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Volume 20 Issue 6 (June 2010)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 52-53 | Full Text | PDF (1.5MB)


Innovations in the built environment for earth science

Marjorie A. Chan

Dept. of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA;

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Earth-science buildings, at their best, should showcase intriguing and visual elements of the science. Innovative approaches to the built environment encourage inquisitive students.

An energy-efficient geosciences building at the University of Utah, “The Frederick Albert Sutton Building,” has become one of the most attractive destinations on campus. The award-winning structure, grounded in its sustainable construction and operation, is a dynamic platform for showcasing the earth sciences. This novel environment enhances the department’s visibility, raises user productivity, and creates a powerful outreach tool that promotes earth-science education.

The new facility highlights the discipline’s central role in bringing about a sustainable society, and the principles that governed construction are also relevant to improvements to older buildings. The structure facilitates modern science through centralized lab spaces, exposed ceiling mechanical systems for ease-of-access and flexibility, and reinforced concrete for vibration-free measurements and seismic safety. What also sets this structure apart from other buildings on campus is the architectural design of space and the beautiful, artistic displays that exemplify the work of the building’s users.

The Dept. of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah was blessed with a generous major donor, Rev. Marta Sutton Weeks, who comes from a distinguished petroleum industry family. She wanted a permanent remembrance to her father, Frederick Albert Sutton, an exploration geologist who received his degree from the university in 1917. The end result is a LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), twenty-five-million-dollar, 91,000-square-foot inviting home for earth-science teaching and research (Figs. 1–3).

Received 23 February 2010; accepted 19 March 2010

doi: 10.1130/GSATG92GW.1