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Old January 15th, 2007, 05:36 PM   #1
hkskyline
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American Institute of Architects' Honor Award

Arizona building wins U.S. architecture's top honor
13 January 2007

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A new building at the University of Arizona has received American architecture's highest honor.

The Meinel Optical Sciences Building was given the American Institute of Architects' Honor Award. The institute made the announcement on Friday.

The $17.2 million, 47,000-square-foot building on the university mall is one of 11 worldwide selected by the group this year, and it's the only Tucson building to receive an Honor Award.

It was designed by James Richärd, 44, a graduate of the university's College of Architecture and a partner in the Phoenix firm of Richärd + Bauer.

Unlike most buildings on campus, the Meinel Building was constructed without a single red brick. Instead, it is clad in copper on three sides and presents a faceted glass wall to the north. It uses a series of apertures and light shafts to light its interior spaces.

Chuck Albanese, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, credited the university for breaking free of its longtime architectural styles.

"This building is expressing an idea and a concept that is bigger than the materials it's built with," said Albanese. "It's a really strong and wonderful expression of where this university is going."

Richärd said the building was a collaboration between his design team, campus architects and the College of Optical Sciences, "which really wanted something that spoke about them while at the same time working back into the campus vernacular."

The building's embrace of the rest of the campus is not obvious.

Richärd said the sunken entryway, lined in rock, is a bow toward Old Main, the original campus building and the center of the Mall on which Meinel sits. The copper cladding hints at the predominant red brick color of the rest of the campus, he said.

But the science of optics dictated its main features. The north wall's faceted glass is patterned on the Fresnel lens, the design found in headlights and taillights, he said.

The nature of the research being done there called for the three "blind sides," Richärd said, where light can be totally controlled.

Richärd said he can't apply a term to his architecture. "We approach every project specific to a particular place, and we hunt for those little seeds of what it's all about -- the soul of the project."

Robin Shambach, president of the Southern Arizona chapter of the AIA, said the building's selection is a first for Tucson.
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