Published on November 10th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine


House of Healing

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Phase IV of the Huntsman Cancer Institute represents the latest chapter in Jon M. Huntsman Sr.’s quarter-century quest of building the world’s finest and most comprehensive interdisciplinary cancer facility.
A person needs only spend a few minutes talking with Jon M. Huntsman Sr. about his fight against cancer – which he has survived on four different occasions – to get a powerful, first-person perspective on its devastating, life-altering effects.
Decked out in a handsome dark blue suit and metallic orange tie, and sitting in a tall leather chair in a cozy private office within the nearly two decade-old Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, Huntsman speaks passionately about his efforts the past quarter century to build this world-class cancer campus at the University of Utah, its fourth and most recent phase dedicated June 21, 2017 – his 80th birthday.
He acknowledges a long, arduous and at times contentious process negotiating with various entities over 25 years, including University of Utah officials, who initially expressed skepticism on such an ambitious venture, particularly the proposed location on the far-east bench of the U’s medical campus. Huntsman was stout in his resolve, willing to pursue any avenue and talk to any person he knew from his vast business, political and philanthropic ventures. Self-made billionaires (his current net worth is estimated at $1.18 billion, according to Forbes, although he’s known to have given away more than a billion dollars via his myriad philanthropic efforts) tend to know how to get things done, and rarely do they take no for an answer.
“When I first decided to do this in 1993, it was just a bare mountainside, and the University told me they’d never build on this mountainside because it was too rocky,” recalled Huntsman. “I wanted a cancer campus; not just a building, but a campus dedicated to the eradication of cancer, and to provide the most professional care of patients possible.”
He said the U of U “discouraged me of doing it” so he looked at possible collaborations elsewhere, including Duke University, Stanford University, USC, and his alma mater at Penn (Wharton School of Business, ’59). After talking to LDS Church officials in Salt Lake about accessing its vast genealogical database for cancer research purposes, “they said they’d be happy to make their genealogy records available if we came here. Because of that tremendous advantage of studying familial cancers through genetics, we decided to come here. Some people said it wouldn’t succeed, that the community was too small. I took a chance and raised virtually all the money. It has not been easy and has not been without a certain degree of pullback…but it’s had the best support of the community.”
According to HCI, the $125 million, 225,000 SF expansion ($93.5 M construction cost) increases total square footage of the campus to nearly 900,000 SF. HCI previously had 231,000 SF of on-site research space and 442,000 SF of clinical space. To date, approximately $1.5 billion has been directed to the design and construction of the campus – half of which was donated by the Huntsman family.
Phase IV was designed by Architectural Nexus of Salt Lake and built by Salt Lake-based Jacobsen Construction – almost 20 years since the completion of the Phase I Research Center in 1999. Both Nexus and Jacobsen were on the Phase I team (Nexus designed all four phases), giving this project added sentiment to the people charged with completing this phase, which doubled HCI’s laboratory space and created the Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center and focuses exclusively on inherited and childhood cancers.
HCI’s focus on genetics has been of particular importance to Huntsman from day one, given that he lost his mother, father, maternal grandmother and stepmother to cancer before first contracting the disease himself in 1992, which he called the “crowning blow”, one that made him more determined than ever to fight back and use his vast resources and wealth to do something of profound long-term significance.
“I got prostate and partial bladder cancer and was in the hospital for 11 days at the University,” he said. “I was determined that we needed a first-class cancer Institute – a center for research and clinical care, no matter what it took or what it cost.”
By the end of ’93 he and wife Karen announced their goal of building HCI and set off on a global fact-finding trot, visiting major cancer centers in the U.S. and Europe with the intent of adopting the best qualities of each, such as the infusion ward and radiology spaces being patterned after world-renowned facilities like MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Huntsman has always been committed to ensuring visually appealing spaces to patients, family and staff, with an emphasis on contemporary, warm interiors that promote healing and wellness. Millions of dollars have been spent on furnishings, fixtures, and artwork in lobby spaces, he said, spectacularly presented in ways that reassure patients they’ll be given first-class treatment.
“It’s about giving patients hope,” said Huntsman. “It’s my hope and dream that we can continue to build this cancer center until this disease is eradicated from this earth.”

Flexible Spaces Foster Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Designers worked in step with research scientists to ensure open and flexible laboratory spaces that are able to quickly adapt to future research initiatives. The research portion of Phase IV is highlighted by a biotechnology center with the latest in genetic sequencing and imaging equipment. It includes 85,000 SF of lab space, 81,000 SF of population research space, 165 offices, two interior, two-story open atriums, two exterior plazas with landscaped gardens, and two interior sky bridges that connect to the existing Phase I lab.
“One of the unique things about a comprehensive cancer center is its interdisciplinary focus and the fact that it’s not just for research, but it’s also for the clinical side of treatment,” said Brad Busath, a Principal at Nexus who specializes
in laboratory design. “Those components work very closely together in advancing the science of studying cancer. Having that feedback loop between the treatment side and the research side helps accelerate that process.”
“(Designers) were instrumental at giving us initial ideas and examples of other laboratories they had worked on,” said Brad
Cairns, Senior Director of Basic Science who has been with HCI since its inception. “We also looked at other laboratories across the nation for examples that we thought would fit the architecture we wanted to create here. The discussion really focused on our collaborative culture and how we like to do science here. Other places build laboratories to suit for individual investigators with walls and assign that space to a particular person. We wanted a much more open, collaborative environment. The architecture reflects those scientific values. The labs are completely open – no walls between any scientists’ benches. We can assign space to people based on opportunities of their labs, how they’re growing or shrinking at a certain time. Or we can move a section of the lab to another place.”
Perhaps the most prominent and visually alluring space in this expansion is the outdoor courtyard/plaza, which helps connect building occupants to the outside environment and its views of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and mountains to the east. The courtyard/plaza, along with other comfortable interior spaces, is meant to encourage discussion and collaboration between researchers in a more informal setting.
“There has been a bigger emphasis on how spaces help facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to research,” Busath said. “If you look at this new phase it’s all about open spaces that bring researchers together. It gives them places to collaborate, to informally meet and discuss their research. The exterior courtyard is a very tranquil space that creates an energized environment that helps foster the sharing of ideas. There is a lot of ebb and flow in what programs have emphasis over that 20-year period, and that’s the critical nature of the flexibility that is built into the design.”
Busath continued: “It became evident early on that (Shoreline Trail) was an amenity that should be capitalized on, and each phase has it’s own version of that,” said Busath. “(HCI) is meant to feel like a resort, from the setting within the natural environment on the bench down to the patient room itself, the materials chosen, and everything in-between. That same (design) palette has been used all along to unify the composition, but each building has its own unique form and shape.”
“Materials for Phase IV have a little more updated palette; the dark colors got a little lighter, the light got a little darker,” said Nexus’ Lisa Ramidan, a Principal and Healthcare Planner who has worked on different phases of HCI for more than a decade. “(The plaza) is similar to the hospital side, which has a large patio. It’s part of that philosophy of wellness for everyone. Healthcare from an architecture front is very complicated, which makes it interesting. It’s great to work with a client like Huntsman that…understands that the building and the architecture affects the outcome and wellness of the patient. It’s gratifying to design a space that can help in that journey.”
“It’s an architectural masterpiece that really speaks to our values,” said Mary Beckerle, CEO of HCI since 2006. “One of our major values is collaboration and communication and the sharing of ideas to accelerate progress against cancer.”

Construction Bridges Old and New
Several construction challenges were posed from the outset, said John Wright, Project Manager for Jacobsen Construction who was also the PM on Phase I, including two 90-ft. long sky bridges on the fourth and sixth floors, mechanical and electrical tie-ins with existing older systems, and dealing with the complexities associated with working in a compact work zone on a busy college campus.
“It was interesting to get back on the site and good to have had the opportunity to be here on Phase I,” said Wright. “As we were working on some of the tie-ins with mechanical and structural systems, it was helpful remembering how we built it the first time and the problems we had.”
Early site preparation required multiple blasting operations and the excavation of more than 150,000 CY of soil and rock.
Wright said crews utilized seismic monitors to verify minimal vibration and impact to adjacent buildings.
“We had to blast the soil three times – that was an unusual situation,” said Wright. “We had to coordinate with HCI and other surrounding medical facilities to make sure the blast didn’t interfere with equipment and testing processes. The three times we blasted we put seismic monitors around to verify we didn’t cause significant vibration. That gave us confidence in our subs and our team, that we had the right people on the job.”
Wright described the 2.5-acre site as a combination of solid rock, nested boulders and compacted sandstone. He credited West Jordan-based Jones Excavating for its expertise during the excavation/shoring phase, which required 800-plus soil nails and temporary shotcrete walls nearly 100 ft. high in certain spots.
Concrete foundation walls varied from 12- to 24-in. thick, with some sections cut right into existing bedrock, requiring crews to drill stakes into the rock. Wright said “some of that stuff gets pretty tough.” He added that workers from all trades appreciate the impact this type of project has on the community.
“As we finished Phase IV, we visited with Mr. Huntsman and his wife Karen, and they were very appreciative of the efforts of the people who built it,” said Wright. “You can see how dedicated he is to finding a cure for cancer of various types – that is his passion. In the few minutes I was able to speak to him, there was no question where his heart is and that what we do as a builder, what his people do in research to save the lives of others, is greatly appreciated by him.”
Huntsman offered high praise for the design and construction teams he’s worked with on each of the four phases, and said the local talent in Utah’s A/E/C industry is second to none.
“Utah is a very unusual state, to have such remarkably professional firms who design and build these incredibly futuristic and beautiful facilities that tie in with the mountains and valley,” he said. “We have some of the finest architects, builders and contractors of anywhere in the world. It’s been a great blessing and privilege for our family to have these associations.”

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