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Lightning Bolts in the Ceiling Make Lasting Impression

Metal ceiling panels installed diagonally in a herringbone pattern create a signature space

Armstrong Dec17 1
A 6-inch gap separates each of the lightning bolts, while soft blue fluorescent lighting behind the panels represents the sky and adds even more interest to the ceiling visual.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Logistics & Reconditioning Center in Grandview, Mo., is responsible for the repair of all the radar systems and other forecasting equipment used by the NationalWeather Service’s stations around the world. Originally located in a facility built in the '30s, the Center is now housed in a newly constructed 238,000-square-foot building.

At the new facility, the main conference room is used to host everything from briefings and training sessions to tour groups and national meetings. As a result, the design team at Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo., felt it was important to create a space that would not only embody the Center’s mission but also provide the staff with a space they could be proud of.

Wanted Ceiling to Make an Impression

“We wanted to create a space that would leave a lasting impression of the facility,” states senior interior designer, Rhonda Hulkill, “and the best opportunity for making an impression is the ceiling.”

The design team originally considered suspending clouds from the ceiling, but that was not feasible because the space also serves as the facility’s storm shelter and there was not enough ceiling height. “To be effective, clouds need volume, and we just didn’t have the space,” Hulkill notes.

Then, working in collaboration with the YouInspire Solution Center at Armstrong Ceiling Solutions, Lancaster, Pa., the design team achieved its goal by creating a ceiling featuring custom 2-foot by 4-foot Armstrong MetalWorks RH215 aluminum ceiling panels installed diagonally across the room in a herringbone type of pattern.

The result is a visual reminiscent of lightning bolts coming down from the sky. A 6-inch gap separates each of the lightning bolts, while soft blue fluorescent lighting behind the panels represents the sky and adds even more interest to the ceiling visual.

All of the metal panels are perforated and backed with an acoustical fleece to provide sound absorption in the room. “Considering the multiple uses of the space, acoustical performance was a key consideration,” Hulkill states.


Armstrong MetalWorks aluminum ceiling panels were installed diagonally in a herringbone pattern to create a visual reminiscent of lightning bolts coming down from the sky.

Metal Ceiling Chosen for Durability, Reflectivity 

According to associate architect, Vicky Borchers, the MetalWorks ceiling panels were chosen because of their durability and reflectivity. “We wanted a certain amount of reflectance to extend the blue light into the room and give the space more life. This effect would not have been possible with standard acoustical ceiling tile. Because the panels are floating, we also wanted sharp, crisp edges since they are visible.” 

And as far as making an impression, Borchers reports that the conference room has become the facility’s signature space. “It is definitely the space everybody remembers and also the first place the staff takes everyone.”

Ceiling Layouts at Opposite Angles

When it came to the installation of the ceiling, Kevin Legg of K.D. Christian Construction Co. in Stilwell, Kan., notes the lightning bolt layout did present some challenges.

For example, an operable partition that can divide the room into separate spaces runs down the center of the room. The ceiling layouts on each side of the partition are at opposite angles. “While this looks great aesthetically,” notes the Legg, “it did not make it any easier for us.”

The NOAA ceiling took Gold in the Central Region, Office Category, of the 2016 Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Associatio (CISCA) Construction Excellence Awards.

James K. Kelley is director of the Lancaster, Pa.-based Armstrong Ceiling Solutions’ You Inspire Solution Center, a group of dedicated architects and engineers whose sole mission is to help in the design and installation of signature ceilings. He can be reached at To learn more, visit