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Walton Center for Planetary Health

Architekton + Grimshaw

Tempe, Arizona, United States

January 2022


John F Kane (Co-Design Principal), William Horgan (Co-Design Principal)


Gunnar Hubbard FAIA, Thornton Tomasetti (Sustainability Engineer), Denzil Gallagher, BuroHappold (Structural and MEP Engineer), Carlos Diaz, McCarthy Building Companies (Project Manger), Christy Ten Eyck, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects (Landscape Architect)


Arizona State University, Joseph Lisiewski, University Architect


Dror Baldinger / Bill Timmerman


The concept for the exterior envelope comes from the self-shading properties of the signature Sonoran indicator plant, the Saguaro cactus. Pre-cast GFRC panels are sculpted to provide self-shaded, faceted reveals for glazed openings in the façade allowing for daylighting and access to views. The GFRC is lightweight and protects the facade from heat gain from direct solar exposure during the day and reduces the heat island effect of the project at night.
The openings into the courtyard were carefully sculpted using predictive software to maximize cooling breezes through even the hottest months. The goal was to maximize the comfort of the exterior courtyard (ELAB) through passive means. The ELAB also serves as a public gathering space, exhibition space for scientific research display, viewing platforms into the labs to see research in real time, and a showcase for the historic remnants found on the site.
All of the public spaces inside the building face into the ELAB with generous windows to leverage the biophilic properties of the courtyard. The project team developed a material selection protocol to guide the designers and builders on how to select healthy and safe materials for the project, which will result in an improved internal environment and operational indoor air quality. The HVAC system is primarily chilled beams, chilled ceilings, and chilled sails. This reduces the fan load for the project and was key in driving the calculated EUI down to 104 kBtu/SF/year.


The 281,000SF high-performance research facility fosters an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge generation and leading-edge research, including innovative endeavors focusing on the sustainability of food, water, and energy. It is the eastern gateway to the campus and the connector to the campus’ Research Corridor.

The design was defined by the triangular site geometry – responding to the opportunities of the historic features, the campus / city circulation nexus, and displaying the work of the researchers inside. The use of the building program to define an exterior courtyard is a time-tested concept in the Sonoran Desert.
Half of the building is lifted off the site, providing cool breezes in the courtyard and shaded pedestrian links to the campus and transit stop to the south and to Novus on the north, A second level pedestrian link allows transit users to safely cross University Rd on a shaded bridge. The exterior self-shading shell strategy is a biomimic interpretation of the self-shading skin of the cactus while the courtyard reveals how shade, color, wind, and water can be combined to create an inviting oasis. Non-potable canal water is used to drip irrigate the site.
The site celebrates a historic canal, a remnant of the first all-weather coast-to-coast highway, and a historic rail spur that linked Tempe Creamery to downtown Phoenix. The public is invited to learn about these features embedded in the site through digital information signage. The site plantings include a pomegranate grove, mesquite trees, and an agave terrace to support the campus’ Harvest Program.


The design and construction team looked for opportunities to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. A concrete structural frame was used to limit vibration in the labs. To reduce the quantity of concrete, the team used bubble deck, a grid of recycled plastic spheres in rebar cages that create voids in the slab that optimize its structural performance. Bubble deck slabs are approximately 35 percent lighter while performing the same function as typical slabs. This also translated to smaller supporting columns, smaller footings, and reduced costs. It was the first time the system was used in Arizona, and we have shared our experience with both the local design and construction communities.
The team also identified a customized fly ash concrete admixture that substantially reduced the amount of Portland Cement, the ingredient with the highest carbon footprint in concrete. The team had to work through the ability to adequately finish the high fly ash content concrete and the difficulty for color control to make this admixture possible even in the exposed architectural concrete.
The team used extensive predictive computer modeling programs throughout the design & construction phases to guide decisions that ultimately led to an overall sustainable project that has a 21% or greater reduction in all 6 impact categories. The LEED requirement is a minimum of 10% in at least 3 categories:

• Global Warming Potential: 26% reduction
• Ozone Depletion: 21% reduction
• Acidification: 26% reduction
• Eutrophication: 26% reduction
• Formation of tropospheric ozone: 28% reduction
• Depletion of nonrenewable energy: 35% reduction

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