An artist’s rendering shows the hexagonal pattern cast into the concrete panels that form the exterior of the one-story portion of the Special Collections Building.

November 23, 2021

‘Gator Building’ Is Unique Addition to University of Florida Campus

The new Special Collections Building for the Florida Museum of Natural History offered a unique opportunity to honor education and the environment.


In what is, to date, a rare engagement at the University of Florida in Gainesville, design-build delivery will soon produce a facility that is more special than anyone could have expected.

Not long after Haskell team members briefed a new construction management staff at UF on the benefits of design-build delivery, in which a single entity is responsible for the architecture, engineering and construction of a facility, they responded to a request for proposal and were selected to build a new Special Collections Building for the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Because the facility houses thousands of fluid-preserved specimens in jars of alcohol, a highly flammable liquid, it required attention to stringent code requirements. Architectural Subject Matter Expert Brant Cotterman, who has extensive experience with hazardous facilities, led the design from a technical standpoint, and Haskell strategically partnered with TLC Engineering Solutions to leverage their experience with a similar wet collections facility for the Smithsonian.

But not only will the finished project give the university a state-of-the-art facility safely situated on the periphery of campus, it will feature aesthetics inspired by its nickname, “The Library of Life,” its proximity to a large preserve called the Natural Area Teaching Laboratory (NATL) and its relationship to the campus pedestrian access point directly to the south.

Haskell’s crew and subcontract partners cast the unique bas-relief panels in place and assembled the complex pattern according to exacting standards derived through the use of Robotic Total Station precision layout.

“What a tremendous relationship,” said Chris Allen, Design Principal in Haskell’s Infrastructure & Transportation (I&T) Group. “We began to look at how that could become a context. We looked at UF’s collections, and it quickly became clear that of all the things that they study, the structure of the phenotypes, the facial look of the botanical, the geological, the zoological collections could inform our architectural design and represent the whole of natural history.

“If you break all that down, fundamentally, it's all carbon atoms, which are these amazing hexagonal patterns. I was able to find a lot of visual source material that showed the phenotype across the collections in this wonderful myriad of ways in which nature uses a hexagonal motif to create all the diversity that we see in life at a larger scale.”

Allen’s “visual source material” was nothing less than the skin of an alligator, buttressed by the naturally occurring shape of carbon crystal structures and basalt rock formations. All share a recognizable hexagonal organization that is readily adaptable to create a built-form and an expressive main façade.

As always, budget constraints were a factor, as was the motivation to move the potentially hazardous storage facility from its existing location in the center of campus to the new facility as soon as possible. Choosing design-build delivery gave UF a leg up on both counts. Selecting Haskell as the design-builder provided the added benefit of a pioneering level of expertise in tilt-up construction, in which large concrete panels are cast onsite and then raised into position with a crane. 

Working for Haskell for more than 15 years gave Allen the knowledge that Haskell’s field staff would rise to the challenge of forming and erecting massive structural panels bearing life-celebrating hexagonal patterns.

Project Architect Andres Santandreu iterated the pattern aggregation and application using Rhino and Revit software to define the bas-relief hexagonal patterns to be cast into the face of the one-story panels.

With support from Chris Ware, I&T Director of Project Development, the team was able to lay out and cast a mock-up panel that was critical in refining the casting bed formwork details.

Once approved, the practical application began. In a limited amount of space, Haskell’s crew and subcontract partners cast the unique bas-relief panels and assembled them, matching the complex pattern according to exacting standards derived through the use of Robotic Total Station precision layout.

“Our construction team members were able to cast the final run of panels early Monday and tilt them up on Wednesday,” Allen said. “It was the most amazing thing I've seen. And the panels are perfectly aligned.”

The two-story portion of the facility, where the specimen collection is to be stored, features a more straightforward rectilinear reveal pattern on its exterior, belying the engineering complexity within that houses the specimens and protects the collection from the surrounding environment.

With completion projected in Spring 2022, the first UF campus engagement for Haskell and design-build will be memorable and significant for a generation.

“I'm very proud of it,” Allen said. “I'm super excited and it's not just me. It's the entire architectural staff, the entire field staff, the management, I mean, everybody is energized by it. I think when UF’s leadership sees it they'll be excited and surprised – in a good way!”

Contact Haskell’s architects, engineers and construction professionals to discuss how design-build can delivery your project with speed and certainty.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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