Joe O'Connell (left) and Ty Augsburger examine their work for the first time since its installation. (Photo: Emily Litvack/UANews)
Joe O'Connell (left) and Ty Augsburger examine their work for the first time since its installation. (Photo: Emily Litvack/UANews)

ENR2: Where Art and Science Meet

Local artists Joe O'Connell and Ty Augsburger have added a whimsical, highly detailed touch to the new building.
Sept. 16, 2015
Maize inlay (Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)
Maize inlay (Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)
Gila monster inlay (Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)
Gila monster inlay (Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)
(Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)
(Photo: Ty Augsburger/Creative Machines)

Diana Liverman says she "always loved" Denver International Airport.

Liverman is a Regents' Professor of Geography and Development and co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. She also spearheaded the installation of 200 stainless-steel inlays at the new Environment & Natural Resources 2 building, where she now works.

"So initially I contacted the artists who did the airport in Denver, but then I thought, 'Wait! What am I doing? I should be supporting the Tucson arts community,'" Liverman said.

Liverman loved the Denver airport for its bronze inlays depicting indigenous fossils on the floors of its "B" gates. She wanted something similar installed in the concrete at ENR2.

She met Joe O'Connell and Ty Augsburger of Creative Machines at their studio in downtown Tucson and told them she wanted inlays.

O'Connell pointed to the fish and star patterns on the floor, made of recycled spoons, and asked, "Like these?" Liverman knew then that they were right for the job. She used the UA Foundation website to crowd-fund 200 inlays featuring 40 designs.

The process was collaborative from start to finish. Faculty and staff in the ENR2 building brainstormed and voted on designs. Then, as Augsburger went to work drawing up some of their ideas, donors went online to sponsor specific inlays. Planners later made sure to place certain designs near the offices of those who sponsored them.

And while the in-lays have been installed, Liverman is still raising the funds to cover the cost, which was backstopped early on. Those interested in sponsoring an in-lay at ENR2 are encouraged to visit the UA Foundation fundraising webpage.

The building currently houses the Institute of the Environment, the School of Geography and Development, the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and part of the Department of Mathematics.

"The inlays not only animate the building, but they also reflect the diverse interests of the people working here," Liverman said.

Some designs include a hiker, a satellite, a chart tracking atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over time, a map of Arizona and dozens of regional critters. O'Connell and Augsburger made some designs trickier to figure out than others, hoping to engage visitors with the art. 

For them, it felt instinctive.

O'Connell emphasized the importance of doing local work. Augsburger said, "Also, we're both outdoors people, so it just came pretty naturally."

Both believe in the building's marriage of art and the environment.

"Some of the best art is trying to portray truth, and in that way I think art and science are very similar," O'Connell said.