Curved metal facade embodies spirit of mobility at LAX.The commission to design a new Central Utility Plant (CUP) for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) came with a major caveat: the original 1960s-era CUP would remain online throughout construction, providing heating and cooling to adjacent passenger terminals until the new plant was ready to take over."We had to keep the existing CUP up and running, build the new one, do the cutover, then tear down the old CUP and build a thermal energy storage tank in its place," explained Gruen Associates project designer Craig Biggi. "It was a very challenging project from that standpoint—working in a 24/7 environment, and getting everything up and running within a small footprint." But despite these and other hurdles, the design-build team (which included Clark/McCarthy, A Joint Venture as general contractors, Arup as A/E design lead, and Gruen Associates as architect) succeeded in delivering the new CUP in time to support LAX's newest terminal. Its curved stainless steel and glass facade captures the airport's spirit of mobility, and helps restore a sense of cohesion to an otherwise fragmented built landscape. LAX is a busy place, both aesthetically and with respect to passenger movement. "There's a lot of visual activity happening there," explained Biggi. "It's been built up over time, so there's this layering effect. This was meant to be an architectural design that not only simplifies some of the visual confusion, but addresses the context of the airport itself as a site that has a lot of movement." When shaping the building envelope, the designers looked at concepts of laminar flow, of which one example is the passage of air over an aircraft wing. "What we came up with was a streamlined architectural expression that ties together three distinct programmatic elements," said Biggi. "The project uses this expression to tie into the existing context by flowing around corners, then opens up at certain locations to allow the program to have ventilation and views." The CUP's primary facade is clad in stainless steel composite panels within a pressurized rain screen system. The architects chose stainless steel, explained partner-in-charge and project manager Debra Gerod, to respond to the potentially corrosive effects of jet fuel and other chemicals as well as the salty Southern California air. In addition, "we had to work to get a finish that wouldn't create reflections," said Gerod. "We're right underneath the control tower. Being mindful that the sun can be at any angle, bouncing off airplanes, that [became a] careful performance-based element" of the design. Non-curved sections of the CUP's envelope feature corrugated aluminum panels, which reduce the risk of reflection and help camouflage functional components including large doors that allow the installation and replacement of equipment. "How we were able to put these giant openings into the side of the facade and have it be blended in and aligned with the corrugated metal paneling—these were some of the things we really paid a lot of attention to," said Gerod. Similarly, the ribbon windows on the stainless steel facade help conceal exhaust louvers, in addition to providing views from the engineers' offices. "We always looked at opportunities for streamlining the aesthetic of the exterior," said Biggi. "We were looking for simple massing that looked fluid in its resolution." Gruen Associates designed the new CUP as a visual landmark for passersby, installing a massive window on the north facade in order to reveal the interior of the chiller room. "This is a bit of an homage to the old CUP," explained Gerod. "When it was first built, it was a really nice building: round, with lots of glass. By the time we got to it, things were spilling out in all directions. But as originally designed, it had a view into the inner workings of the plant." Meanwhile, the architects used blue-colored LEDs and reflectors moved by the wind to create a lighting effect on the adjacent thermal energy storage tank—which, like the nearby cooling towers, is also clad in stainless steel—that mimics the rippling motion of a swimming pool at night. "The lighting effect is meant to address passengers as they're driving down Center Way, and give some animation to the large mass of the storage tank," said Biggi. Here, too, the designers were careful to plan the lighting so as not to interfere with air traffic control functions. LAX's new CUP, which is targeting LEED Gold certification, promises a 25 percent increase in efficiency over the 50-year-old plant it replaces. With continued expansion in the offing, it did not arrive on the scene any too soon. Though much of the design was shaped by current conditions at the airport, including both functional considerations and an aesthetic embrace of the airport's hectic pace, Gruen Associates simultaneously thought ahead, to a larger—but hopefully visually more coherent—LAX. Should a proposed terminal extension to the west come to pass, the CUP's curved stainless steel facade will provide a backdrop for the newer buildings, setting the stage for a more deliberate approach to the airport's ongoing transformation.
Faceted facade evokes regenerative prairie burns.For most projects, admits VernerJohnson's Jonathan Kharfen, architects steer clear of evoking a potentially destructive force like fire. But Museum at Prairiefire, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) outpost in Overland Park, Kansas, proved an exception to the rule. Because Prairiefire houses AMNH's traveling exhibits, its content is constantly changing, and thus provided little guidance in terms of an overarching design concept. Kharfen instead looked to the location. "What is the area about?" he asked. "For me the first thing that came to mind were the prairie burns. Coming from Boston, I'd never seen anything like it." Using dynamic materials including dichroic glass and iridescent stainless steel, VernorJohnson crafted a faceted high performance envelope that embodies the color, movement, and regenerative power of fire. Not long after landing on the fire metaphor, said Kharfen, "I knew of a couple of materials that would be perfect, because for me it's all about movement and light." He began researching dichroic glass, a composite glass that changes colors depending on the angle of view. The museum's sustainability goals—the project is targeting LEED Silver—dictated that the material would double as an insulating unit, the first such application in the United States. But that presented an additional challenge, as products with the dichroic properties embedded in the glass itself would break the budget. To lower costs, the architects collaborated with fabricator Goldray Industries to design an assembly incorporating dichroic film from 3M. The solution turned out to be an aesthetic boon as well as a cost-cutter, as the film itself carries a flame-like pattern. "It's subtly dimply, it's animated, it's beautiful," said Kharfen. Kharfen's team paired the dichroic glass with a second shape-shifting material, Light Interference Coated (LIC) stainless steel, ultimately applying panels in a variety of color and finish combinations. "With the stainless steel, I wanted to create [the appearance of] flame bursts and sparks," explained Kharfen. "I didn't want to apply it in a random way." Instead, the architects arranged the panels in a gradient, with blue (near the bottom) giving way to burgundies and reds and finally to golden yellow. For Kharfen, it was not enough that the materials themselves convey a sense of life and movement. "I wanted them to be dynamic shapes, dynamic in plan as well as in elevation," he said. His solution—a faceted curtain wall—upped the project's technical ante. To avoid cluttering up the lobby space with columns, Kharfen worked with structural engineers Structural Engineering Associates to design a custom support system of stainless steel tubes fronted by angled mullions, to which the curtain wall is attached as a veneer. To accommodate the 14 unique angles involved in the faceting, curtain wall manufacturer Kawneer developed a new adjustable mullion, a hinged plate with a 180-degree range of movement. Given the museum's ever-changing content, the architects treated the exhibit spaces as "black boxes," said Kharfen. "For the solid areas I wanted to evoke the overlapping, curved forms of the hills." The client, Fred Merrill of Merrill Companies, loved the stonework at VernorJohnson's Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas, which suggests striated rock formations. "He asked, 'Can't we just do that here?'" recalled Kharfen. "I said, 'No, we're going to do something different.' I wanted a gradient." To cut costs and simplify installation, the architects whittled a more complex scheme down to a mix of two different stones in each band, with the bands varying in width. Again, the referent is fire: the walls begin with a charcoal-colored architectural cast stone before moving through Kansas limestone in shades of red, brown, gold, and off-white. Together, the stone-clad exhibit halls and the lobby curtain wall complete the picture of a prairie burn. "I wanted the fire elements to engulf and connect the solid volumes," said Kharfen. "I did them as lines of fire, because, historically, that's how these fires were set." But while the burn metaphor extends to every level of detail, including the flicker-flame-inspired sloping at the tops of the doors and windows, for the project architect the museum design ends where it began: with the primary materials. Speaking again of the dichroic glass, he concluded, "I cannot think of a material that looks more like fire than this glass."
Metal mesh bridges old and new in Davis Brody Bond renovation.For their renovation and expansion of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC, Davis Brody Bond faced an unusual aesthetic challenge. Besides updating the two historic buildings housing the embassy's offices and residence, they were tasked with building a new atrium for public welcoming, public events, and conference rooms—right in between the two older buildings. The architects turned to Cambridge Architectural, a Maryland manufacturer of wire mesh architectural systems. "Davis Brody Bond wanted to have this new building as a very contemporary element between the two limestone buildings," said Cambridge Architectural's Ann Smith. A wire mesh facade seemed a perfect solution to the problem of combining old and new, seamlessly bridging the two masonry structures, and providing crucial sun shading for the glass atrium. The designers selected Cambridge Architectural's Shade mesh, a stainless steel weave of triangular elements with an open area of 54 percent. "Shade was chosen specifically to reduce the sun coming in, and the glare, because there are conference rooms in that front area," explained Smith. "But they still wanted to maintain the views." Shade is also a flexible, almost fabric-like mesh. "The architects really wanted to see it as one continuous piece," said Smith. "Our flexible materials lend well to that. We're able to tension them without tying back to the structure as often." The mesh facade turns three times as it wraps around the top and front of the atrium, twice around the parapet, and once again above the recessed entry. To modulate the tension on the screen, Cambridge Architectural developed a custom attachment system based on their Cambridge Scroll attachment series. "We changed the original concept a number of times," said engineering manager Jim Mitchell. "One of the challenges was that when you first walk in, the mesh runs overhead. We had to put more supports in there, more of our tension brackets to keep it looking horizontal, and to keep the tension as it turned." In this case, that meant locating additional attachment areas on the building and adding steel mounts for the Cambridge Scroll hardware. Cambridge Architectural also worked with Davis Brody Bond on a custom window-washing apparatus. The mesh team mounted the screen further off the glass than was standard, to allow room for a hook-and-pulley system designed by the architects. Davis Brody Bond also modified the window design to make for easier cleaning. Inside the entry, Cambridge Architectural installed frames of rigid mesh to echo the exterior facade while allowing access to HVAC equipment. By partnering with Cambridge Architectural on the South African Embassy project, Davis Brody Bond solved two problems at once. They marked their expansion as clearly contemporary without upstaging either the older buildings or the iconic Nelson Mandela statue out front, and they also made building a south-facing glass atrium possible. "It was a perfect combination of a transparent material that could also shade, and a stainless steel material that was very modern," said brand manager Gary Compton. "When you're inside that space, it makes for a nice welcoming, open area."
Contemporary stone envelope asserts the continued relevance of book learning at GVSU.For the new Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons at Grand Valley State University, SHW Group, now Stantec, considered a brick skin to tie it to the surrounding edifices. "But at the end of the day, the library, we believe, is one of the most important buildings on campus," said senior design architect Tod Stevens. "That's where we started to have a conversation about the library as it moves into the 21st century. We wanted to signal the continued importance of the library to university life." To do so, the architects designed a quartzite envelope whose random pattern of stones sits in tension with an interlaid stainless steel grid. On the building's north facade, a 40-foot-tall glass curtain wall creates an indoor/outdoor living room on the campus's main pedestrian axis, and reveals Pew Library's state-of-the-art interior to passersby. Stantec chose a multi-hued quartzite, said Stevens, as a nod to the limestone banding on many of GVSU's historic buildings. In addition, he explained, "when it rains, it brings out the red and other colors embedded in it. Even on a grey day, you can see that this building has personality and sparkle. And that red knitted it back to the other buildings as well." The architects wanted the stones set in a random pattern because, said Stevens, "the pattern really talks about the care that it takes to build this building: one stone at a time is the importance of this building." But achieving such a level of craftsmanship was easier said than done. "Nobody wants to take ownership of what it looks like," explained senior project architect Joe Mitra. "We spent a great deal of time coming up with a strategy to create that pattern. No two of the rectangular spaces are identical. Instead every stone is planned. We made shop drawings for each one." The purposefully irregular stone design is counterposed to a surrounding stainless steel grid. "This is a contemporary building, and we wanted to signal that on the stone facades," explained Stevens. "We wanted to get that snap: it's a crisp conversation between the quartzite and the metal reveals." Faux copper accents signaling entry points on the stone cladding nod to other contextual cues, including Cook Carillon Tower. With respect to installation, maintaining a constant level of humidity was a special concern, given Michigan's hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters. After performing a number of moisture-migration analyses in WUFI, the architects settled on a 2 1/4 inch stone veneer backed by a 1 3/4 inch cavity and 3 1/2 inches of insulation. "The corners are mitered," noted Mitra, "so the stone looks thicker; you don't get that feel of veneer." On the north side of Pew Library, the architects pulled the massive curtain wall away from the stone to create a multi-purpose atrium. "The aspirations for LEED on this project were the highest we could get," said Stevens. "Bringing light into the building is fundamental. Flooding the library with natural light from the north was one of the drivers of the design. A side benefit," he noted, "is that when students are working late into the evening, the glass wall signals and shows their scholarly work." The triple-glazed curtain wall is hung from a twinned truss system. "We wanted the structure behind the glass to disappear," said Mitra. "It wanted to look light. We did a lot of physical models to test different systems. Ultimately, the twinned truss system at each of the column heights allowed us to have that transparency; you can see the building behind it." On the south, east, and west sides of the building, the size of the windows indicates the program within. Smaller windows mark individual study spaces, while larger apertures attach to communal meeting areas. To mitigate thermal gain, the architects employed a number of shading strategies, including horizontal sunscreens, interior motorized shades, extruded mullion caps, and 18-inch insets for the vertical punch windows. On the roof plane, Stantec created a landscaped terrace for student use. Pew Library, with its Automated Storage and Retrieval System and 31 types of indoor and outdoor seating, has been celebrated for its high-technology approach to learning. Its message—literally written in stone—is that the library is not dead. Far from it. Though it has been carefully adapted to meet the needs of today's students, GVSU's newest monument to education suggests that the university library remains a place worth celebrating, a beacon for the campus's thriving intellectual life.
Dynamic steel and PVDF structures shelter campers in style.In South Korea, glamping—or “glamorous camping”—is all the rage. The practice combines conventional camping’s affinity for the outdoors with hotel amenities, including comfortable bedding and fine food. Seoul firm ArchiWorkshop’s prefabricated, semi-permanent glamping structures are a design-minded twist on the traditional platform tent. “We [set out to] create a glamping [tent] that gives people a chance to experience nature very close, while also providing a uniquely designed architectural experience,” said partner Hee Jun Sim. “There are many glamping sites in Korea, but they’re actually not so high-end. We were able to bring up the level of glamping in Korea.” ArchiWorkshop designed two models of glamping tents. The Stacking Doughnut is, as the name suggests, circular, with a wedge-shaped deck between the bedroom and living room. “We put the donuts at different angles, stacked them . . . and simply connected the lines. This line became the structure,” explained Sim. “The basic idea was very simple, but in the end the shape was very dynamic.” The Modular Flow is a gently oscillating tube, its sleeping and lounging areas separated by an interior partition. The shape was created from a series of identical modules lined up back-to-front to produce the curve. Both models feature a white, double-layer PVDF membrane stretched over a stainless steel frame. The decks are built of wood, while the interior floors are carpeted in a cream-colored textile flooring product from Sweden. Sim and partner Su Jeong Park “used every possible tool” to design the glamping units. They started with hand sketches, then moved to physical models. “The model wasn’t so simple to make because it was a strong shape [without] straight or fixed walls,” said Sim. Once they had determined a rough form, they bounced among multiple computer programs—including AutoCAD, Rhino, and 3ds Max—to refine the design and create shop drawings. Sim and Park used MPanel to generate the membrane surface. Dong-A System prefabricated the glamping tents off site, laser cutting the components of the steel frame before welding them together. “Because every part of the shape is connected, it had to be super-precise, or the end form would [not be] straight,” said Sim. On site, the structures were simply bolted into place. ArchiWorkshop built eight glamping structures on spec on a site in South Korea. “We actually used the whole site as a test site, to show the world, ‘Hello, we are [here],’” said Sim. The architects are open to adapting the designs to suit different climates or cultures. “What we designed on the test site is very Asian or Korean, a poetic kind of shape, but I think different countries have different clients with different needs,” explained Sim. While Sim acknowledges that there are a number of luxury tents already on the market, he is not concerned. “We had a bit of a late start,” he said, “but we . . . have a different concept with a different kind of approach to the tent.” In the meantime, the challenge of designing outside the box has been its own reward. “We love designing buildings,” said Sim, “but this kind of different structural project is also very refreshing for architects.”
Rotterdam Centraal Station's relationship to the existing urban fabric called for different treatments of its north and south facades.To call the commission for a new central railway station in Rotterdam complicated would be an understatement. The project had multiple clients, including the city council and the railway company ProRail. The program was complex, encompassing the north and south station halls, train platforms, concourse, commercial space, offices, outdoor public space, and more. Finally, there was the station’s relationship to Rotterdam itself: while city leaders envisioned the south entrance as a monumental gateway to the city, the proximity of an historic neighborhood to the north necessitated a more temperate approach. Team CS, a collaboration among Benthem Crouwel Architekten, MVSA Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten, and West 8, achieved a balancing act with a multipart facade conceived over the project’s decade-long gestation. On the south, Rotterdam Centraal Station trumpets its presence with a swooping triangular stainless steel and glass entryway, while to the north a delicate glass-house exterior defers to the surrounding urban fabric. Team CS, which formed in response to the 2003 competition to design the station, began with a practical question: how should they cover the railroad tracks? Rotterdam Centraal Station serves Dutch Railways, the European High Speed Train network, and RandstadRail, the regional light rail system. Team CS wanted to enclose all of the tracks within a single structure, but they came up against two problems. First, the client team had budgeted for multiple freestanding shelters rather than a full roof. Second, this part of the project was designated a design-construct tender in which the winning contractor would have a high degree of control over the final design. To work around both issues, Team CS turned to an unusual source: agricultural buildings. “We started to come up with a project built from catalog materials, so efficient and so simple that any contractor would maybe think, ‘I’m going to build what they draw because then I can do a competition on being cheap, and then I don’t need to [reinvent] the wheel,’” explained West 8’s Geuze. For the spans, they chose prelaminated wood beams meant for barns and similar structures from GLC. They designed the five-acre roof as an oversized Venlo greenhouse. It comprises 30,000 laminated glass panels manufactured by Scheuten. Integrated solar cells, also provided by Scheuten, produce about one-third of the energy required to run Rotterdam Centraal Station’s escalators. The north facade of the station continues the glass house theme. “We [took] the roof and we pull[ed] it over to the facade and made the entire elevation out of that,” explained Geuze. “What is on the roof becomes vertically the same. In plan you see a zigzag sort of meandering facade.” By day, the glass reflects the nineteenth-century brick architecture characteristic of the Provenierswijk neighborhood in which the station is located. At night, the relatively modest entrance seems almost to fade into the sky, except for a slice of white LED lettering over the passenger portal. Rotterdam Centraal Station’s south facade, by contrast, is self consciously extroverted. The entryway, which spans 300 feet over the subway station, was given a “very sculptural identity,” said Geuze, with a triangular mouth framed by stainless steel panels. ME Construct welded the 30-foot-long panels one to another to create a non-permeable surface. Within the steel surround are horizontal glass panels (Scheuten) through which the vertical interior structural beams are visible. “This plays beautifully with the station because the roof makes a triangle. The horizontal and vertical lines are a beautiful composition within,” said Geuze. Two reminders of the 1957 central station, demolished to make way for the new iteration, make an appearance on the south facade. The first is the old station clock. The second is the historic sign, restored in LED. “They are in a beautiful font, blue neon letters,” said Geuze. “We put them very low on the facade, the letters. The font became a part of the identity.” While its preponderance of glass and stainless steel marks it as a contemporary creation, Rotterdam Centraal Station was inspired by historic precedents, like Los Angeles’ Union Station and the European railway stations of the 1800s. Geuze spoke of the interior’s warm material palette, including a rough wood ceiling by Verwol that bleeds onto the building’s south facade. “We thought we could learn a lot [from history] instead of making what is totally the [norm] today with granite from China,” he said. “We have to make a station which is part of this tradition of cathedrals, where the use and aging is relevant and interesting.”