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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Copper is the new brick

    Ryan Johnsoncolumnist
    Ryan Johnson

    Ever since Old Main was constructed in 1891, one building material has defined the UA – red brick. Architectural styles have changed, and buildings have had to adapt to a variety of uses, but still nearly every building on campus has it.

    Its unifying presence plays a large role in the beauty of the UA campus. But students and faculty may have noticed another material popping up in multiple locations on campus – copper.

    The copper fits in with existing campus architecture, but at the same time, it’s progressive and modern. It’s easy to take our beautiful campus for granted, but let’s take a minute to appreciate the campus planners who have added to the UA’s beauty even while including new, modern looks. They may even attract more students to the UA.

    “”People are starting to notice the copper,”” said Lauren Conway, a political science sophomore who is an Arizona Ambassador and gives frequent tours of campus. “”They say, ‘What is that? It looks really cool.’ The architectural look it provides is beautiful.””

    The most conspicuous use is on three sides of the new Meinel Optical Sciences building. They are covered in undulating, shiny copper. When driving on Cherry Avenue, it is unmistakable, especially in the late afternoon as the setting sun reflects off the building.

    Copper also covers nearly an entire side of the new Chemistry building and large swaths of the new Bio5 building north of Speedway Boulevard.

    According to Peter Dourlein, associate director of facilities design, copper has been a key ingredient in recent campus construction for several reasons.

    “”We’re very sensitive to having buildings designed to consider context – time and place. It’s the context of 2006 and the context of the UA and the desert Southwest.””

    Modern buildings in general tend to use more metal. Copper fits at the UA because it is visually compatible with brick. It also fits with one of the goals of sustainable design and green architecture – to use regional materials.

    Arizona is a major producer of copper for the U.S., so copper is more than just attractive. And despite the recent increase in copper prices, Dourlein said the UA bought the copper before the current prices, and it was cheaper than a brick facade.

    The three new buildings are not the first on campus to use copper. The first use was in 1973 and the construction of McKale Center. Some may not recognize that the cap is copper because of its dark brown color, which is nothing like the shiny-penny color of the new buildings.

    Copper tends to patina over time, changing both color and reflectivity. The changes will occur mostly over the first year, and Dourlein said the new copper surfaces are not expected to turn as dark as McKale.

    In fact, as the copper ages, it will become more sympathetic to brick, having a similar color and texture.

    So how much more copper can the UA expect for the future? All designs are reviewed by the Planning and Design Review Advisory Committee, which includes UA and private sector design professionals, but Dourlein said he feels that the current trend is more coincidental than anything.

    The next phase of construction will focus primarily on brick, concrete, glass and steel. Glass especially is becoming important to let natural light in, such as on the north face of the Meinel Optical Sciences building.

    And of course, fans of the old standby brick have nothing to worry about. Two of the three buildings with copper have just as much if not more red brick on the exterior.

    “”Brick is still a very important material because of the history and culture. It’s really important that we have a fabric of buildings and spaces that all tie together and become the UA. Brick will continue to be one of the icons of campus,”” Dourlein said.

    Trends come and go, but the UA having a beautiful campus never fades. It is easy to take for granted, but universities with unsightly campuses would love to have what we have. It will always be a feather in the UA student’s cap when arguing over which is better, Arizona State University or the UA. ASU is basically a concrete jungle, with little shade, no unifying theme and endless expanses of concrete.

    The UA has a physical space that is timeless and modern at the same time. These new buildings with old-school style and modern copper finishes only show that the UA remains dedicated to preserving its beauty.

    Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at

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