabrication and testing of satellites, the ARB contains an array of rare, space-specific instruments and equipment. The third floor is dedicated to material characterization, imaging, optics and advanced electronics clean rooms and laboratories, all in support of the research devices and componentry on the floors below. An anechoic chamber on the ground level provides an environment for sound testing of satellite communications, alongside the building’s centerpiece, a two-story, 40-ton thermal vacuum chamber—the largest of any university in the world—that simulates the environmental conditions found in outer space.
The size of the payloads drove the overall size of the ARB, which creates a striking presence in the engineering precinct at the heart of the Arizona campus. The design capitalizes on its prominent location, adjacent to a primary vehicular route through campus as well as a key pedestrian/bike corridor and tunnel that was reconfigured for safer, better access. The building’s entrance is positioned at this multi-modal hub and new campus portal, where the thermal vacuum chamber is on display like a jewel in the glassy volume of the two-story lobby.
Space science influenced the building’s design inside and out and its response to the desert climate. Its crinkled metal skin takes cues from the solar array of the International Space Station, with textured vertical fins, breathable rain screen and integrated frit that mitigate the intensity of the Sonoran sun. All water is recaptured on site, stored below grade and filtered through a series of bio-swales and rain gardens. While the ARB’s research requires sophisticated air and exhaust systems for safety, its mechanical systems are designed 30-percent more efficient than the ASHRAE baseline for this building type.
Cast in the University of Arizona’s signature red-brick tones, the Applied Research Building seems at once otherworldly and right at home on campus—a beacon marking the University’s many achievements in the grand challenge of space exploration.