Biology Research Complex

Biology Research Complex

On March 11, 1970, fire destroyed the Biology Annex. When the Cedar Falls Fire Department arrived, flames were shooting through the roof. Because the fire was already so advanced and because they did not know the nature of chemicals stored in the Biology Annex, fire fighters concentrated their efforts on keeping it from spreading to nearby buildings. This building stood south of Baker Hall and, over the years, served the university for several purposes, including as a college hospital. It was built in 1912 at a cost of $17,000, and remodeled in 1924 and 1962. The building, used at the time of the fire by the Department of Biology as a site for research projects, was a total loss estimated at $145,000. While Professor John Downey's valuable butterfly collection was saved, other work was lost.

Biology fire
Biology Annex fire, March 1970.

To make up for the loss of this building and to update biological research facilities, the Board of Regents approved a preliminary budget and authorized the selection of an architect for a new building in December 1970. The preliminary plans for the Biological Research and Small Animal Building--Phase I called for a ten to twelve thousand square foot facility that would include plant growing rooms, research stations, offices, and instructional space. The project called for a $646,750 budget, $500,000 of which had already been approved for bonding by the General Assembly.

At their September 1971 meeting, the Regents approved a two phase project drawn up by Durrant, Deininger, Dommer, Kramer, and Gordon of Dubuque. Phase I would include a total of about 18,200 square feet of which about 2200 square feet would be greenhouse space. Construction on Phase I was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1971. Phase II would include about 31,230 square feet of space, with about 10,080 square feet of greenhouse space and about 6650 square feet devoted to an "ecotron". The ecotron was described as "a dome in which the environment is controlled to show the different environmental relationships of plants and animals." UNI's ecotron would simulate a tropical environment.

Biology Research Complex sketch
Architectural sketch of the Biology Research Complex, with the "Ecotron", which was not built.

Construction began on Phase I in April 1972. By July 1972, the foundation and most of the underground plumbing had been completed. Work was complete in the summer of 1973. At some point not long after its completion, the building became known as the Biology Research Complex.

Biology Research Complex construction
Under construction, 1972.

The building currently houses biological research facilities and the office of the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences.

Biology Research Complex student

Phase II, with its ecotron, has not been built.

Compiled by Susan Witthoft; edited by Gerald L. Peterson Special Collections and University Archives
September 1996
Substantially revised by Gerald L. Peterson, with research assistance by Matt Burington and scanning by Gail Briddle, February-March 2003


Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675
Telephone: (319)-273-6307
Fax: (319)-273-2913
Email: Gerald.Peterson@uni.edu