Inaugurated just a year ago, the Utah State University (USU) Moab Academic Building was envisioned with a profound commitment to sustainability. Today, this remarkable facility not only fulfills its ambitious goal of achieving net-zero energy status but proudly stands as a net-positive building.


A net-zero building relies entirely on renewable energy resources, producing as much energy as it consumes. The USU Moab Academic Building surpasses this achievement by generating surplus energy beyond its own needs. Over the course of a year, the solar panels installed as a roof for the parking lot generated 283 MWh, with the facility only consuming 220 MWh, Utah State University was able to sell the remaining 62.5MWh to Rocky Mountain Power.


This remarkable accomplishment was made possible by setting sustainability goals from the beginning of the design process. Clear communication between stakeholders and architects enabled the implementation of energy-saving strategies, such as optimizing the building’s orientation to maximize natural light, incorporating shaded roof overhangs, utilizing high-performance glazing, efficient lighting, and HVAC systems, and employing above-standard insulation values.


The USU Moab Academic Building, an emblem of MHTN Architects’ commitment to sustainable design, has received numerous awards, including the “Most Outstanding Green/Sustainable Project” from Utah Construction & Design, the “Best Higher Education Project” from IIDA Intermountain, and the “Green Building Award of Excellence” from the Associated General Contractors of Utah, among many others.


With this achievement, the USU Moab Academic Building transcends conventional architectural boundaries and redefines the essence of sustainable design, setting the standard for a new growing campus. MHTN Architects, in collaboration with Utah State University, has charted a path toward a more environmentally conscious future, where buildings can contribute positively to their surroundings while adhering to rigorous sustainability standards. The USU Moab Academic Building is a testament to the possibilities of sustainable design, serving as an exemplar and inspiration for future architectural endeavors.


In the design process for West Bountiful Elementary School, MHTN’s K-12 Team tapped into the creative nature of the students by leading them through a series of activities based on the theme of “imagination.” These activities included a full-school, reflection-style assignment with students asked to build on the idea of “I Imagine… “. Students were asked to create an imaginary creature with a name, personality, and background story. After, the students sculpted (out of paper and clay) a place that these creatures like to go when they wanted to imagine. The imaginative models ranged from underwater caves, to treetop nests, to desert sanctuaries. Along with the stories told by the students, the models provided inspiration for the habitat concepts in each of the learning communities. These activities and exercises helped influence the direction for color selection, graphics, and design interventions throughout the entire school facility.

One of the strongest concepts turned out to be the idea of a shelter or enclosure. The students talked about wanting spaces inside the school that felt safe, yet still sparked imagination and creativity. The team incorporated these ideas into the design of the building. For example, each learning community collaboration space features a nook space open to a variety of small group activities. These spaces became the perfect opportunity for large-scale graphics that built upon whimsical interpretations of the habitat theme. The graphics combine abstraction and realism, out-of-scale and out-of-place elements, human-made objects and nature to create an landscape with story-like narratives to spark curiosity. The pixelated edges mirror architectural elements featured throughout the building. The graphics further shape the concept of imagination by obscuring details in a dream-like fashion. These elements are unified through a color palette unique to each habitat.

Student of all grades at West Bountiful were invited to participate in a writing activity where they freely imagined what the new school would be like. A common theme across all ages and grades was the idea of a treehouse. The treehouse graphic has been playfully illustrated in a remote mountainous landscape with a winding set of illustrated stairs splits from the real stairwell, leading up to a stack of houses, a clocktower, and a ship. The illustration furthers the overarching theme of habitats with a contrast of human-made and natural structures. The concept of imagination is supported through the fantastical elements sprinkled throughout – a pterodactyl, a flying kite, lanterns, and a hot air balloon.


Creativity Workshops during the Visioning Process for the new elementary school

Habitat nooks in the Learning Community collaboration zones

Themes of “imagination” throughout the new West Bountiful Elementary School