Setting the Gold Standard

The University of Utah’s James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building—A USTAR Innovation Center, the centerpiece of a visionary plan to bridge the health sciences and main campus in order to accelerate research at the interfaces of medicine, engineering, pharmacy, science and digital media, has been awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.


Architects for the project were Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS), with Prescott Muir. Layton Construction was the construction manager. The building was designed to meet LEED Gold standards for energy efficiency from the U.S. Green Building.  This project is the 40th certified project for LAS. The project received 44 credits, five more than the required 39, to receive the LEED Gold classification.

Photo courtesy Dan Hixon

“At Lord Aeck Sargent [LAS], it’s always our goal to create buildings that have a restorative, positive impact on their inhabitants and to minimize the negative impact of construction on the environment,” said Joshua Gassman, a senior associate who served as LAS project manager. “So it was great to work with a client who charged us to set high standards for sustainable design. To that end, we designed the Sorenson building as a high-performance laboratory employing such strategies as orienting the building to achieve daylighting of major spaces, including the open labs, and using a multistage evaporative cooling system with energy recovery. In addition, we used local stone, concrete and other materials to reduce embodied energy and make the building in and of Utah and its materials,” Gassman said.

Many of the building practices helped insure LEED certification. Over 24 percent of the materials used in the concrete were recycled content while over 4,300 tons, or over 90 percent, of the construction debris was recycled. Over 20 percent of the construction materials were harvested and fabricated regionally. In addition, low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints were used throughout, and all wood was specified to be urea-formaldehyde free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamped to certify sustainable harvesting. A strict indoor air quality plan was followed during construction and the building features rooftop gardens.

“This was a challenging project, truly a monumental effort to help a major research facility like this achieve LEED Gold standards. It took the very best collaborative and creative efforts of USTAR, the University of Utah, and the design and construction team to qualify this project for LEED Certification,” said Jake Greenland, Layton Construction Company project manager.

LEED certification requires that a building project is environmentally responsible, designed to be energy efficient and improve air and water quality while reducing waste. LEED promotes sustainable building and development practices through a series of ratings that recognize projects the guidelines for design, construction, operations and maintenance. More than 54,000 projects are currently participating in LEED, comprising more than 10.1 billion square feet of construction space.

Photo courtesy Dan Hixon

“It is important that we build responsibly and follow sustainable building practices. Since the LEED certification program was established more than a dozen years ago, we have been out front encouraging sustainable building.  Of the first group of 13 facilities ever certified, one was the Utah Olympic Oval, of which we were fortunate to construct. We are just as happy years later to see this flagship public research facility in Utah achieve LEED certification,” said Jeff Beecher, Executive Vice President of Layton Construction Company.

The $133 million construction project has also been recognized by ENR Mountain States with a 2012 Award of Merit, as well as 2012 Excellence in Concrete Award from the American Concrete Institute Intermountain Chapter. The building’s structural engineers, Reaveley Engineers + Associates, also received the 2013 Engineering Excellence Grand Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies.  

“We’re proud to continue our commitment to a sustainable campus,” said University of Utah President David W. Pershing. “With its water-wise landscaping, recycled materials and energy-efficient lab equipment, this building is truly a model for the future of sustainable research buildings.”

Photo courtesy Dan Hixon

The 208,000 square-foot building, dedicated in April 19, 2012, was funded through a $100-million commitment from the State of Utah through the Utah Science and Research Technology (USTAR) Initiative, with $30 million in non-state and private funds, including the cornerstone gift of $15 million from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, $1.25 million from the Micron Technology Foundation and private gifts from Dinesh and Kalpana Patel and Jon Huntsman, among others. The Sorenson Legacy Foundation’s gift has been recognized with the naming of the building as the James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building—A USTAR Innovation Center, honoring one of the nation’s foremost biomedical innovators.