Arbol de la Vida is the home of the Honors College at University of Arizona. The unit types and planning modules for this project are very regular, with paired communities of between 14 and 17 total students. Each community has its own social center, a gathering area that doubles as a learning space and a more formal study area for small groups.
Each community also has a flexible and convertible bathroom arrangement so that the gender in the communities is adaptable to the program enrollment and curriculum in any given year. Each community has a very different shaped hallway, which is furnished and specially lighted – the hallway and gathering areas are one and the same and special care was taken to allow people walking by the site to see inside these collaborative areas in the evenings. In architectural character, Arbol is modeled after the “cool canyons” of the desert southwest. Slot canyons admit a high level of light during daytime hours, but use their thermal mass and depth to provide habitat and passive shading during the day and heat-shed, passive cooling and thermal conduction during the night.
Arbol de la Vida received LEED certification at the Platinum level. This level was targeted without resort to special systems or site renewable energy. The efficiency comes largely from its site and climate-appropriate design, local materials, innovative approach to ground water management, daylighting and daytime thermal mass.