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The facade's stainless steel panels form a wave pattern, cutting down on glare and heat loads while representing the contribution computing has made to design.The recently completed Bill & Melinda Gates Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, combines the schools’ Computing Science and Information Science departments under one roof. Designed by Morphosis, the facility encourages spontaneous interactions between these two disciplines with common spaces for comingling and transparent partitions that allow views, and daylight, to pass from space to space. The building envelope, a unitized glass curtain wall system, is wrapped in a band of perforated stainless steel panels that forms a dynamic, angular wave pattern across the surface. In addition to creating a sense of movement across the exterior, it serves as a fitting symbol of the contribution that computing has had on the arts and sciences: The architects used advanced digital modeling tools to design the geometry, pattern, and details of this additive layer, and made it to function both as an aesthetic gesture as well as a performance enhancing element of the architecture. “The goal was to establish a consistent level of daylighting throughout the interior,” said Cory Brugger, director of design technology at Morphosis. “We maximized the exterior glazing to get the light coming through. The design of the screen reduces the amount of glare and heat gain and starts to help with the performance of the facade system itself.” Located between Cornell’s historic Barton Hall and Hoy Field, Gates Hall fits 100,000 square feet of program in fives stories on a site roughly 150 feet long by 80 feet wide. “It’s a fairly squat building with a large foot print,” said Brugger. “So what we wanted to do was find a way to give some break on the facade.” The metal screen forms a band that covers the second through fourth floors. The first and fifth floors are fully glazed. At the main entrance on the building’s west side there is a large cantilever covering an entry court with some indigenous plantings and sculptural precast concrete “rocks.” Here, the facade becomes an integral part the overall massing of building, breaking down proportions of footprint and creating a sense of motion, giving the sense that structure is coiled to pounce across the road. Morphosis specified a YKK YUW 750XT 4 sided SSG unitized curtain wall system outfitted with a Viracon VNE 24-63 double glazed insulated glass unit. Ithaca does have a heavy winter, and heating days predominate over cooling days for the facility. To optimize the daylight/insulation ratio, the architects intermixed fully glazed panels with insulated spandrel panels. “There’s an alternation between full glazing and spandrel panels that helped us balance the environment and meet our efficiency target,” said Brugger. “It’s not fully glazed everywhere.” The curtain wall’s aluminum mullions are reinforced with steel, giving them the necessary stiffness to support the screen system. Morphosis designed the screen system in its own proprietary software program and used Rhino with Grasshopper to do the visualization. To coordinate fabrication of the panels with Zahner in Kansas City, the architects worked with CATIA and Digital Project. Zahner fabricated the screen panels out of 316 stainless steel. There are 457 panels total, in 13 different types, that bolt back to the vertical mullions at one of three elevations. The perforated panels have an angel hair finish. “It’s a non-directional finish takes away most of the gloss of stainless steel and gives it a little more depth in reflectivity, kind of a clean, matte finish,” said Brugger. “It still has a certain luster and gloss, but it cuts down on glare.” W&W Glass installed the facade, first putting up the YKK curtain wall and then erecting the screen system in a second pass. “We couldn’t unitize the two systems because they’re quite large and differently sized,” said Brugger. “Each stainless panel takes up two curtain wall modules.” The curtain wall modules are 5 feet 9 inches wide, whereas the stainless panels are 10 to 12 feet wide. The panels are set at different angles across the facade depending on solar orientation, with those on the south face at the most obtuse angle to create the deepest ledge for shading. This variation around the building envelope creates visual interest and expresses the computational nature of the design.
The Santa Monica firm Morphosis has completed its first museum, and it’s a model of its typology. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science fuses the programs of three institutions that abandoned their old quarters, merged their operations, and commissioned a shared building. According to Morphosis principal Thom Mayne, “The first scheme was much more aggressive and architectural, but [museum officials] couldn’t deal with that, and we developed a cube raised on pilotis as an alternative.”
Though the firm may have reined in its invention, the final design is a brilliant match for the site and the program. It’s located on the far side of an elevated freeway, away from the glittering towers of downtown and the axis of the Dallas Arts District. It anchors a barren expanse in the Victoria Park development, and its form and facades aptly express the museum’s function.
The massive concrete cube is cut away at the southeast corner and glazed to pull natural light into the five-story atrium. A glass-enclosed escalator projects from the south facade, beckoning visitors to enter and explore. A low podium extends from the base of the cube, and both are faced with precast concrete relief panels that simulate rock strata (and were themselves inspired by a nearby rock quarry). As project architect Arne Emerson explained, “Fabricators prefer repetition, but we devised a system that combines a few variants to achieve random patterns.” The depth of the relief diminishes from the base to the top, dematerializing the mass, and creating a constantly changing chiaroscuro, as the sun moves around the building.
School buses drive up to the entrance of the podium that contains the children’s museum and educational wing on the east side. To the west, families park their cars and proceed up a curved and canopied ramp to the entry plaza. The roof of the children’s museum is a boldly landscaped terrace that opens out of the lobby and can be viewed from above. Shale and native plantings recreate a typical Texas landscape while concealing a tank for the collection of rainwater—a precious commodity in this drought-prone city.
A flexible black box for displays on the second through the fourth levels morphs into transparent public areas at the entry level and around the atrium. Offices are located on the fifth floor. Many science museums pack everything into a windowless container, or go to the opposite extreme of building a glass house, like Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Science in San Francisco. Here in Dallas, there’s a sharp divide between dark and light. It gives the curators what they need, and visitors can enjoy the alternation of immersion and release.
Open staircases, escalators, and glass elevators provide easy access to the upper floors, and many visitors head straight to the lofty fourth level for its spectacular displays of dinosaur skeletons, a vivid history of the universe, and a bird display in the mezzanine gallery. The second and third levels house displays of minerals, robots, and biology; a platform simulating earthquakes of different strengths; and (this being Texas) an exhibit on oil prospecting.
At the entry level, a café and shop flank a 300-seat theater with state-of-the-art projection and well-honed acoustics. Wavy recessed lighting slots punctuate the fabric-covered sidewalls and ceiling, in an echo of the rippling concrete cladding. In the lower-level Sports Hall, you can try to outrun an animated cougar or T. Rex, roaring down a parallel track, or else match skills shooting hoops with a pro. As business director Jennifer Scripps, observes, “You can learn a lot at home on a computer, so a museum needs to offer a visceral and social experience.”
Dallas was a latecomer in acquiring good venues for the arts, and now the sciences, but when the city finally caught up, it did things right. Symphony Hall is one of I.M. Pei’s best buildings. Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center is a jewel. OMA and REX designed an adventurous theater. And there’s a flamboyant but functional opera house by Foster and Partners.
The new museum, largely funded by the Ross Perot family, is a triumph of bold architecture and enlightened philanthropy. Both elements are lacking in a city like Los Angeles, for example, where the County Museum of Natural History has done a good job of restoring its Beaux Arts legacy, but has failed to realize the bold addition it commissioned from Steven Holl.
While Morphosis is known for their jagged steel surfaces and off-center forms, the firm has always been interested in sustainability. The ultimate representation of this thinking is its own new office in Culver City, which is the largest net-zero energy building in Los Angeles, and one of the greenest offices in the country.
The fairly rectangular structure, located just a few feet from the new light rail Expo Line’s elevated tracks in Culver City, gets most of its energy from photovoltaics—a 2,800-square-foot array sitting on top of a shaded parking canopy outside. But what makes it all work are the energy savings: It significantly reduces loads through several low-tech, high-tech, and even revolutionary techniques, most of which were developed with engineers at Buro Happold, whose LA offices are just down the street.
On top of the two-story building’s angled roof are four windcatchers, a technology adapted from ancient desert environments. Their high-tech iteration, produced by a company called Monodraught, has never before been employed in the United States. Essentially they are louvered steel boxes containing interior cross blades that allow air into the building, and, through the pressure built up on the far side of each blade, pull hot air up the other side. A digital sensor system (powered by photovoltaics) decides when to open the louvers and set the system in motion. It also keeps the louvers open at night, so cool air can flush out the space before the next work day.
To limit solar heat gain the building’s east and south facades are solid. And further limiting the impact of the sun, even when it comes in at a low angle, a series of acrylic and galvanized steel shades cover the building’s sun-facing edges to create a pleasant outdoor gathering space for employees. The shades, which jut dramatically from the building’s core, also serve as testing zone for future projects, and are currently fitted with mock-ups of the panels from Morphosis’ Emerson College building in Hollywood, currently in development.
Thanks to the windcatchers, large openings in the building’s façade that let in breezes, and to the solar shielding, the firm never really turns on the ultra-efficient air conditioning system that’s also built in. They rarely turn on lights during the day either. Sitting on the roof near the windcatchers are 16 square skylights. To soften their light they’re lined with acrylic diffusers, which bounce the harsh light, creating an almost museum-quality gentleness inside. To supplement this each skylight is fitted along its edges with fluorescent lights. The firm hopes to eventually install custom shades to further control the quality of light that enters the space, but they don’t appear to be missed.
All in all for such a sophisticated result, it’s an incredibly simple design. And that’s exactly the point, said David Herd, principal at Buro Happold. “You can walk into this space and immediately understand what’s happening.”
See net zero isn’t that hard, is it?
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A new cultural focal point takes shape in DallasWhen the Dallas Museum of Nature & Science was created from the 2006 merger of three city museums—the Museum of Natural History, The Science Place, and the Dallas Children’s Museum—the new institution set its sites on expanding programming with a new facility in the city’s Victory Park neighborhood. Now, the 180,000-square-foot Morphosis-designed Perot Museum of Nature & Science is slated for completion in 2013. Located at the northwest corner of Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Field Street, it marks the future crossroads of the city’s Trinity River Corridor Project and the city’s cultural districts. Floating atop an irregularly shaped plinth that will be the base for a one-acre rooftop ecosystem, the museum’s striated concrete facade offers a first glimpse at the dynamic transformation of the site. Early renderings show a smooth monolithic cube as the museum’s main volume, but the Morphosis team began working with the Hillsboro, Texas, branch of Gate Precast early in the project to develop a horizontally striped precast concrete panel design for the facade. “They wanted something different from everything else in Dallas,” said Gate sales and marketing manager Scott Robinson. “The architects wanted it to be true, raw, and modern.” To this end, Morphosis selected a plain gray concrete mix, without pigment or white cement, for the facade, knowing there would be natural mottling to each panel. “They didn’t want the building to look painted,” said Robinson. In total, the company will fabricate 655 precast pieces for the project. Gate created a series of mock-ups using random combinations of convex and concave shapes that would flow seamlessly from one panel to the next. After refining the design in Revit, Gate’s BIM operators modeled more than 100,000 square feet of precast cladding on the museum’s exterior for Morphosis’ 3-D models. Wood-framed concrete molds constructed in a range of set dimensions (the average size is 8 by 30 feet) helped keep facade costs lower. Within these, convex and concave rubber pieces based on the team’s digital models can be placed to achieve the desired striation. In the harsh Texas sun, the random shapes cast bold shadows across the building’s elevations, gradually giving way to smooth concrete surfaces on the higher levels. Because the pattern continues at the building’s corners, end panels required a two-step process: The short end was poured and set first, then rotated to allow the long section to be poured before the two pieces were attached with a cold joint. The curved precast panels for the museum’s base created another challenge—building formwork in multiple axes. Gate’s engineering department created a series of geometric points and calculations for its carpentry wing, and carpenters built the formwork by hand without any CNC equipment. “The hard part is that they get a picture of what the panel looks like, and they have to build the reverse of that,” said Robinson. The curved precast panels will require nearly 80 unique molds in all, comprising about 15 percent of the project’s precast concrete. For its final contribution to the project, Gate will cast several pieces that Morphosis is referring to as “sticks”—long precast beams that will decorate the site as sculpture or functional elements once the new museum’s rooftop ecosystem, with landscape architecture by Dallas-based Talley Associates, is in place.
Morphosis’ new Hollywood outpost for Boston-based Emerson College was approved on Thursday by the LA Planning Commission. The 125,000 square foot Emerson Center will be the permanent home for the college’s entertainment-centered internship program, currently located in Burbank.
The monumental project in many ways resembles Johann Otto von Spreckelsen's Grande Arche de La Défense in the Paris business district, albeit a more contemporary and sustainable version. It also has a distant sibling in the form of Gensler’s three-year-old headquarters for the Creative Artists Agency in Century City.
The new building will rise to 10 stories at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street. Its cube-shaped exterior, covered with a grid of aluminum sun shades, will surround a large void, inset with a deconstructed concrete, glass, and steel core, which will project toward Sunset. The building is seeking a minimum LEED Silver rating and will feature exterior landscaping as well as a vine-growing trellis along the Gordon Street side, creating a leafy entranceway as well as shading for a café.
The sides of the building will contain residence halls while the center will contain classrooms, administrative space, and two retail venues located along Sunset. The project will also include outdoor terraces, outdoor instructional spaces, and a large open stair ascending from the third to fifth floors.
When the project was announced two years ago, firm founder Thom Mayne said it "makes a significant contribution to one of L.A.'s most dynamic urban contexts." Firm principal Kim Groves said that the quiet exterior is meant to defer to the incredible variety of its neighborhood, and that the core's visual movement would reflect "the intensity of what happens on the inside." The project is set to appear before LA City Council in mid-August.