Landscape Evolution Observatory Wins National Steel Building Award

April 16, 2015

(Chicago, IL) – The Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) at Biosphere 2, an Earth systems science research facility in Oracle, Ariz., has earned national recognition in the 2015 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2). In honor of this achievement, members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a ceremony at the facility on Friday, April 24, at 2 p.m.

Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEASawards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects across the country. The IDEASaward is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S. and recognizes the importance of teamwork, coordination and collaboration in fostering successful construction projects.

LEO’s project team members include:

  • Owner: The University of Arizona-Biosphere 2, Oracle, Ariz.
  • Owner’s Representative: University of Arizona, Planning Design and Construction, Tucson, Ariz.
  • General Contractor: Lloyd Construction, Tucson
  • Architect, Structural Engineer and Steel Detailer: M3 Engineering and Technology, Tucson (AISC Member)
  • Steel Fabricator and Erector: Parsons Steel Builders, Tucson (AISC Member/Certified)

LEO is a Merit award winner in the category of projects Less than $15 Million, making it one of only seven projects around the country to receive the Merit honor. Each year, the IDEASawards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel from both an architectural and structural engineering perspective, with an emphasis on: creative solutions to project’s program requirements; applications of innovative design approaches in areas such as connections, gravity systems, lateral load resisting systems, fire protection and blast; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel (AESS); technical or architectural advances in the use of the steel; and the use of innovative design and construction methods.

“An amazing merger of science, technology and steel,” commented IDEASawards judge, Peter G. Lynde, P.E., vice president and corporate director of Albert Kahn Associates, Inc., in Detroit.

This $6.7 million facility features the world’s largest weighing lysimeter (which quantifies the amount of water released through evapotranspiration by changes in weight; there are two types, weighing and non-weighing). The facility is used to study the interaction of water, temperature, soil and vegetation, amongst other environmental elements, on three full-size-scale hill slopes that will allow quantifiable interactions among hydrologic, geochemical, geomorphic, ecological, microbiological and atmospheric processes associated with incipient hillslope development.

The three slopes are built from large steel planting tray structures and reside in a space-framed greenhouse that was previously used for intensive agriculture.

The IDEASaward dates back more than 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. And about this year’s winning observatory, Roger E. Ferch, P.E., president of AISC, said, “The Landscape Evolution Observatory project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a research facility that serves its purpose extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

High-resolution images of the Landscape Evolution Observatory project are available upon request by contacting AISC’s Tasha Weiss at 312.670.5439 or For more information about the IDEASawards and to view all of this year’s winners, please visit


For more information contact:

Dani Friedland
Director of Marketing Communications

American Institute of Steel Construction

The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a non-partisan, not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC's mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, market development, and advocacy. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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