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Constructing a refuge for healthcare staff: Geofoam backs plaza renovation

Case Studies, Products | August 23, 2021 | By:

Photograph courtesy of InsulFoam

The University of Utah, bound by mountain ranges and the city of Salt Lake City, offers one of the nation’s top academic healthcare systems. The college’s Health Business Services Building (BSB), the system’s primary administration office, houses 1,400 board-certified physicians and more than 5,000 support staff.

On the perimeter of the BSB, building occupants can find a large 33,000-square-foot (3,066-m2) plaza intended for outdoor lunch breaks or a healthy dose of Vitamin D on sunny days. However, one could hardly consider the plaza’s old, haggard landscape to be a welcome refuge for the building’s hardworking inhabitants. To better serve doctors and staff, the University of Utah sought out locally operated TSA Architects to redesign the open-air space. The architectural firm was tasked with creating a multifunctional outdoor square that included a variety of seating configurations, a bus stop for healthcare professionals to use, drought-tolerant landscaping and natural shade elements. However, engineering such an elaborate landscape design in a timely manner would prove difficult, considering the inherent constraints of a downtown jobsite.

The architectural firm was challenged to source a cost-effective building material that would quickly bring the project to life. To meet this test, they elected to use 8,045 pounds per cubic foot (128,868 kg/m3) of expanded polystyrene (EPS) geofoam by Insulfoam as a high-performing structural void fill.

“The project’s design team elected to use InsulFoam geofoam because it’s a fantastic alternative to traditional concrete or soil fill for construction projects like the BSB plaza renovation,” says Jason Wood, InsulFoam territory sales manager. “Its ultra-lightweight, customizable structure supports overall cost-savings for the project’s bottom line.

“To quantify the savings, think about this: You can conquer just as much fill space on the jobsite with one flatbed of InsulFoam geofoam as you can with 12 trucks of traditional fill material. The product sings to the “do more with les”’ philosophy, and it lends to dramatic savings when you examine the cost of transportation, labor and materials.”

In addition to reducing project costs, the geofoam’s lightweight nature proved to be a major advantage to crews charged with transporting material to the chaotic downtown dropoff point. To their benefit, blocks of geofoam are typically available in densities ranging from 0.70 to 2.85 pounds per cubic foot (11.2 to 45.7 kg/m3). With such lightweight cargo, crews were able to unload the flatbed truck quickly and then carry the material to the physical jobsite with ease. Other void fill materials, such as soil (approximately 120 pounds per cubic foot [1,922.2 kg/m3]), would require heavier equipment to move the material.

The geofoam’s unique customization capabilities also enabled the design team to turn a blueprint blanketed in shapes, curves and multilevel steps into a reality. Manufacturers typically make the geosynthetic foam blocks to match job-specific size and density requirements. But, for jobs like the BSB plaza renovation that need to accommodate intricate landscape elements, workers can modify the geofoam on-site with specialized hot wire cutters.

As an engineered product, manufacturers can further customize the geoforam to offer enhanced compressive strength, with values ranging from 317 to 2,678 pounds per square foot (5,077.9 to 42,897.4 kg/m3). Reinforced with this support system, a layer of geofoam will reduce the stress on underlying subgrades, offering improved stability against bearing and slope failures. And, because the material inherently disperses the load evenly across a surface, it minimizes postconstruction settling.

The plaza’s ultra-lightweight, customizable structural void fill material not only provided cost-savings to the bottom line, but also brought the renovation to completion quickly and efficiently. After just seven months of construction, the University of Utah Health BSB outdoor plaza reopened to the facility’s occupants. The once unimaginative terrain was superseded by a multipurpose outdoor space with intricate landscaping elements, a covered bus stop, and a multitude of seating arrangements for tired feet to kick back and relax on. With the help of geofoam, the university’s medical professionals are able to enjoy a purposeful and engaging outdoor oasis for many seasons to come.

Project Highlights


Salt Lake City, Utah (University of Utah Health Business Services Building)


University of Utah


Northridge GC


TSA Architects


Utah Tile and Roofing


66 pounds per cubic foot (1,057 kg/m3) of InsulFoam geofoam at 6.5, 12, 13, 42.5, 55–89 inches (16.5, 30.5, 33, 108, 139.7–226.1 cm)

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