Endless table materializes intra-office connectivity in plywood, MDF, and epoxy.When Culver City-based Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA) sat down with representatives of the Barbarian Group to discuss renovating the advertising agency's new 20,000-square-foot office, one word kept coming up: connection. "Before, they were all in offices designed for one person, but crammed five in each, and scattered," recalled associate principal Chester Nielsen. "It was a pain. Bringing everyone into the open, and having them feel like they were all connected was super important." The architects elected to "surgically gut" the leased New York Garment District loft to create a central workspace for between 125-175 employees. To materialize the theme of connection, they zeroed in on the idea of a single work surface, an endless table later christened the Superdesk. With 4,400 square feet of epoxy-coated surface atop a support structure comprising 870 unique laser-cut plywood panels, the Superdesk is a triumph of programmatic creativity. "Building a big table was not an obvious solution," said Nielsen, "but it's a simple one." The Superdesk began as a series of sketches by president Clive Wilkinson. "Upon first impression we got to this squiggly table," said Nielsen. "It worked really well. Honestly, we've just been refining that." The table's undulating surface lifts and lowers, to indicate subtle divisions between departments, and to create arched overpasses above intra-office "cow paths." The grotto-like spaces under the archways double as intimate gathering areas for up to eight people. From the sketches, the architects built two physical models—the first rough, the second more refined—before taking the design into Revit and Rhino. There they further fine-tuned the form and prepared it for fabrication by Machineous LLC. "Machineous wanted the project very much; they were a good partner on this," said Nielsen. "We worked back and forth to tweak what we needed to make the table constructible." Machineous laser-cut the component parts, including the plywood ribs that shape the Superdesk's archways, using vintage automotive-industry robots. Machineous flat-packed the cut pieces and shipped them to New York, where the desk was assembled on site. The Superdesk's walls are framed in 2-by-4 lumber faced with plywood; plate steel brackets connect the various wood elements. Machineous bonded the MDF tabletop and painted it a shimmering white to give it the appearance of a single connected surface. The crowning achievement of the fabrication process—and the literal polish on the project—was a continuous epoxy pour, completed by rotating teams over a 24-hour period. Despite the complications inherent to prefabricating and installing a massive piece of furniture on opposite coasts, CWA and Machineous managed to deliver their innovative take on contemporary office culture both on time and within Barbarian Group's tight budget. "Something quite notable from the perspectives of both design and fabrication is that it's the same cost as going to Office Depot" for conventional desks, noted Nielsen. What is more, with plenty of surface area for laptops and the other, increasingly minimal, accoutrements of the modern workplace, and with a data and power track built into its walls, the Superdesk "is very, very flexible," he said. "Unlike a typical office [layout], it can change in a day."
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Minimalist catenary canopy lends warmth and lightness to office courtyard.When Page design principal Larry Speck suggested a catenary sunshade for the courtyard of the new GSA building in Albuquerque, his colleagues set about identifying precedents. "There were some really great devices that we looked at, but a lot were done in the 1960s out of heavy, monumental materials," said principal Talmadge Smith. "We wondered if there was a way to do it in a lighter, more delicate way that would also introduce some warmth to the space." The architects elected to build the structure out of western red cedar, which performs particularly well in arid climates. Comprising 4-, 8-, and 12-foot boards suspended on steel cables, the sunshade appears as a wave of blonde wood floating in mid-air, casting slatted shadows on the glass walls of the courtyard. The courtyard is an important amenity in the two-story, 80,000-square-foot building, currently occupied by a combination of federal employees, including immigration and customs enforcement staff, and state and local law enforcement. "We said, 'This is a pretty big floor plate, it needs a great courtyard,'" said Smith. "For one thing, in this climate that's just what you build. You get free shading and can create a cooler microclimate." The courtyard also helps bring light into the communal spaces that surround it, which include training areas, circulation, and conference rooms. "It remains a democratic insertion into the floor plan," observed Smith. Finally, the courtyard allowed the architects to compensate for a lack of glazing on the exterior walls, the result of security requirements. Working in Revit and 3ds Max, Page experimented with various patterns for the sunshade. They first tried a regular arrangement of identical slats. "The result wasn't very pleasing," said Smith. "It made a drooping, uninviting shape. It also closed the courtyard, as if you had pulled a big venetian blind across it." They decided to break up the pattern and use three different modules of wood, placing them only where daylighting analysis dictated. They also worked with the cables themselves to identify the appropriate amount of slack. "We tested what it would be if you pulled the cables tight," said Smith. "It negated the effect of the catenary, and led to a courtyard with a little bit of a ceiling, a rigidity that we didn't want." The final design incorporates 18 inches worth of slack per cable. Enterprise Builders used off-the-shelf hardware to assemble and install the sunshade. The cedar boards are attached to the cables via steel clips bolted to one face of each board. Deciding against integrating hardware directly into the curtain walls, Page designed opaque concrete headers for the two short sides of the courtyard, then grouted the anchors into the masonry units. A turnbuckle attached to a pivot near each anchor allowed the builders to make adjustments to the length of the cables once they had been hung. A second, perpendicular, system of cables prevents the shading structure from swaying. "The hardest part was getting it level," said Smith. "There was a little art to that because some strands are more heavily loaded than the others." Fabricated out of standard lumber and mass-produced hardware, the sunshade might have felt bulky or crude. Instead, it provides relief from the New Mexico sun while seeming almost to dissolve into the sky. "When you're standing there, you only ever see half of the shading members at a time," said Smith. "You see a lot of sky, but you feel a lot of shade. It performs, but it feels light."
A digitally-designed medical products showroom plays well with its City Beautiful neighbors.The Global Center for Health Innovation, designed by LMN Architects along with the attached Cleveland Convention Center, is more than a showroom for medical products and services. Located adjacent to the Burnham Malls, the open space at the heart of Daniel Burnham’s Group Plan of 1903, the building is part of Cleveland’s civic core. “One of the things about the Global Center is that it has a unique expression and in particular the facade treatment,” said design partner Mark Reddington. “But it’s also a really integrated piece of a bigger idea and a bigger composition.” A dynamic combination of textured concrete panels and irregular slashes of glazing, the Global Center’s facade, which won honorable mention in AN’s 2014 Best of Design Awards, deftly negotiates the gap between the building’s historic context and its function as a high-tech marketplace. The Global Center’s City Beautiful surrounds influenced its facade design in several ways. “Part of the trick for us in looking at the Global Center,” said project architect Stephen Van Dyck, “was to try and make a building that was contemporary and relevant, but also a building that referred and deferred to its context materially and compositionally.” As a reflection on the solidity of the older structures ringing the Malls, the architects minimized glazing in the east face’s concrete system. In addition, they chose the color and aggregates of the concrete to mimic the tone of limestone. The texturing on the concrete panels, too, was informed by the Global Center’s context. “Like the classical buildings, there’s a lot of detail that shows up in different lighting conditions,” said Reddington. At the same time, the Global Center is very much a product of the 21st century. “There was an explicit intention in creating a facade whose qualities would not have been achievable without digital technology,” said Van Dyck. “It doesn’t look like it was handcrafted. It was primarily an exercise in allowing the technical means of creation and design to live forever on the outside of this building.” In particular, he said, the architects were interested in how their chosen material—precast concrete—allowed them to move beyond a punched-window system to a more complicated relationship between solids and voids. The result eventually became a scientific metaphor, as the designers observed the resemblance of the pattern to the twisting helices of a DNA molecule. LMN developed the facade design on a remarkably short timeline: about four months from concept to shop drawings. “The schedule requirements of the whole thing were absurd,” said Van Dyck. To make modifying the design as easy as possible, the architects developed a utility called Cricket to link Grasshopper and Revit. The ability to update the BIM model in real time convinced the design-build team to take risks despite the compressed timeframe. “Once they realized there was a strong mastery of the data, an ability to listen and incorporate the needs of [multiple] parties, that was really the breakthrough,” explained Van Dyck. “They said, ‘Hey, we can build something that’s a little unconventional.’” Besides their Cricket plug-in, a 3D printer was LMN’s most valuable tool during the design process. To explore how the panels’ texturing would animate the facade under different lighting conditions, they created plaster models from 3D-printed casts. “We had to do that because the geometry was so complex that we didn’t have any computers at the time that were capable of [modeling it],” said Van Dyck. “For us, working between the physical, digital, hand-drawn renderings were all so critical in discovering what we ultimately ended up building.” Sidley Precast Group fabricated the concrete panels with a surface pattern of horizontal joints that vary in depth and height. To minimize cost, the fabricators made almost all of the molds from a single 8-by-10-foot master formliner, with horizontal ribs spaced every 6 inches acting as dams for the smaller molds. While LMN Architects originally wanted to limit the number of panel types to eight, the final count was around 50, including larger pieces made by connecting smaller panels vertically. The approximately 400 precast panels were moved by crane to a system of vertical steel tubes running from slab to slab, then welded into place. The Viracon glazing was welded to the same tubes, a couple of inches back from the face of the concrete. The large atrium window on the building’s east face was manufactured by NUPRESS Group. For the architects, the significance of the Global Center’s facade remains tied to its broader context. Its design, while driven by modern technology, achieves a surprising degree of harmony with its surroundings. “Our building is in a way very classical, though it wasn’t an explicit intention of ours,” said Van Dyck. “To create a language that was both universal and also something that was really new—from our perspective that was a big achievement of the project.”
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Gensler’s design at the University of Houston is realized in a cloud-inspired, sound-absorptive ceiling solution.Gensler and Ceilings Plus have brought a touch of the Big Apple to the University of Houston’s recently completed Quiet Hall in the Classroom and Business Building. Gensler drew its design inspiration for a ceiling in the new building from the New York Central Library’s Rose Reading Room. The firm hired the California-based Ceilings Plus to translate its interpretation of this classical interior, which includes perforations and geometric folds, into an affordable, buildable, and installable ceiling solution. Ceilings Plus used digital software to marry the design architect’s vision with a workable model that offered minimal joint tolerances and maintained compatibility with HVAC systems. “Since the architect was interested in doing something completely new, it was important to realize that process together,” said Michael Chusid, who works in marketing and business development for Ceilings Plus. Gensler produced three conceptual renderings in Revit, then turned them over to project engineer Robert Wochner, who developed sound-absorptive perforations and a suspension system that could support the various angles of the Quiet Hall’s multi-planar ceiling. Wochner used AutoCAD to reconcile Gensler’s rendering, which depicted a cloud of perforations across the ceiling for sound absorption. Acoustically there was an ineffective number of apertures, so Wochner filled in the original design with smaller, carefully angled perforations. By leaving an ample amount of space between the dropped ceiling and the planchement, the perforations are able to absorb vibrations in an efficient and lightweight system. Nearly 50 configurations were considered before arriving at a final design, which was modeled in SolidWorks. Ceilings Plus fabricated the panels using stock products and a CNC router. The architect’s chose the company’s PVC-free Saranté laminate in a henna-toned wood finish, which is affixed to an aluminum sheet. A punch press knocked out the perforations, revealing a blue felt backing. Despite the ceiling’s complex appearance, Ceilings Plus developed a suspension system based on a conventional T-bar system, making it easy to install. Since the ceiling is not flat, attachment points were individually set to hang each of the 280 panels from between six and eight torsion springs. “With this firm pressure downward, you can extract the panel and lower it out of place to gain access to the ceiling cavity to maintain the HVAC system, ductwork, and other mechanicals,” said Chusid. Custom-fabricated brackets help support the unique angles. Ceilings Plus deployed several expert installers to assist the installation process. “Any time there’s a slope on the ceiling and it interfaces with something round, like a column, it goes from a circle to an ellipse,” said Wochner. “Though we have precise information about the field location, it’s not uncommon to make adjustments on site.”
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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.