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Complementary Copper

4Th Pres1

Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, metal architecture, 2014 design awards, overall winner, natural metals winnerIts simple elegance is what really struck the judges about the Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Cloaked in a weathered copper skin, the five-story, 82,000-square-foot center provides more space for the church's educational, outreach, music and fellowship programs including tutoring, day school, and the Academy for Faith and Life. It contains classrooms, a preschool facility, versatile chapel that can accommodate more than 350 people, gathering spaces, dining room and kitchen facilities.


Project Strategy

The architectural firm, Gensler, Chicago, was challenged to add onto a historic, 100-year-old church, while building something that described the church's desire of heading toward the future without disrespecting the past. "Even though they had this very historic, cherished and well-loved building, they wanted a building that was going to look forward and would point toward the vitality of the next 100 years of the church," says Brian Vitale, design director.

To do that, Vitale and Todd Heiser, design principal, started out with a robust strategy that had them meeting with hundreds of user groups of all ages and levels of participation within the church to understand their needs. By spending a lot of time with the stakeholders, Heiser says there were able to create a really strong point of view from which to embark on the project. "[This process] allows us to create a very cohesive story around the materiality and design, and it is one story as opposed to a story for the architecture and a story for the interiors," Heiser adds.


Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, metal architecture, 2014 design awards, overall winner, natural metals winnerDesign Framework

Heiser and Vitale's initial design work developed a framework that the entre project could live under. Built in 1912, the original gothic church features one-of-a-kind craftsmanship and limestone detailing. Initially, the architects concentrated on all of the limestone details, but after seeing a photograph of the original church taken from the neighboring Hancock Tower, they re-focused their attention on all of the copper details, which included the roof, dormers, downspouts and gutters. "What was interesting was that we were looking at the same building, but at the same time we were seeing a completely different material," explains Vitale.

The discovery of the church's copper detailing made it the material of choice for the new building, which the architects wanted to complement, not mimic, the original structure. "We wanted to do something different, just like complementary colors, things that are opposite make each other stronger," says Vitale. "And when we did that, we realized that the copper would be a great building material because it was truly an accent, or a foil, to the mainstay of the church.

"So once we decided that the new building should be copper, with that patinated color, it immediately took on an accessory role and allowed the original structural to be the main structure, while the new building, even though it kind of had to stand alone, was always going to be seen as an accessory to the main sanctuary."

All of the material decisions were based on the story, Heiser explains, which removes the possibility of multiple options, creating clarity and a single option."Materials weren't chosen based on arbitrary likes and dislikes," he says. "They were chosen based on a structure that had been set up for the project."


Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, metal architecture, 2014 design awards, overall winner, natural metals winnerCopper Cues

Craftsmen at Tuschall Engineering Co. Inc., Burr Ridge, Ill., custom-cut, bent and hand-rubbed approximately 14,160 square feet of 20-ounce flat lock copper panels. The 1,800 individual copper panels are 16 by 84 inches, which matches the proportions of the windows on the original church, creating synergy between the two buildings.

The copper panels wrap inside the building, where 148 hand-rubbed copper panels form a backdrop to the chapel. Rather than use the same patina green as the exterior, the architects decided to go with a warm, dirty penny patina, since copper located inside wouldn't patina the same way as the exterior copper. While many people don't consider metal warm, it was copper's natural quality, much like a veneer, Heiser says, that helps create a cohesive design and story throughout.

"It's really interesting to see how the material transitions from the outside to the interior, and changes color in the same way, just because of the way that it would have reacted to the environment," says Vitale.

Earl A. Hernandez, director of sales and marketing at Tuschall, explains that the patina was achieved with a proprietary hand-applied chemical solution. A slightly different treatment on the copper was chosen for the interior applications to achieve the desired distressed brown/copper look. Hernandez explains that these copper panels will darken slightly with time, but not actually develop a patina and turn green. "This design brings the outside in, but still offers a contrast," he says. "This was a great design and use of copper complementing two very different design styles."


Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, metal architecture, 2014 design awards, overall winner, natural metals winnerCommunity Outreach

The Gratz Center's south façade cantilevers out over the entryway, creating a natural enclosure for the building. The chapel, which sits above the cantilevered entry, symbolically reaches out toward the community and features a 38-foot-tall vertical window that acts as a modern steeple.

Expected to achieve LEED Silver certification, the Gratz Center features three green roofs visible to surrounding high-rise neighbors. The clearstories allow for light to come into the building and views going out, while the green roofs provide a beautiful foreground from which people can look at the original church, Vitale describes. Additionally, classrooms on the third and fourth floors are located entirely on access to daylight as well as views.

One thing that's interesting about this project, Vitale says, is that because of the copper, people immediately recognize the building and have nicknamed it "the copper building." "Because copper is really unusual in the way that we used it, it gets a lot of attention," he says.

Attention that even the judges of the 2014 Metal Architecture Design Awards felt that it warranted, selecting the Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center as the overall and natural metals winner.


Genevieve and Wayne Gratz Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Completed: 2013
Square footage: 82,000 square feet
Owner: Fourth Presbyterian Church
Architect: Gensler, Chicago
General contractor: Turner Construction Co., Chicago
Metal fabricator/installer: Tuschall Engineering Co., Burr Ridge, Ill.
Copper: Canadian Brass and Copper Co., Concord, Ontario, Canada
Curtainwall: Kawneer Co. Inc., Norcross, Ga.
Glass: Viracon Inc., Owatonna, Minn.