Two New UA Buildings Among Arizona's Greatest Architectural Wonders

The Meinel Optical Sciences Building and the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre also reflect the university's efforts in more sustainable construction.
Jan. 9, 2008
Meinel Optical Sciences Building
Meinel Optical Sciences Building
Stevie Eller Dance Theatre
Stevie Eller Dance Theatre

It’s not just about red bricks any more. Two buildings at The University of Arizona are included in a short list of the most noteworthy structures in the state.

The Meinel Optical Sciences Building and the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, both recent additions to the UA campus, were included among Arizona’s 18 Greatest Architectural Achievements. The list was compiled and announced recently by the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects, in conjunction with the national AIA’s 150th anniversary.

Following a thread that connects the 18 finalists was a bit difficult, said Peter Dourlein, associate director of UA Facilities Design and Construction, who accepted the AIA awards in Phoenix.

The winners straddled the architectural spectrum, including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, the 1,200-year-old White House Anasazi pueblo in Canyon de Chelly, Kierland Commons, an upscale commercial and residential project in Scottsdale, and the Spanish colonial San Xavier del Bac Mission near Tucson.

More importantly, said Dourlein, the new buildings are a signal that the UA is moving beyond a century of red brick construction to building with more sustainable materials and practices.

Eller and Meinel, he said, likely made the Arizona AIA list because they already are award-winning buildings. The Stevie Eller Dance Theatre is both a performance site and a teaching studio for the School of Dance. The Meinel Building is the second addition to the College of Optical Sciences, originally was built in 1970.

“Eller is all about movement,” Dourlein said of the dance facility. “It captures movement and embodies the whole idea of movement. The columns outside are dancing, and the skin of the building is turned inside out as it goes into the performance hall.”

The alternating large and small columns, he said, represent male and female dancers. The building's exterior uses brick, color, copper and rusted steel.

“People recognize that it’s good architecture, different and exciting and still sympathetic to its location,” Dourlein said.

Meinel, the first building in southern Arizona to win a national AIA award, uses its copper skin to shield its concrete sides from the sun. As the weather warms, ventilation created by air rising in the space between the skin and the walls helps to moderate the building's temperature.

A glass facade on the north side lets in natural light. Interior light comes from three narrow light shafts, a paean to camera obscura, the first camera. Each shaft of light enters through the roof and stops at one floor, where a second hole lets in light to the floor below it, serving both floors with natural light, and adding the visual effect of the light shafts themselves.

The new campus architecture also reflects the new economics of construction, with higher costs for labor and materials. New buildings also incorporate the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“We’ve actually looked back at buildings we did 15, 20 years ago and applied today’s LEED standards to them and did a calculation to see if they would qualify. With some exceptions, they all did,” Dourlein said. “There are some materials and practices used now that were not available back then.”

The new, post-red-brick architecture also sets the bar higher for the University and the community. One example Dourlein points to is the recently completed addition to the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, which he calls a laboratory for sustainability, with a green roof, shade, sun, photovoltaics and rain capture.

Buildings, he said, have to be fun and creative, and still fit a budget and construction timetable. The Eller Dance Theatre “is a great piece of work for $9 million. Unheard of and a good deal, and one of the last bid projects given to the lowest bidder rather than on qualifications.

“That’s up to the design team, but the UA has done a great job of leading the design teams, directing and describing what we want to accomplish,” he said. “All of our project managers on these projects are architects or engineers. That’s our purpose. They could be facilitators or administrators, but they’re not. We want architects and engineers because we want them to have that kind of influence and have a bigger picture of the campus fabric.

“Buildings have to do more than be a space; they have to inspire people,” Dourlein said. “The Stevie Eller Dance Theatre is a great recruitment tool. The School of Dance is getting great faculty and students because they want to come here, and not just because of the teaching. It’s also because of the great facility.”

The other buildings named to the list of the 18 All-time Greatest Architectural Achievements in Arizona are:

  • Arcosanti, Cordes Junction
  • Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix
  • ASU Biodesign Institute, Tempe
  • Burton Barr Central Library, Phoenix
  • Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona
  • Hoover Dam, Northwest Arizona
  • Kierland Commons, Scottsdale
  • Luhrs Tower, Phoenix
  • Optima Camelview Village, Scottsdale
  • Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix
  • Phoenix Children's Hospital, Phoenix
  • Phoenix First Assembly Prayer Pavilion of Light, Phoenix
  • San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson
  • Taliesin West, Scottsdale
  • Univision Channel 33, Phoenix
  • White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly