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New Visual Arts Center at University of Wyoming Opens in January

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The University of Wyoming wanted a green design for its new Visual Arts Center that would "change the culture of the people in the building," says Tim Belton, the project's lead architect. His firm, Malone Belton Abel, of Sheridan, Wyo., collaborated with THA Architecture, Portland, Ore., to create an 80,000-sq-ft building on a 10-acre site at the UW campus in Laramie.

Rendering courtesy of THA Architecture
The $25-million arts center is currently tracking LEED Platinum due to a variety of energy-efficient features, including a solar-thermal heating system that produces hot water for in-slab radiant heating.
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The center, which will open to the public in January, will house classrooms, offices, an exhibition gallery and studios for metalworking, ceramics, drawing, foundations of art, graphics, painting, printmaking and sculpture.

The project team, which includes structural engineer Martin/Martin, Lakewood, Colo., and Denver firms ME Engineers and GE Johnson Construction, the general contractor, set out to create a cast-in-place, steel-framed building to meet the university's aim of achieving

LEED-Silver certification. However, due in part to an integrated approach to energy efficiency, the $25-million facility is now tracking LEED Platinum. Key components include displacement ventilation, radiant in-slab heating, evacuated tube solar thermal hot water production and natural ventilation.

GE Johnson also built Wyoming's first LEED-Platinum project, the LSR Preserve in Grand Teton National Park, in 2007.


Modeling the Way

The Visual Arts Center is located at the east end of campus, adjacent to the Centennial Center, an iconic building designed by Antoine Predock that houses the University Art Museum and Cultural Heritage Center. The building is also within view of the university's award-winning powerplant.

The design intent is to "visually integrate the new building with the Centennial Center while expressing the industrial nature of studio arts in its numerous exhaust stacks that also recall those of the powerplant," says THA's Charles Dorn.

The exterior skin combines architectural precast concrete, high-performance aluminum curtain wall, zinc panels, glazing and stone. Ten trades were involved in constructing a full-size mock-up to illustrate part of the exterior, allowing everyone to review construction sequencing and evaluate the integrity of the skin in the project's quest for a hardy, airtight design.

The primary subcontractors worked with GE Johnson's systems information group to incorporate building information modeling as a key part of the project coordination, says Chris Holt, GEJ senior project manager. BIM was used for the skin as well as for the mechanical, electrical, steel frame and other elements.


Breathe Easier


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