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Best Accessories: Warren Civic Center: A Futuristic Take on Classical Architecture

The Warren Civic Center in Warren, Mich., a suburb near Detroit, may be more than just a building. It's the start of something. A symbol of what the community hopes to become. The civic center is a combination library/city hall that will be the center of the town's new downtown district, which includes a city square park and the General Motors Technical Center.

Bert Koseck, AIA, LEED AP, was on the design team for Neumann/Smith Architecture, Southfield, Mich., that was charged with creating this important structure. He said the 109,667-square-foot (10,188-m2) project both harkens back to the past and reaches toward the future.

"The building has a futuristic look about it with a high-tech character because that represents philosophically, from a visionary standpoint where they want to go. It was not about giving up their past, which was more industrial. That was the high-tech of its day," he said.

Much of that futuristic look is because of the cantilevered canopy, which measures 140 feet (43 m) at its widest point and 100 feet (30 m) in length. The canopy, comprised of multiple geometrically shaped panels, was fabricated by Sobotec Ltd., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Fabricated from Alucobond Plus Aluminum Composite Material manufactured by Alcan Composites USA Inc., Mooresville, N.C., with a fire-rated core, the canopy is in the custom LCH Silver color and is 0.16-inch (4-mm) thick. It was installed by Michigan Metal Walls Inc., Wyandotte, Mich., with Sobotec's SL 2000 Dry Rain Screen System and Buildex stainless-steel screws.

Five support columns made of 26-inch- (660-mm- ) diameter tubes fabricated from 1/4-inch- (6-mm- ) thick steel and painted to match the LCH Silver color were positioned beneath the canopy. A total of 23,240 square feet (2,159 m2) of the Alucobond product was used on the building, including the canopy.

"High-tech [and] metal. [They] go together really well," Koseck said. "The idea of this, we refer to it as a porch, if you look back at … the Greeks and the Romans, and Thomas Jefferson stole it, it's classical architecture. This is a modern interpretation of that very traditional iconic representation of civic architecture. Instead of marble with a lot of ornamentation, it's built out of glass and steel."

Koseck said the canopy helps to grab people's attention as they drive by and draw them into the heart of this new downtown area.


Design Awards judge Tony Cosentino seems to agree: "The grand scale of the roof, columns and glass atrium make for a stunning statement, proclaiming a new downtown. The columns are a fitting tribute to the industrial city's past, as well as supporting its future."

Fellow judge Ron McKenzie found the canopy to be a striking entrance combined with the structural columns and soffits, "suggesting a modern front porch to the building while providing screen from above."

In addition to providing a visual signature, the canopy also works as a sustainable element, cutting down on sun penetrating into the building throughout the year and heat load, Koseck said.

"It's a big sun-shading device, and it looks cool so that's where it all came together," he said.

Design Awards judge Mark Dewalt added: "Composite metal panels are nicely detailed to create a light, smooth canopy skin. The metal support columns are very slender and add to the 'lightness' of the canopy and the overall image of the building."

Koseck sees the Warren Civic Center as the beginning of a town square area that's a throwback to an architectural tradition popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but he acknowledges that its futuristic edge could take some getting used to initially. Still, he said while brick and stone can anchor such a building, it is metal that is associated with modern technology.

"I think this building has a lot of traditional elements used in a modern way that I believe will make it timeless," he said. "It's kind of a lightweight material, it gives you a sense of soaring, the way the [canopy is] shaped, and it has a subtle slope upward … I don't think we ever considered any other material.

"The other aspect of it is if you go back and look at many civic buildings, they had a porch, and these components that made up this front elevation … the White House and Capital Building … this has all those elements but it's done in a modern way. If this building didn't have that roof structure, it would feel like an office building. If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would've done it exactly the same way."

Warren Civic Center, Warren, Mich.

Architect: Neumann/Smith Architects, Southfield, Mich.,

General contractor: Skanska USA Building Inc., Southfield,

Metal installer: Michigan Metal Walls Inc., Wyandotte, Mich., (734) 281-0500

Fabricator: Sobotec Ltd., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,

Storefront system: Kawneer, Norcross, Ga.,

Storefront installer: Progress Glass Co., San Francisco,

Manufacturer: Alcan Composites USA Inc., Mooresville, N.C.,