A Natural Way to Clad the Lab


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SALT LAKE CITY – There’s nothing old-school about the new James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building now being completed on the University of Utah campus.

Designed to provide space for 24 lead researchers from the medical and engineering fields, the facility includes a variety of lab spaces, such as a microscopy suite and advanced imaging and nanofabrication labs. The building is scheduled for substantial completion by mid-December.

However, the exterior also incorporates more than 20,000 ft² of natural stone, both as a nod to the state’s natural environment and as an important component in the project’s search for LEED® Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.


At the groundbreaking of the $130 million project on Earth Day 2009, the Sorenson Building was already being touted as the first building on an interdisciplinary quad previously hosted part of the campus’ golf course.

200 Prescott DSCN7971Click photo to enlargeAnd, the use of natural stone – a quartzitic sandstone from nearby Heber City, Utah – was viewed as an important component in a unique design representing a dialog between the contemporary sciences using the building and the ancient imagery of regional structures.

John McNary, director of campus design and construction for the University of Utah, is both an architect and engineer. He calls the Sorenson Building the first step in a project “to take research outcomes and take them to market.”

The new building is a key element of the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative of long-term economic development by promoting world-class research facilities and research teams to create new technologies, and ultimately create higher-paying jobs (with an expanded tax base) for Utah residents.
McNary’s role is to make sure the building fits well onto the campus and integrates into the campus master plan. And, he works within the perimeters set by the state legislature for the hiring of the architects for these projects.

“We send out a request for qualifications to consultants – and we also do that for contractors,” McNary explains. “We send out and ask them to send us their qualifications if they’re interested in doing the project, and then we sit down with a selection committee. From a short list drawn up by the committee, we do interviews.”

Interviewees are graded from a set of criteria that includes estimated construction costs, a management plan and how they will mitigate state-identified risks and well as others they identify.

One interesting aspect of the process is that generally capital development projects at the University of Utah utilize the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC) system. In this case, the position was filled almost simultaneously with the selection of the design team for the project.

“The CMGC (which turned out to be Layton Construction Co. of Sandy, Utah) is in the project from the very beginning,” McNary explains. “The CMGC provides preconstruction services, such as consulting with the architect on constructability and cost issues. Then, during the design process, they are asked to come up with a guaranteed maximum price that’s within what we call the fixed limit of construction cost.”