Fine tuning the curves at Kauffman Center for Performing Arts
Chuck Mears, AIA, Posted 03/07/2011
Although construction is not yet complete, the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts is already becoming an icon in the Kansas City, Mo., skyline. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the 285,000-square-foot center features a dramatic arching shell to house two state-of-the-art performance venues. While Kansas City residents await the Center’s grand opening, a specialty framing team has been hard at work, creating its own symphony of steel designed to support the magnificent curves of the sculpted building.
The Center itself is an approximately 285,000-square-foot facility with two technically sophisticated performance spaces: the 1,800-seat proscenium-style Muriel Kauffman Theatre and 1,600-seat concert Helzberg Hall. The technical requirements and exacting standards required of a facility like the Kauffman Center make it among the most complex structures in today’s modern architectural landscape.
One of the most challenging tasks in the project has been providing the underlying steel structure for the highly specific, unusual detail of the concert hall walls. The “bumps,” as they are called, are a series of acoustically specific, multi-radiused bulges in the performing arts center walls, which solve some very challenging acoustic issues.
In other eras these bumps would have been framed with a “close enough” mentality and would have visually performed to that level. Today, with the extremely sophisticated acoustical engineering solutions that are applied to performing arts centers of this high caliber, “close enough” wasn’t going to allow this large musical space to be “tuned” properly.
The custom-designed precise, consistent framing solution designed by Minneapolis-based Radius Track Corp. architects uses straight and curved steel studs and track along with laser-cut steel shapes for the small bumps. While normal stud spacing is 16 inches on center, the Kauffman Center framing was devised to create rib frames at 36 inches on center and bridge them with lighter gauge hat channels that could flex with the room’s geometry. This approach not only solved a perplexing detail, but raised the bar by creating an ingeniously simple solution which saved significant time and material with impeccable results. Fifty-seven of these frames were produced offsite in controlled shop environments to meet the exacting standards this project demanded.
Custom-designed and fabricated steel framing was also used in the ceilings for the Concert Hall and Proscenium Theater, the balcony facing reflector walls and the donor’s area ceiling. All of these areas were modeled using 3-D computer technology to virtually build the spaces before a single piece was fabricated. This process of Building Information Modeling, also known as Integrated Project Delivery, pulls the project team together earlier in the process of design and brings them into close communication so that coordination of systems and specific locations of elements can be worked out prior to material being fabricated. Clashes (or conflicts in overlapping locations) are resolved in the 3-D model, so when the pieces are delivered to the jobsite they can be installed with confidence.
“Radius Track designed the 3-D model of the ceiling framing to accommodate the speakers, light fixtures and other design elements. They detected potential clashes in advance, which saved us a tremendous amount of time and effort during installation. There wasn’t anything we had to go back and correct after installation; the framing design already took everything into account,” said Ryan Crist, project engineer for Grandview, Mo.-based Performance Contracting Inc., the drywall contractor on the job. PCI did all drywall, traditional plaster, veneer plaster, ceilings, EIFS and gypsum on the project.
Custom framing innovation was also employed for the undulating ceiling designs. “The geometry of the ceilings was fairly complex and would have been a real challenge to construct using traditional methods,” said Crist. “Radius Track gave us a better product, allowing us to frame faster and more accurately than traditional ways.”
With the help of consulting structural engineers at Trabue, Hansen & Hinshaw Inc., Columbia, Mo., the framing design team was able to successfully create curved framing that could handle the weight of 25-pound acoustical plaster, attached equipment and other loads. With a crisply detailed solution that again extended the spacing of stud members and utilized CRC channels half the size of normal framing, the curved metal framing solved another series of acoustically specific profiles with exacting proficiency. The use of advanced framing approaches like these helped significantly lower the per-square-foot weight of framing, resulting in measurable cost and labor savings. To simplify installation, 16- by 20-foot panels were designed to be built on the floor then lifted into place when complete-especially challenging with ceilings that are bowing, arching and curving.
“Radius Track made the installation of the ceilings easy. They broke the ceiling into smaller panels and gave us the corner elevations of that piece. All we had to do was assemble the pieces on the ground and lift into place. We had a detailed map to follow as opposed to having to curve members on our own. It would have been very, very tough to do the project without them.”
The Kauffman Center will open in September 2011.
Chuck Mears, AIA, is the CEO and chief design officer for Radius Track, Minneapolis. He founded the company in 1996 and has been at the forefront of curved steel framing design ever since. Learn more from http://www.radiustrack.com.
IMAGES FROM TOP: View from the northeast. Photo courtesy of David Riffel; Rendering of Helzberg Hall interior. Image courtesy of Safdie Associates; Installation photo courtesy of Radius Track.