University of Arizona College of Medicine

Phoenix, Arizona
August 11, 2010

The hope was that a complete restoration and modernization would bring life back to three neoclassic beauties that formerly served as Phoenix Union High School—but time had not treated them kindly. Built in 1911, one year before Arizona became the country's 48th state, the historic high school buildings endured nearly a century of wear and tear and suffered major water damage and years of termite infestation that severely compromised their wood-frame interior structures. There was considerable hand-wringing over how much of the three-story buildings could be salvaged.

After extensive review, the Building Team devised a $19.6 million program where all three buildings would be saved and reborn as the 84,435-sf University of Arizona College of Medicine. It was precisely that concern for rescuing the trio of buildings that caught our judges' attention. “Reusing three buildings is quite significant. It just isn't something you think to do too often,” says Walker C. Johnson, FAIA, principal at Johnson Lasky Architects in Chicago.

Only one of the three buildings was discovered to be structurally unsound. Its entire wood-frame interior was dismantled and replaced with a steel-frame system. To protect its historic masonry shell, all the work had to be performed through the building's existing window openings. The other two buildings were shored up as necessary, and all three were fitted with new operable, insulated, and historically sensitive windows.

Another concern focused on how best to fit the necessary classroom space and technology required of a 21st-century medical college into turn-of-the-20th-century buildings. When it was discovered that up to 40% of the buildings' available space would be sacrificed to staircases, elevators, and bathrooms (each floor plate is approximately 7,000 sf), the decision was made to locate those elements in newly constructed space—two modern glass “outhouses” (translucent glass wrapped about masonry cubes) connected by glass bridges to two of the buildings. “The additions are unique architectural solutions that don't draw the focus away from the original buildings,” says Jeff Pratt, principal at KJWW Engineering Consultants, Naperville, Ill., and one of BD+C's Reconstruction Award judges.

Additional interior reconfiguration focused on the building's auditorium. While the state's Historic Preservation Office (which had to approve all work) would have liked the auditorium completely restored, the university needed to borrow some of the space for much needed classrooms.

A compromise was reached and a building within a building was erected: one half the space is still used as the auditorium while the other half is classroom space for the state-of-the-art T-Health (telehealth and telemedicine) program. The walls can easily be removed, the space dismantled, and the auditorium returned to its original size. This design feature was lauded by juror K. Nam Shiu, VP at Walker Restoration Consultants, Elgin, Ill., who said, “The work done on the interior is very forward-thinking.”

         
 

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