The growth of Arizona Western College reflects the growth of surrounding Yuma, Ariz. Although the campus’s main entrance faces north, a highway addition and city development being constructed at the south end of campus brought more traffic from that direction. When it came time to add buildings to the college, planners saw an opportunity to establish a new campus gateway. To keep the college current, administrators decided to pursue new state-of-the-art buildings for the student center, or C3, and science-lab complex, or Sci-Ag, on the south end. The project was funded through a bond that passed in 2004.
Fortunately, there was ample room at the south end of campus to accommodate the two new buildings that won first-place recognition in the Wall Panels category of metalmag’s third-annual Architectural Awards program.
In January 2005, the college asked for design proposals through a public submittal process. The Phoenix office of Gould Evans Associates was one of five architecture teams selected to be interviewed. The firm, which is national in scope and has 35 designers in the Phoenix office, was given the opportunity to present its design approach and campus analysis.
The firm’s design was based on the four elements of Earth; water; wind; and fire, relating to light in this design, and how those elements would affect the building façade. Light and wind drove the design of the exterior skin of the buildings because the designers believed that these would have the greatest visual effect on objects in a desert context. Gould Evans conducted several studies on the building skin to determine how it could be shaped to change with the sun’s movement across the sky. Models were built and videotaped with a light moving over them to simulate the sun at different points during the day.
The design team decided evenly spaced vertical fins with folded panels could create a range of shadow patterns that would change with the sun’s angle. Differing peak placement and variable valley depths provide a wide range of light effects.
This principle was used to give each building its own look. C3 features horizontal waves with each valley differing from its neighbor by one increment horizontally but giving freedom for any vertical adjacency. The metal panels have five different valley depths ranging from 1 to 5 inches (25 to 127 mm) with increments of 1 inch (25 mm). Each was given a number value of one to five. Adjacencies were constrained, so a two only could be next to a one, three or another two. The single-direction waves are meant to replicate the effect of continuous wind forming linear patterns on sand dunes. The designers believed this pattern would work best on C3 because of the structure’s horizontal directionality.
Similar logic, tempered with a vertical constraint, was applied to Sci-Ag, as well. Valley depths in vertical and horizontal direction do not differ from one another by more than one increment. The pattern simulates strong wind gusts over a large area. The college’s selection committee was impressed by the designs and selected Gould Evans as the architectural firm for the project.
A design of this complexity for both structures would require a special material to give the desired effect. Initially, precast-concrete panels were considered to match other buildings on campus, but the material wouldn’t allow the necessary pattern range. Copper was the next option. It brought forth the natural colors of the desert and could be folded into the required peaks and valleys. When the final design was bid, however, the price of copper had jumped and the college asked the firm to consider a more price-conscious material. Aluminum was studied as a suitable material. It worked well because of its formability and the way it reflects the sky and surrounding landscape.
Throughout the design process, Gould Evans worked with a few different metal fabricators with which the firm had existing relationships. This was necessary because it was a public-bid project and the firm didn’t know which fabricator would get the project. “In our meetings with the fabricators, our goal was to understand the limitations on folding the metal panels, devise a way to document how the panels were folded and how the different shapes would be patterned on the buildings, so that it would be clear to whichever fabricator won the bid,” says Martin Tovrea, AIA, NCARB, vice president at Gould Evans. “We also worked to understand the dimensions of raw materials to design a [cladding] system that would minimize the wasted material by having panels that matched the metal coil widths.”
The finished panels are 18-inches (457-mm) wide. The folded panels are 16-gauge material while the vertical fins are 20-gauge. On average, the valley depths are 3 1/2 inches (89 mm).
The panels, installed over a structural-steel frame, were combined with glass on the two buildings. In addition to iconic design, the aluminum provides a tight enclosure to combat wind, sand and heat. The wall assembly has a pocket to allow for R-19 insulation and better air movement under the panels.
Peter David Greaves, AIA, LEED AP, principal at Weber Thompson, Seattle, and a judge in this year’s Architectural Awards program says, “The metal skin of this building is positively reptilian. The way the scales of the metal-clad building walls shimmer in the sunlight makes this design stand out. Closer examination reveals the mathematical rigor applied to the design and fabrication of each shingle, creating a variety of facets by altering the angle of the fold of a typical panel. The application of each piece to the wall assembly creates a building that seems to move in the desert light. The result seems fluid in spite of an orthogonal plan.”
A New Gateway
The stunning new buildings were completed in January 2009. They are situated across from each other with a wide pedestrian mall between them. According to the college, the reaction to the new facilities has been extremely positive; students’ enthusiasm is enhanced when they are educated regarding the energy efficiency and cost savings provided by the metal panels.
Enthusiasm for learning is exactly why these buildings were constructed. The Sci-Ag building contains classrooms, a computer lab, lecture room and various science labs with prep and storage rooms. C3 has a student bookstore, food service and dining areas, large and small meeting rooms, a student lounge/game room, administration offices and student-services offices.
The entire team is excited about the outcome of this project. “Creating buildings that are cutting-edge and forward-thinking, in terms of infrastructure, use of materials and overall aesthetics, are important to the culture at Gould Evans,” Tovrea states. “Arizona Western College is definitely one of those clients who understands our passion as designers and looks to the future for the vision of its projects.”
Krista Hovis write about architecture and metal construction from Kansas, Ohio.