McCarthy Completes High-Tech University of Arizona Research Building

By Eric Althoff

TUCSON, Ariz.—The design-build team of SmithGroup and McCarthy Building Companies has finished up work on the $85 million University of Arizona Applied Research Building (ARB), which will be home to the world’s single largest vacuum chamber, a cutting-edge apparatus that simulates outer space conditions and thus will be vital to extra-Earth research.

The 89,000-square-foot ARB will be the nation’s first freestanding educational structure dedicated specifically to the fabrication and testing of satellites.  The ARB will be home to Arizona’s applied physical sciences and engineering departments, uniting under one roof eight different science disciplines including astronomy, optical sciences and medicine.  This marks a significant collaboration between Arizona and NASA in the fields of astrophysics and space science.

The ARB will also host clean rooms, laboratories as well as an “anechoic”—or echo-proof—chamber that will be ideal for sound-testing satellite communications apparatuses.  Large bay labs on the facility’s north-facing edge will also be used for building high-altitude stratospheric balloons and nanosatellites, also known as “CubeSats.”  In addition, the ARB features a testing facility to measure the durability of airplane wings and various other sensitive equipment.

SmithGroup and McCarthy commenced on the design-build process in the fall of 2019, with ground first broken for the ARB in June 2021.  Among SmithGroup’s duties included not just architectural design but also fire protection and safety engineering, landscape planning, lighting design, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering.  Among the general contractors roles, McCarthy was tasked with ensuring covid-compliance as much of the work had to be undertaken as the pandemic continued to rage.  Subcontractors on the job included Sextant, Colin Gordon, Comfort Systems, Sturgeon Electric, Dibble Corporation and Magnum Paving.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, UofA’s senior vice president for research and innovation, said that the ARB displays Arizona’s commitment to scientific inquiry and the ongoing development of space exploration capabilities.

“These are high-impact fields which not only touch, but drive forth, several aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Cantwell said.  “Applied research capabilities and outcomes will be augmented with state-of-the-art equipment and technology and several interdisciplinary university programs working together under one roof.”

“Befitting the cutting-edge work occurring within, the new ARB is a space-age marvel,” said Mark Kranz, design director at SmithGroup.  “Radical in design, the building itself is a highly calibrated machine, uniquely suited to house complex and sensitive research demands with optimal performance in its desert environment.

Added Antonya Williams, executive vice president of McCarthy’s Education Group: “The University of Arizona has been a leader in design-build, and this project is a great example of how the process brings a vision to life and provides the community that it serves a facility that will achieve remarkable things.

“We are grateful to have helped deliver this world-class project for the university and are thrilled that it will function to continue fostering a culture of collaboration for the campus and its researchers.”