Volume 21, Issue 2 - April/May/June 2007

Working Together for Art
By Terry C. Peterson

The Overture Center for the performing and visual arts in Madison, Wis., is a stage for some of the best performers in the country; but the building itself is a work of art. 

Our company, Novum Structures, worked with designer Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (PCPA), New Haven, Conn., for the engineering, sourcing, manufacturing and installation of three parts of the facility: the $4.7 million hall lobby, the $1 million rotunda and, most recently, the $1.5 million Overture Icon. Like any good architectural enclosure contractor, we considered art as well as science a part of our job on the project—not only crunching numbers, but morphing an architect’s artistic vision into a structural reality. By combining PCPA’s elite architectural design with our technical expertise, the lobby, rotunda and Icon surpass not only aesthetic standards, but practical ones as well.

PCPA chose to work with Novum, in part, because we had worked together previously on projects such as the $11.4 million glass enclosure on the Goldman Sachs building in Jersey City, N.J. 

Making Art a Science
We began work on the Overture lobby and rotunda in 2000. After successfully completing those first two phases in 2003, PCPA consulted with us on the third and final phase, the Icon, in March 2004. The architect wanted the Icon to resemble an ice cube on its edge, with a transparent sloping exterior and an all-glass grand staircase rising two stories from the lobby to the second floor. 

But these interesting architectural ideas required creative engineering. The wall’s 45-degree slope and tapered look called for large glass panels at the base that gave way to smaller panels toward the top—not an easy feat to achieve. Finding an attachment mechanism for the stairway that was both attractive and affordable also would prove to be demanding. Because we were involved from the beginning, we were able to help address these issues. 

At this early stage, our engineers took PCPA’s conceptual design ideas and turned them into colored renderings for review and priced them. Throughout preconstruction, we collaborated with PCPA and suggested a significant number of changes that enhanced the architect’s design at a reasonable cost. 

Two working visual mock-ups were particularly crucial as we tackled the Icon’s pricing and design challenges. For example, the architect’s initial design called for a mechanical connection covered in sheet metal to join suspended A-frames, but the mock-up revealed that this looked unfinished. Instead we replaced the mechanical connections with beautiful stainless steel pins and left the hinged connection exposed, eliminating the need for messy sheet metal. 

Finding the Right Tools
As we selected systems and materials, transparency was paramount. The wall design called for 72 extremely large pieces of insulating, low-iron glass to reduce support points. We suggested our linear supported glazing to decrease layering effects and to accommodate the large panels required of the project. Grey sealant was used to make the glass appear more seamless. 

The wall relied on stainless steel rods suspended from overhead steel and seven two-piece A-frames connected by stainless steel pins. To maximize transparency, the glass was held away from the A-frames with stand-offs. For this we chose an architecturally exposed steel system, a structural solution for applications with larger pieces. For the stainless steel tension rods, we used a tension rod system to cut down the span of the A-frames and facilitate the use of a smaller member, reducing sightlines. 

The glass stairs’ design included triple laminated, low-iron glass for the treads and a non-skid ceramic frit to improve walkability on the top surface. The railing design used point supported glass to enhance the staircase’s transparency and to give it a beautiful sheen when the building was lit at night. 

We chose a mix of domestic and international sourcing to control the budget, supplying the steel ourselves and getting the glass from Eckelt Glas GmbH in Austria.

Putting It All Together
After we had worked with PCPA to fully develop the design and had chosen the appropriate materials and systems, installation on the 5,545-square-foot Overture Icon began in March 2005. 

For the installation, a crane hoisted cumbersome glass units into place and attached the glass to the glazing using suction cups. We completed our work on the lobby and rotunda in August 2005 and on the Icon in April 2006. The Overture Center opened to the public in September 2005, occupying a full city block between the state capitol and the University of Wisconsin. 

Due to creative and collaborative thinking by the architect and the architectural enclosure contractor, the Overture Center is an engineering feat, as well as a work of art. 

Terry Peterson is vice president of sales for Novum Structures, Menomonee Falls, Wis. 

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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