Balancing history

The University of Arizona, Chemistry Renovation and The Commons

Tucson, AZ

Estimated to be completed in December 2022, The University of Arizona Chemistry Renovation and The Commons is a renovation and addition to a venerated and National Historic Register building on the University of Arizona campus. 

Through robust feasibility analysis and programming, our design team helped transform The University of Arizona Chemistry building’s historic structure with new forward looking, flexible 21st century spaces for teaching and learning in the newly named “The Commons.” Maintaining the building’s integrity, the design reflects the building’s mission of looking back and always forward. 

Originally built in 1936, with subsequent additions in 1948 and 1962, the Chemistry Building was designed by Roy Place, an architect who played a pivotal role in the design and development of The University of Arizona Campus. Having outlived its functional role as laboratory space, The University of Arizona contracted with the design build team of Sundt Construction, Shepley Bulfinch and Poster Mirto McDonald to re-envision the building as the first purpose built collaborative classroom building on campus. 
Initial analysis showed that roughly 2/3 of the structure could be re-utilized for new program space. The rest of the new program should be located in a new addition with larger footprints and higher ceilings to accommodate flexible open classrooms. The design repurposes the old building stock, transforming cellular, smaller areas with low ceiling heights into a modern environment that can evolve over time. Supporting the 21st century style of hands on, collaborative teaching and learning, the design integrates active classrooms accommodating experimental teaching methodologies, along with chemistry research, teaching and departmental functions, into one facility.   
Turns into collaborative lecture hall located on the first floor of The Commons
Large classrooms are concentrated in the addition. While services, offices, and computational spaces are located in the historic structure, enhancing synergy between departments, students and teachers. A two story entry lobby between the addition and renovation portions of the building encloses some of the historic façade, creating a large mixing chamber where students and faculty can interact. This space can also be utilized for queuing pre-class or after-hours gatherings, allowing the university to expand the “open” hours of the building. Experimental space at the heart of the building places research on display.
Tracking as a LEED Silver project, the design incorporates biophilic elements and exterior spaces as part of the overall environment. The space creates a healthy learning and teaching environment for users with the elimination of Red List Materials in interior finishes and the installation of new, highly efficient mechanical systems. Leveraging the Arizona climate, the design incorporates internal and external circulation spaces.  
In this design context, balance is just as much about creation as it is about preservation. The team created environments that are inclusive to all experiences. Accessibility was implemented in ways that enhanced the presence of the historic building along the historic mall. The reimagined entrances and navigation through the building now provide universal access that previously didn’t exist. The design focuses on equitable experiences for all who interact with the newly renovated building: the way students and faculty enter or exit the space, how community interactions occur, how study space is used, and how all community members can participate in social events.