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Innovative Collaboration


metal architecture green scene philadelphia university kanbar collegePhiladelphia University's new Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce (DEC) functions as a shared resource to bring together three different disciplines working on real-world projects. "The program is set up so that the disciplines collaborate around projects that take students through the full process of bringing a product to market, from ideation to conception, production and distribution," explains Jay Verspyck, AIA, LEED AP, project designer with Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch, the project architect.

Designed to showcase the school's integrated learning approach, flexibility is key to the $20 million, 38,500-square-foot DEC. Its core space is a design studio supported by classrooms, seminars, student study and workshops, all of which can be easily reconfigured with moveable partitions. "These spaces are organized in clusters to create a flexible and dynamic learning environment that students and teachers can flow easily between," says Verspyck. "All spaces are designed to allow for different furniture configurations, from structured lecture style to small informal workgroups."

As a shared campus resource, the building is designed to feel very open and accessible at ground level and more protected and less public the higher up you go. A large two-story Forum space is the most public and transparent space, designed to absorb the topography of the site, engage with campus movement around and through the building, and offer panoramic views of the campus.

"Very important to creating an environment conducive to collaboration is providing plentiful amounts of informal space for impromptu conversations," explains Verspyck. "We have provided such spaces throughout the building at places of confluence such as outside the classroom, along circulation paths, in stairways, at building entrances, where chance encounters are most likely to occur."

metal architecture green scene philadelphia university kanbar collegeSolar Screen

Tasked with integrating sustainable strategies in the building while physically manifesting the school's commitment to sustainability in its design, Shepley Bulfinch designed a perforated metal solar screen that wraps the building, creating its signature form while reducing solar heat gain and providing maximum views for occupants.

Perforated by Accurate Perforating, Chicago, the metal shell arches effortlessly around the building. The curved metal panels resemble watermill wheels and are symbolic of the progressive movement of the school's approach to learning, and the proud history of the city's water sanitation initiative.

The metal screen is both symbolic and functional."On a symbolic level, the building serves as an 'incubator,' and the metal screen that wraps the building can be likened to a cocoon and just as a cocoon is a mesh-like casing that protects the metamorphic process of butterflies, so too does the wrapping metal screen harbor the process of creation, where germinating ideas are transformed into physical realities," Verspyck says. "We nicknamed the metal screen 'the veil,' because of the way it is designed to both conceal and reveal visibility into the building."

"On a functional level, the screen serves as a climate modifier," Verspyck continues. "Because the long orientations of the building face east and west, it is subject to considerable exposure to sun and heat gain. The screen is engineered to mitigate the effects of solar heat gain and sunlight into the interior spaces, and thereby represents a highly visible sustainable design feature."

While consulting with the structural engineering firmRice Engineering, Luxemburg, Wis., Accurate quoted the project with key improvements to the originally specified material thickness, changing it from 0.05- to 0.08-inch-thick aluminum, and the depth of the corrugated profile from 3 to 5 inches. By doing this, they were able to avoid complications that could have compromised the arches' structural integrity.

The metal shell is made up of 300 panels of anodized aluminum in 10 different lengths and configurations, with some reaching up to 20 feet in length; along with custom V-Beam corrugations, 5 inches deep; 3/8-inch by 9/16-inch perforation in the metal, with 40 percent open areas and a class 1 clear anodizing finish.

Metal bracing sets the perforated screen apart from the DEC, allowing air movement between the two to further cool the building. Accurate Perforating had to create a primary steel structure to hold up the building along with a secondary structure of precast that spans from column to column acting as both skin and structure. Galvanized steel spider struts were anchored to the skin to create an armature for the perforated metal screen.

"We had 9-foot 4-inch spacing set up for the screen's galvanized steel ribs," explains Geoffrey Barter, AIA, project architect and construction administration architect, Shepley Bulfinch. "This created a span for the aluminum perforation that was wider than standard panel sizes, predicating the need to customize perforated panels to span the distance."

As an interior expression of the exterior screen, Accurate Perforating also designed a lighter gauge perforated aluminum acoustical suspended ceiling for the forum. "The ceiling is a complex custom system that [Shepley Bulfinch] designed," adds Barter. "Suspended from a composite concrete deck, it has a blanket of acoustical insulation above it. The panel is curved and faceted along the radius to mimic the underside of the exterior screen, and its joints are centered on the exterior mullion."

metal architecture green scene philadelphia university kanbar collegeSustainable Practices

Designed for LEED Silver certification, the DEC's green roof reduces stormwater run-off by approximately 50 percent annually by absorbing rainfall and slowing the rate of run-off, decreasing stress on the sewer system. The roof also features a solar thermal heating system from Evosolar, a division of Jomar International, Warren, Mich., that provides renewable energy for the center's domestic hot water, reducing the water heating load by approximately 35 percent during the spring and fall.

Energy-efficient windows reflect heat in the summer and retain warmth in the winter to save on heating and cooling costs. Rooms feature daylight and motion sensors, and the building also has low-flow plumbing fixtures, such as dual-flush toilets, that reduce water use by 32 percent.

Alternative transportation is encouraged, with a campus shuttle and public bus stop located near the DEC. Additionally, bike racks are situated next to the center and throughout campus, with showers for cyclists available nearby.

During construction, 232 tons, or more than 84 percent of the construction waste, was diverted from landfills through recycling.

Design Evolution

Verspyck notes that one of the fascinating aspects about the process of conceiving this building was that the design evolved together with the development of the academic program that it houses. "This was done through a highly interactive process with faculty and staff, where design ideas informed the program development and vice versa," he says. "The building is intended to be a flexible beta testing ground for pedagogical experimentation. We hope to learn more from it as the program evolves."


Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, Philadelphia University, Philadelphia

Completed: December 2012

Architect: Shepley Bulfinch, Boston

General contractor: Intech Construction Inc., Philadelphia

Civil engineer: Boles, Smyth Associates Inc., Philadelphia

Structural engineer: Rice Engineering, Luxemburg, Wis.

Installer: M. Cohen and Sons, Broomall, Pa.

Glazing: Kawneer Co. Inc., Norcross, Ga.,

Perforated screen: Accurate Perforating, Chicago,

Rooftop solar thermal collector: Evosolar, a division of Jomar International, Warren, Mich.,

Middle Photo: Anton Grassl/Esto

Bottom Photo: Halkin Architectural Photography