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An 80-foot waterfall highlights the atrium of a new mixed-use development in Boston.
Atlantic Wharf is one of the newest additions to Boston’s changing downtown waterfront area. Located on the edge of Fort Point Channel, the one million-square-foot mixed-use center incorporates a series of restored and renovated structures built there more than 100 years ago. Beneath a new 31-story office tower, an 80-foot-high glass atrium encloses the original 19th-century street grid, creating a grand entrance to the tower from Congress Street. As a nod to the site’s history and Boston Harbor views, the building’s translucent glass screen wall is designed with a canted top resembling a sail. Working with developer Boston Properties, architect Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc. envisioned another nod to the site’s maritime past in the atrium. Custom water feature design and fabrication company Bluworld was brought on board to create a feature that would span the height and width of the space.
The atrium’s size was the primary challenge. “The client wanted something to go as high as it possibly could,” said Rob Morton, Bluworld’s director of sales. “A rain curtain gives you that freedom because it doesn’t have a bulky frame or heavy glass panels,” which add significantly to cost, maintenance, and structural concerts. The team determined they would install three rain curtains spaced across nearly 50 feet, each one falling the full 80-foot atrium height. The company has extensive experience building rain curtains—a design in which water streams down Mylar strands arranged in various configurations—but this was the tallest they had designed by 20 feet. Morton believes it is the tallest such design in the world.
Bluworld began by building the mechanical equipment that would carry water to weirs, or reservoirs, suspended above each rain curtain. The team located an atrium similar to that of the Wharf’s in another Boston building and installed a test reservoir, spending about a week making adjustments to the types of pumping and filtration equipment necessary to handle the rain curtain’s height.
Once the final pump and filtration equipment had been manufactured in Bluworld’s Orlando facilities, it was crated and shipped to Atlantic Wharf. The team welded the curtain’s upper weirs directly to the atrium’s structural steel canopy; no additional structural reinforcement was needed. A below-grade mechanical space houses the rain curtain’s equipment as well as its “brains,” a patented control called a Blubox. The touchscreen panel operates the water feature’s maintenance; each week its timer shuts off the flow of water before draining, filtering, flushing, and refilling the weirs.
Nearly invisible 1/8-inch-diameter Mylar strands suspended from each overhead reservoir give the feature its curtain-like quality. They create enough surface tension for individual droplets released from the reservoir to travel the full drop to the atrium floor. As the droplets bead together or fall in spurts, the sheet of water takes on an infinitely random series of patterns. Streams are collected in three lower concrete troughs lines with stainless steel reservoirs filled with river stones. A video of the completed installation is available here.