Volume 26, Issue 4 - July/August 2012


Benchmark Design

Custom Curtainwall Gives New Research
Center Strength and Style

by Ellen Rogers


When the ocean is your backyard, even a research facility should be impressive. And Nova Southeastern University’s new Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Science on the ocean side of Port Everglades in Hollywood, Fla., isn’t just some ho-hum lab. Designed by the Washington, D.C., branch of Cannon Design Architects, the 86,000-square-foot structure is located at the university’s Oceanographic Center and its National Coral Reef Institute, funded in part by a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology at a cost of more than $30 million.

Given its coastal location, only a couple hundred yards from the ocean, the structure needed a hurricane-resistant façade that that would also provide the aesthetics that the owners wanted.

Working in a close collaboration design-build process, Cannon Design and Crawford Tracey in Deerfield Beach, Fla., designed and built a unique, blue glass structure, completed this past May, which out-performed all of the given requirements.

Design Details
According to architect Andy Smith with Cannon Design, the owners weren’t looking to create a typical box structure. Instead, the goal was to create a structure with dynamic forms, representative of the ocean waves and motion.

“[Owners wanted to] maximize transparency to the north side and take advantage of spectacular coastal views on all sides,” says Smith, noting that at the same they would have to “use materials and systems that would meet the necessary Notice of Acceptance (NOA) requirements and be resilient in this incredibly harsh coastal environment.”

Smith adds, “They wanted a signature building that would encourage exploration, take advantage of views and context, meet the specific needs of the researchers and scientists, encourage support and become a recruiting tool for new students and researchers.”

The result is an elliptical-shaped structure that features a custom, structural silicone-glazed curtainwall that Crawford Tracey developed and tested specifically for this job. Crawford Tracey, in fact, was responsible for the design, engineering, manufacturing and installation of the entire system, a 9-inch extrusion depth curtainwall. PPG’s Pacifica blue tinted glass was made into the 9/16-inch overall laminated units for large missile impact resistance.

The project’s glazing square footage is roughly 25,000 square feet. Panel sizes range from 5 x 9 feet and 3 x 11 feet. There were more than 800 lites of glass installed.

Bill Bonner with Crawford Tracey was the lead estimator on the project. He says that, while his company was asked to provide products that could meet the designated windload requirements, they actually engineered a system that exceeded the designated performance requirements.

“Because of the building’s unique shape, it required developing and testing a new system,” says Bonner. “We had the system on paper and had done a small job with it, so we went ahead and did project-specific hurricane testing for this one and we were able to far exceed the requirements for this building. The engineer of record was set on the design pressure being at the high end, so we had no problem meeting that.”

Bonner points out that the project has a very wide span, up to 16.5 feet slab-to-slab.

“Also the shape of the building is an elliptical combined with an angular design of the skin,” he says. “It resembles a football stuck together at different angles.” He adds that the high-performance, reflective glass provides a powerful shading coefficient, which was important to the architects and owners.

Smith says they chose to work with glazing products significantly since it was so important to take advantage of the views and also maximize the light.

He adds, “All of our recent projects in Florida have been designed to these NOA requirements with both small missile impact and large missile impact considerations.”

Bonner explains that for this project the glazing system had to meet large missile impact requirements and had to pass TAS 201, 202 and 203. The system endured impact testing as well as pressure testing, which included 4,500 cycles of positive pressure and 4,500 cycles of negative pressure. Water testing was done as well.

Testing and approval took about six months, according to Bonner, but sometimes takes longer.

“We were able to get this done quickly because we went through the Florida Building Code (FBC) rather than Metro Dade,” he says. “The FBC now overrides Metro Dade as it’s a state entity.”

Keep it Together
When it comes to constructing a hurricane-resistant project there are many factors to consider that are unique to these systems and performance requirements. For example, Smith says maximizing the glass area while still maintaining the required mechanical equipment performance criteria and energy efficiency was a challenge. He adds that “accommodating the requirements of the system with regard to span and modularity while still maintaining the curvilinear, amorphous form of the façade,” were also challenging.

Bonner adds that compared to non-hurricane projects, everything, simply put, about these designs can be a challenge.

“The design loads on these projects are much higher compared to others,” he says. “You have to consider the design performance of the entire structure, from the doors to the roof to the walls.”

Building Strong
The whole process was a collaborative one.

“The project delivery model was design build, which allowed the design team to work with Crawford Tracey from schematic design through construction,” says Smith.

Bonner adds, “From a project perspective (based on my past experience) this could not have been done with off-the-shelf products (because of the unique design). It was a good exercise in accurate costing and working with a design team to make sure we had the right materials.”

While there are a number of architectural firms that are experienced and knowledgeable about designing and building a hurricane-resistant structure, there are still many who are unfamiliar. Bonner says it’s critical to evaluate each project independently from the start and not base it on previous designs.

“You have to look at each situation independently because the design of each project is different,” says Bonner. “Design is one thing; functional design is another.”

So how can architects ensure a successful hurricane project design?

“Consult with someone who knows about these projects—and consult with more than one person because every jurisdiction is different and the design has to be location and project specific.”

And as for Nova’s new research facility?

“It’s a good benchmark for oceanographic design,” says Bonner. “It grabs the eye.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal magazine. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @AGGmagazine and like AGG magazine on Facebook to receive updates.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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