A Metal Building Gets a Leg Up

It’s the interior of the Mesa Rim climbing gym in San Marcos, Calif., that defines the exterior and gives it its unique design feature. Because the climbing walls, some as tall as 60 feet, occupy such a large place in the building, it’s nearly impossible to get natural light into the interior. But Richard and Richard Construction, San Marcos, working as a design/build firm, carved out the corners of the building to let in light and reveal the structure itself.

Distinguishing fenestration reveals a metal building’s structure

By Paul Deffenbaugh
Photos: Richard Barber

An elegant solution such as that is just one of the reasons the Metal Architecture Design Award judges awarded this project the best in category for metal buildings. “The strategy around the glazing helped the structure of the building become almost like an ornament,” said Design Award judge Stephen Van Dyck, AIA, LEED AP, partner, LMN Architects, Seattle. “It exposed a lot of the bones of the building in a really beautiful way.” The judges were drawn to the fenestration, and Brent Schipper, AIA, LEED AP, principal, ASK Studio, Des Moines, Iowa, another judge, said, “It’s a simple building. They let the fenestration speak to what the building did. I thought that was a unique way to use a very common building.”

Gary Seward, LEED AP, was the architect for Richard and Richard Construction, and he says, “Inside it’s all climbing walls and there’s not a lot of room for windows. So, we had to sneak them into the corners and made them asymmetrical. We didn’t want it to be so symmetrical because the building is boxy. We wanted to play with that and create more angles.”

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One Step Down and Another Building

The building sits on a slope in the middle of the revitalized downtown area of San Marcos. It’s part of a redevelopment project in an area that included several aging metal buildings, which provided some inspiration for the project. “For a long time, the area has been old industrial buildings and worn-down houses,” says Seward. “Now, it’s going to be the center core of the city. What they wanted to do is create some synergy there and give some interest. That’s why we picked a metal building.”

The metal building system was supplied by American Buildings Co., Eufaula, Ala., and erected by G&W Builders Inc., Brea, Calif. In fact, it’s two buildings. Bill Greer, vice president at G&W Builders explains. “The main tower is 60 feet tall and the attached building is 40 feet, which is a pretty good height for a metal building in Sothern California. Because of the loads, we couldn’t do a lean-to building, connecting the rafters to the columns. We had to have another set of columns and make the buildings independent of each other.”

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The building is on a slope, so the lower building features a full mezzanine with the welcome desk, shop, office and other facilities on the first floor, while the second floor is dominated by the bouldering room.

In addition to the slope driving the need for two buildings, there were also the seismic requirements, requiring the two structures to be independent of each and forcing a gap between the buildings. The building had to be rated for more than 300 occupants, so it required the building to be in risk category 3 for seismic codes because it takes longer for people to exit the building. That meant special consideration to frame movement.

One of the solutions, besides creating two buildings instead of one, was to use a unique restraint system. “With the seismic loadings as well as all the climbing walls and boulders,” says Greer, “we couldn’t do ordinary moment frames. We had to use buckle-restrained bracing.” A buckle-restrained brace consists of a slender steel core and a concrete casing that supports the core and prevents it from buckling.

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Interior and Exterior

Adding to the loading issues were the climbing walls, which attached to the metal frame. In addition to the normal bracing required for a metal building system, G&W Builders needed to install horizontal bracings that the climbing walls could tie into. “The climbing wall company did a great job of laying out what we needed,” says Greer. “They told us exact locations and we just needed to provide tube steel at those elevations. Once they gave us the loads, it was really making sure we had those columns in the correct locations.”

Because all those loads required two buildings, it would have been easy to let the structure read that way, but it actually reads as one complete building because of the metal skin and the roofing. Both roofs are single slope that shed toward the downhill side of the building. The lower building includes an internal gutter to capture the water runoff. A parapet wall hides the slopes and makes the buildings integrate more seamlessly.

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On the exterior wall, insulated metal panels define the separate structures yet keep them united as one cohesive whole. Careful use of palette and ribbing help clarify the definition of the building.

Roll-up sectionals on the mezzanine in the bouldering area open the interior to the exterior and provide more natural light. Combined with skylights from Solatube International Inc., Vista, Calif., the roll-ups allow the interior to be flooded with natural light, furthering blending the indoor and the outdoors.

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