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Diamond Entry

A multi-faceted metal façade draws shoppers into a newly renovated mall

La Plaza Oct18 4

A $50 million expansion and renovation of La Plaza Mall, McAllen, Texas, draws on the inspiration of the surrounding environment, and the change is showcased in the metal sculpture-like façades of the three entryways. One of the entries is new construction, but two are renovations, which created its own set of construction complications. In fact, the fabrication of the façades required all the skill and expertise of a metal fabricator, which also drew on its long history in motor sports to make the project work. But the façades began with inspiration.

“At La Plaza, we didn’t want the main entry façade that faces a major highway to be just another EIFS or glass curtainwall mall entry that is so prevalent in retail architecture today,” says Mark Cahill, AIA, CDP, vice president of design for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the mall owners. “We strive to create modern design solutions that integrate regional aesthetics that tie our projects to the communities they serve. With the project so close to Mexico, we decided to look south of the border for design inspiration.”

Dallas-based OmniPlan was the project architect, working closely with Simon Property Group. Randy McCown, AIA, director of the retail division for OmniPlan, says, “To create a consistent modern, clean icon for La Plaza Mall, Omniplan elected to create exciting patterned screens to represent the entries. The unit began with the study of a decorative concrete block seen in traditional haciendas. By flattening, skewing, folding, subtracting and reconnecting, a new form was created.”

Before

Dallas-based OmniPlan was the project architect, working closely with Simon Property Group. Randy McCown, AIA, director of the retail division for OmniPlan, says, “To create a consistent modern, clean icon for La Plaza Mall, Omniplan elected to create exciting patterned screens to represent the entries. The unit began with the study of a decorative concrete block seen in traditional haciendas. By flattening, skewing, folding, subtracting and reconnecting, a new form was created.”

Cahill adds, “The 3-D, folded diamond-shaped modular screens create tremendous depth to the façade. The screen’s pattern is highlighted by the intense Texas sunlight creating multifacetted shade and shadow by day, and highlighted at night with accent lighting.” The diamond shape design element was also picked up on the mall interior in large-scale floor tile patterns.

The façade was fabricated and installed by bo-mar Industries, Indianapolis. Bob Buchana, president, and his team figured out an efficient way to fabricate the pattern using 1,938 1/8-inch aluminum panels coated with Fluropon, manufactured by Minneapolis-based Sherwin-Williams Coil and Extrusion Coatings (formerly Valspar Corp.). “It’s probably one of the largest projects we’ve taken on and it was outside our comfort zone,” says Buchanan, because of the project’s scope and its distance from Indianapolis. Still, bo-mar Industries landed the contract because it was able to deliver three prototypes in two days.

Even with figuring out how to manufacture the panels, they still needed to transport them to Texas and install them, which presented its own challenges. In a nutshell, the panels were built into 8-foot by 40-foot sections with the returns kept separate. Onsite, they were fastened to outriggers that could be slid in and out, and had to be precisely placed. The outriggers had end plates with slots for bolts that matched plates on the panels, also slotted. During installation, the plates and slots matched perfectly. “We didn’t have to drill one hole,” says Buchanan. One of the biggest challenges was making sure the panels fit around the steel windows, so everything was built to the existing structure, which was field measured. Because the façades sit 3 feet off the main wall, the returns needed to have a removable panel to give access to the electrical and lighting installations.

There was little room for error. It was bo-mar Industries’ extensive experience in motor sports and its very tight tolerances that helped it meet the strict requirements of the project. Gaps are measured in millimeters on cars compared to inches in construction, and this project demanded that more precise tolerance.

Start to finish, the project lasted six months with about six weeks total for installation. “We could only work at night,” says Buchanan, because the entries needed to be open during shopping hours. In addition, the Indiana crew soon learned that the Texas heat was more bearable after dark.

“It was one of the most perfect projects I’ve ever done in my life,” says Buchanan. “It was a lot of luck and a lot of praying.” The result is a beacon that directs and attracts customers, drawing them into a shopping experience in a structure that is reminiscent of the architecture and environment surrounding it. A diamond.