Earth-toned GFRC panels and contrasting metal wrap Petzl's new North American hub.When Petzl executives decided to move the climbing and caving equipment company's North American headquarters from Clearfield to West Valley City, Utah, they sought an opportunity not just to expand, but to design a facility that would reflect the brand's mission. "The two words we kept hearing from them were verticality and light," recalled ajc architects founding principal Jill A. Jones. "The types of products they design really have to deal with the vertical world." Working with a southwestern palette inspired by Petzl corporation founder and president Paul Petzl's recent visits to Mesa Verde National Park and Machu Picchu, the architects designed a combination administrative, training, and distribution center whose mesa-like bottom stories and punctuating tower appear as if carved out of desert rock. Given Paul Petzl's interest in the continent's arid landscapes, natural stone cladding would have seemed an obvious choice. But "to use stone would have been terribly expensive," said Jones—especially given the building's size, 80,000 gross square feet. "Getting a lot of stone in those larger panels would have been cost-prohibitive." Instead, the architects looked to GFRC, and worked with Tuscan Stoneworx's Dave Nicholson to develop a hybrid system of stone-backed GFRC panels. Rather than being hung on the building, the panels are adhered directly to it, thus avoiding any breaks in the thermal barrier. To perfect the look of the GFRC, the architects did no less than a dozen color studies before selecting three red-orange tones for application. The panels were sandblasted on site to render the color and texture more naturalistic. Nicholson helped ajc customize every aspect of the panel system, from color and texture to corner installation. "I don't know if he'll ever do that again," remarked Jones. The designers clad the tower and a bump-out over the front door in dark grey metal from Drexel Metals. "The tower itself was a sensitive area, because Petzl did something similar in their home headquarters in Crolles, France," said Jones. "It kind of felt dark and cold; we wanted to bring a lot of daylight into the space." The architects performed a series of daylighting studies, "to make sure we had daylighting opportunities in every occupied space." This led to the installation of high-performance glass on both sides of the office block to avoid glare. For the warehouse area, ajc chose tilt-up concrete. But as with the GFRC, achieving a natural look took some ingenuity. "We wanted not to paint the concrete, to get a more organic look," said Jones. "But staining the concrete was a challenge, because the form liners leave a natural coating on the panels." Contractor Sahara experimented with various solutions once the panels were in place to find a stain that the concrete would accept. Petzl's new North American headquarters is a fitting base camp for a company committed to pushing the limits of human exploration. Both inside and out—from its window-lit multi-story indoor climbing and training wall to its human-made, red-rock-inspired envelope—the building embodies a balance between reverence for the natural world, and celebration of the technology that makes that world a little more knowable.
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In a recent interview, Diller Scofidio + Renfro Senior Associate Kevin Rice told AN that the "veil" at Los Angeles' Broad Museum—a facade made of hundreds of molded Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) panels, had been delayed by over a year. "Some of the things took longer to make than they thought, but there aren’t really problems with it," Rice said. But now it looks like the issues with the museum's facade are more severe than initially thought. The LA Times has reported that the Broad Collection and contractor Matt Construction are suing Seele, the engineer of that facade, seeking $19.8 million in damages relating to the delay. Other damages, according to the complaint (PDF), include breach of contract, fraud in the inducement, and fraud and deceit. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Seele "violated the important 'aesthetic aspect' of the architect's design," and its mockups were "unsightly and wholly unacceptable for use on the project." As a result the firm was not able to meet its October, 2013 deadline to design, fabricate, and install the facade, setting the project's timeline way back. The Broad's lawsuit also names Zurich American Insurance Company and Fidelity and Deposit Company—backers of a bond guaranteeing Seele's work—as defendants. "Seele did not possess the necessary skill, experience, resources, commitment or ability to perform the work at The Broad museum," the complaint stated. Broad Foundation spokesperson Karen Denne told AN, "we're not commenting—the lawsuit speaks for itself." As of now the museum is still set to open in 2015, but the exact date remains up in the air.