Soaring Polytechnic Project Lets Builders Stand Tall
When fully open and upright, the 94 operable louver arms atop Florida Polytechnic University's $60-million Innovation Science and Technology building seem to salute in unison the birth of the nation's newest engineering school. Perched together in synchronous harmony, the aluminum wing-like structures stand not only as a testament to a soaring architectural vision, but also to the builders who were able to realize without compromise Santiago Calatrava's dramatic concept for the two-story, 300,000-gross-sq-ft building.
Achieving the movable rooftop shading system was key to the overall project's success, Frank Lorino, chief architect of Calatrava's New York office, told ENR Southeast earlier this year. "The movement of the louver arms is integral to the design functionally, technologically and symbolically."
Contractors completed the fledgling university's signature building in June 2014, just two months before the arrival of the first class of students. Containing research and teaching labs, classrooms, offices, common areas and an amphitheater, the IST facility provides all of the new school's core functions in a single building.
Skanska's contract also covered construction of a 5,000-sq-ft campus control center, a two-mile ring road, eight retention ponds and 27 miles of sidewalks.
Emblematic of Calatrava's avant-garde geometry, the design proved challenging to construct. Utilizing exposed structural pieces throughout, the conceptual vision demanded both engineering and design precision and high-level construction craftsmanship.
The building's curved roof, which sits on an oval base, is topped by the 250-ft-long skylight shading system built of those 94 custom louver arms, which were designed to form an arc while rising and lowering daily, in sync with the sun. The louvered arms—some measuring more than 60 ft in length—will control solar heat gain and interior light, and are designed to contain photovoltaic tape, for possible future power generation. The 3D puzzle-like design continues around the building's perimeter, where 84 aluminum pergolas fit together to form a shaded outdoor space.
To achieve the vision, builders started from scratch, working from only a conceptual description. Over a period of approximately two years, contractors and consultants collaborated over design to explore possible construction approaches. Originally, the architect proposed building the louver system as a pair of matched structural-steel components, an approach that would have generated extreme structural loads.
Eventually, structural engineering consultant Thornton Thomasetti and steel fabricator MG McGrath proposed the system of 94 independent units built of aluminum instead of steel. The solution resulted in a design that a member of the team characterized as "simplified, more economical and more structurally sound."
That kind of collaboration was key, says Roger Webb, operations manager for Baker Concrete Construction. Project leaders "engaged the design members into the construction process more than I've ever seen," he says.
An example of that was Minnesota-based steel fabricator MG McGrath, which engineered and installed the steel stanchions, operable louver arms and aluminum pergolas. For its work on the Florida Polytechnic project, the firm earned ENR Southeast's Best Specialty Contracting award.
As they fleshed out Calatrava's original concepts, contractors, engineers and architects remained focused on delivering the designer's original intent, says Chuck Jablon, Skanska's project leader and vice president of operations.
In the end, he says, "Keeping the architect's design vision intact without compromising the budget and with maintaining above-standard levels of quality was a major accomplishment."
Throughout the project, builders knew this project was different, Jablon adds. "We knew it was something special at the beginning, but when we saw Calatrava's vision and design actually working, and capturing everybody's attention, it made it extra special to know that we were the ones delivering it."
Jablon, who remained on site for building systems start-up, reports that the facility is finding favor with students. "It inspires the students, and inspires everybody who comes into it," he says. "And how many projects and designs can you say do that?"
Southeast Building Project of the Year, Best Higher Education/Research, Best Specialty Contracting - Florida Polytechnic University, Innovation, Science and Technology Building
Contractor Skanska USA Building, Tampa
Owner Florida Polytechnic University, Lakeland, Fla.
Lead Architect Santiago Calatrava/Festina Lente LLC, New York
Steel Fabricator MG McGrath, Maplewood, Minn.
Architect of Record Alfonso Architects, Tampa
Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti, Newark, N.J.
MEP Engineer TLC Engineering for Architecture, Tampa
Civil Engineer Anderson Lane, Clearwater, Fla.
Technology Designer APG Electric, Clearwater, Fla.
Survey/Layout Design Chastain-Skillman, Lakeland, Fla.
Concrete Contractor Baker Concrete Construction, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Electrical Contractor Borrell Electric, Tampa
HVAC Contractor Tappouni Mechanical Services, Tampa
Masonry Contractor Advanced Masonry, Ocala, Fla.
Deep Foundations Contractor Earth Tech Inc., Land O’ Lakes, Fla.
Architectural Woodwork/Millwork Akira Wood, Gainesville, Fla.
Glazing Contractor BCI, Tampa
Drywall Contractor Advanced Drywall Systems, Ocala, Fla.