Volume 41, Issue 11 - November 2006

Reaching New Heights
The New National Museum of the Marine Corps 
by Ellen Giard

Certain images must be seen only once to be etched permanently in our minds. They are images that remind us of an experience, a feeling we once had or a place we once visited. The history of the United States is filled with images like these; they are the images that have helped define this country and they are the images that continually remind us of the places from which we came and the direction in which we should be headed. The famous image of the six Marines raising an American flag at the top of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima during World War II does just that. And for Denver-based Fentress Bradburn Architects the image was an inspiration for its design of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which is scheduled to open this month near Quantico, Va. 

The Groundwork
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is the first phase of the development of the $80 million Heritage Center, a place to educate the public about Marine Corps history, where artifacts can be restored and protected and related meetings can take place. 

In November of 2000 a two-stage national design competition was announced that would select the project’s architect. Nearly 30 architects submitted their qualifications in the first phase. 

A jury that included members of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, the director of the Marine Corps History and Museum Division and Naval Facilities staff narrowed the applicants down to four. They were then each given an honorarium of $50,000 and six weeks to develop a preliminary design. Fentress Bradburn was selected as the winning architect and the decision was announced on July 9, 2001, at the Pentagon.

Looking to History
To come up with the museum’s design concept the architects looked to history and personal experiences: reading books, examining photographs, even attending a Marine boot camp. The constant theme they found was that of moving “onward and upward.” To immortalize this imagery the architects designed a 210-foot stainless steel-clad mast that protrudes at a 60-degree angle through a conical skylight on top of the museum gallery. 

Construction costs totaled $30 million; of that, glass and metal construction costs totaled $5.7 million.

Onward and Upward
The museum’s atrium skylight was designed to serve as the dominant visual point. 

Naturalite Skylight Systems (part of the engineered products division of Terrell, Texas-based Vistawall Group) supplied and install the skylight, exterior aluminum beam cladding and the stainless steel mast panel systems for this project. They were the prime subcontractor to Centex Construction located in Fairfax, Va. Viracon of Owatonna, Minn., supplied the glass. 

Naturalite senior project manager Bruce Jamison says while his company installed the glazing system the metal panel installation work was subcontracted to National Panel Systems of Wexford, Pa.

Once fabricated, the glass was shipped to Triangle, Va., where it was installed into the skylight one lite at a time by a crane. Viracon supplied two main glass make-ups, both incorporating a high-performance, low-E coating on an EverGreen™ tinted glass substrate. The coatings used were the company’s VE8-2M and VE8-40. In addition, the 1 5/16-inch insulating laminated VE8-40 incorporated a dot silk-screen pattern on the number-two surface. 

“Once the order was received and entered into our production system, we spoke with the team at Naturalite weekly to communicate delivery schedules,” says Christine Shaffer, Viracon’s marketing manager. “Overall the team at Naturalite was very well organized with providing complete and detailed order information, allowing a smooth flow through the Viracon facility.” Shaffer continued, “A key detail was coordinating the delivery schedule to meet the customer needs. The only specific element that required particular attention was a weight restriction on a jobsite access road that altered our procedure for loading the delivery trucks.”

Heitmann & Associates of St. Louis was hired by the architect to provide consulting services.

“As a third-party consultant, from a design, engineering and construction standpoint, we wanted to make sure that when the project was complete the water was tight, the air was tight and the structure was structurally sound,” says president Glenn Heitmann. “From a technical role we make sure they [architects] have thought about the project from a reasonable design standpoint. And once the subcontractor is involved we make sure they are thinking everything all the way through and still meeting the design intent and the performance characteristics.” 

Naturalite was hired by Centex and Heitmann and Associates was brought in by the architect, so it was important to have coordination between them all. 

“There were several joint meetings with the architects and consultant to review shop-drawing submittals for the full-scale mock-up and the various phases of their work scope,” says Jamison. “The submittal process took approximately six months to complete due to the complex geometry of the rib beams and the tedious coordination between the structural steel, skylight and the interfaces with aluminum cladding and mast panel systems.” 

Once Naturalite had an approved setof drawings, they were issued to their shops and fabrication began. The actual fabrication of its BMS-3000 stick-built, custom skylight system was phased for design submittals and production-control scheduling. Jamison says his company used a multi-layered, 3D AutoCAD model to engineer the various systems of the skylight roof.

System Details
The skylight and mast that top the museum are unique. Thirty-eight columns support the skylight’s concrete ring beam, which serves as its base. A system of wide flange members called ridge and rib beams, also supplied by Naturalite, frame the skylight. The members are clad with factory pre-finished stainless steel that is designed to provide a contrast of texture compared to the mast’s more reflective stainless steel. The ridge beams are spaced 8 ½ feet apart along 1/3 of the ring beam and slope in the same direction as the mast. Smaller rib beams that are spaced closer together around the remainder of the ring run perpendicular to the ridge beams.

In addition, the conical skylight supports the stainless steel mast, which tapers in section from 15 by 7 feet at the base to 4 by 3 ½ feet at the top. The mast was designed as a hollow triangular spire for weight concerns and also because its interior will be used as a mechanical room. 

With such intricate details and designs, challenges were certain. 

“The installation of the skylight was complex and very difficult because of the 210 feet overall height, fanned geometry and the matrix of pipe scaffolding needed to access the work between the various rib beams,” says Jamison. “As the work progressed, the scaffolding was dismantled in a progressive manner and then rebuilt ahead of the framing crews.” He continues, “There was a 100-percent tie-off rule in effect throughout the erection of the skylight. At the completion of the project, Naturalite had expended approximately 34,000 man-hours without a lost-time injury.”

Heitmann agrees, saying, “From a construction standpoint, the project was very labor intensive to get to the top of the mast because it was so uniquely designed and sloped.” He explains that the apex in particular posed significant design and installation challenges. “Bringing that together was a dimensional and constructional challenge. We had to be sure all parts worked together in terms of the tolerances.”

The structure’s unique design posed other challenges, as well. For example, as each rib beam changed, the angles changed. While in the design phase, Naturalite had to take these intricate changes in geometry into consideration.

“AutoCAD allowed for the creation of 3D modeling,” says Jamison. “We could then overlay our system on top of the model, allowing us to really get in and see what the structure would look like.” Jamison adds. “The design and installation challenges made this project unique and exciting, as well as the satisfaction of completing it with a 100-percent safety record.”

Passing the Test
To ensure the final structure would perform the way in which it was intended, performance testing was done through Architectural Testing Inc. (ATI) in York, Pa. Tests included static air and static water, dynamic water, structural design, structural proofing and thermal cycling. Jamison says ATI also performed thermal design and condensation resistance testing to ensure thermal requirements were met.

Though the skylight may be the dominant glazing element of the museum, glass can be found throughout. College Park Glass of Hyattsville, Md., installed the curtainwall, storefronts and entrances, windows and interior, specialty glass—three lites of glass spanning 13 by 8 feet etched and sandblasted with the Marine Corps logo.

AFG’s Richmond, Va., facility supplied the glass for the curtainwall, storefronts/entrances and windows. 

Allen Keane, who served as College Park’s onsite foreman and was also responsible for quality control, says they had done jobs on the Quantico base in the past, and had also worked with Centex on several jobs. Keane says that while their work on the job took them about a year, it was completed in different phases.

“They were ready for us at different times,” says Keane. “First they wanted the exterior windows, then the interior windows, then the curtainwall, etc.”

According to Keane, Centex put precedence on safety and quality control, requiring every contractor on the job to take the construction quality management course for contractors that is issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

“This helped to make sure the whole project was done the way the architect and owner wanted it done,” says Keane, who adds, “Centex was very thorough on the job.”

So thorough, in fact, that Keane says Centex hired a former marine to serve as its onsite quality control manager. “They wanted someone who would have more pride [in the work] than anyone else and he was on site at all times and in to every detail of the project,” says Keane.

More than Meets the Eye
Not only is the National Museum of the Marine Corps visually appealing, but it was also designed with a number of features that are not visually recognizable. For example, one design goal was to create a “green” structure. The architectural team applied for a LEED rating, and the skylight’s designed offered one way to help achieve such status. The skylight features green tinted, high-performance, low-emissivity, insulating, laminated glass. In addition, the orientation of the museum’s lobby, classrooms, offices, dining and other areas that are directly off the central gallery allow these spaces to benefit from controlled daylighting (Note: at press time the design team had not yet learned whether the project had earned LEED status).

Another hidden aspect of the project is that the front curtainwall was designed to be demountable. Keane says this was done so it would be easy for the museum staff to replace or update large artifacts, such as tanks.

A Last Look
Overall, the process that allowed the National Museum of the Marine Corps to take shape was relatively smooth, considering the complex nature of the project. 

Jamison says a few re-makes were required, but he had expected there would have been more challenges, especially with the mast.

“Each elevation of the stakes that comprise it continue 210 feet above the museum, down to the base of the floor to tie the whole building together and each panel was a different size and angle,” he says.

It is not only the aesthetics of the museum that make it unique, but also the vision by which it was created. 

“This project is unique because of its design inspiration,” says Heitmann. “That’s what really makes it stand out.”

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