The University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center (Phoenix), winner of an Award of Merit in the 2016 Healthcare Design Showcase, opened in June 2015—but it almost didn’t happen at all. The architect, ZGF Architects LLP (Los Angeles), explained in its submission that as the project neared design completion, a falling economy put stress on the project funding plan. The design team would have to cut 25 percent from the $100 million-plus construction budget if the building was going to survive.

Through program realignment, phasing, shelled space, and simplified design techniques, the cuts were made, and the 220,000-square-foot facility lived to tell the tale of its creation. The Showcase jury found the story irresistible.

“This is an extraordinary project,” said one juror. “It’s a well-resolved large program. The interiors are neutral but have interest and texture, and the materials will keep this a classic for a long time. It’s a unique expression from every angle.”

The building’s architecture needed to fit the context of the Downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus where it sits, says Mitra Memari, principal for ZGF and the project manager for UACC. The owner also wanted something “progressive” and “iconic” that would allow natural light in but keep heat and solar exposure out in this desert climate.

Designers point to a layering of glass, copper-colored metal, and neutral stone to form the building’s architectural expression. Travertine stone gives scale to the pedestrian environment and serves to “ground” the building. This stone continues inside to the main waiting spaces on each floor, which feature prominent windows and horizontal glass sun shades with a dense frit for glare protection. To reduce energy costs by 24 percent, perforated screens that project three feet beyond the face of the building were used on the east and west façades to prevent heat gain while maintaining views for the facility’s occupants.

For this comprehensive cancer care facility, providing team-oriented spaces in close proximity to patients was the driving factor in the layout of each department, the designers report. To promote collaboration as well as interconnectivity between program areas, the inclusion of a dominating central stairwell between the four floors—visible from the main lobby and outpatient department waiting areas—provides an unexpected but welcome element of surprise that the jury appreciated. “The staff almost exclusively uses this stair,” Memari says. “We can confidently say that it does what it was intended to do.”

The project is also notable for its LEED goals (registered to achieve Silver status, though the team is pursuing Gold certification), Lean design strategies to reduce travel distances for staff and patients, and patient safety measures that alleviate falls, reduce noise, and incorporate best practices for infection control throughout.