Alucobond panels add modern allure to MLS stadium, driving design downfield
April 2012 - Aluminum has been called the miracle metal for its recyclability and long list of uses. When coil coated with paints and finishes, its appeal takes on another dimension. Further, aluminum can be paired with other materials, both metallic and nonmetallic, for even more application possibilities. While considering ideas for a metal panel, the design team behind Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., decided on an aluminum composite panel that’s advanced stadium design and rebranded a team.
Livestrong Sporting Park is home to Sporting Kansas City, one of the original 10 teams in Major League Soccer, known previously as the Kansas City Wizards. The team changed its name in advance of moving into its new $200 million Livestrong Sporting Park, which opened in June 2011.
“The stadium was built in only 16 months,” says David Ficklin, vice president of development for Sporting Kansas City. “It was a Herculean project.”
The stadium is clad in prepainted Alucobond Aluminum Composite Material (ACM), manufactured by 3A Composites USA, Mooresville, N.C. The state-of-the-art stadium’s exterior and interior concourses are adorned by four custom colors: Willmer blue, gray, pewter and Tucson medium gray. Sporting Kansas City’s team colors are based on indigo and a light shade of blue, which the custom Alucobond’s neutral palette reflects.
“What we hear frequently is people can’t believe the level of detail that went into this,” Ficklin says.
The presence of the panels is pervasive. In total, 60,800 square feet of Alucobond was installed at Livestrong Sporting Park. By contrast, the stadium’s area is about 340,000 square feet. If contiguously laid out, the panels would cover 20 percent of the stadium.
Each of the matte colors acts as a visual cue throughout the stadium, from the concession stands and food areas bordered in blue, to the accented suite fronts with a different color on each level. “We wanted to use the whole palette to highlight and help reinforce our new team brand and colors,” Ficklin adds.
The palette gradient extends to elements such as columns, awnings, scoreboard backs and interior decking. The stadium’s eastern exterior facade features a checkered pattern of Alucobond panels that plays off multicolored glass doors.
Ficklin says during the decision-making process, the team wanted a modern material that would stay elegant through the longevity of Livestrong Sporting Park. In addition, it required the material be delivered relatively quickly.
“So many other painted metal panels lose their color and fade with age,” he says. “We wanted it to look as fresh 20 years from now as the day it was built.”
Because of its construction, Alucobond can be used with almost any architectural specification. The panels consist of two 0.02-inch aluminum sheets thermo-bonded to a polyethylene core in a continuous process.
Doug Twitchell, 3A Composites’ architectural/CID marketing manager, says Livestrong Sporting Park features 6-millimeter-thick panels. The company also offers 3-millimeter- and 4-millimeter-thick panels, all of which are manufactured at 3A’s plant in Benton, Ky.
“The architect was looking for a clean, durable metal facade that could be painted economically in a custom color with a relatively quick production lead time,” Twitchell says. With an aggressive construction schedule, 3A fulfilled the design requirements and budget of the owners, architects and general contractors.
To achieve custom colors, 3A pre-finishes Alucobond with a premium Kynar 500 PVDF resin-based coating, according to the company’s website.
After 3A’s aluminum coils are delivered from its supplier, they are processed through a continuous coil-coating line. Coils are cleaned thoroughly to remove mill rolling oils, then they go through a surface pretreatment to promote coating adhesion, says Twitchell.
Primer, Kynar color coats and, if necessary, clear coats then are applied and heat cured. After the top and bottom sheet coils are painted, they are transferred to a separate line where they’re bound for lamination. Next, the Kynar-coated coils are unrolled into a continuous lamination process that bonds the coated aluminum with polyethylene core materials.
“This process produces a flat, rigid panel, which is lighter weight than solid metal panels of the same thickness,” Twitchell says. “After lamination of the panels, they are cut to length and a protective masking is applied to the painted surface for protection during shipment, fabrication and erection.”
Although the colors are a crucial factor for appearance, Alucobond’s rigidity and flatness ensured straight sight lines from panel to panel. This was key for continuity because there are Alucobond swaths of different dimensions inside and outside Livestrong Sporting Park. Ficklin says oil canning, which is a perceived waviness in lighter gauge sheet metal panels, was a concern when specifying a metal.
Alucobond’s composite core keeps the aluminum sheet flat throughout each stage of fabrication and installation, eliminating unnecessary headaches during construction.
“When taking all those characteristics—size, durability, light weight—all of those things matter to retain aesthetics, function and costs,” Ficklin says, noting most of the panels were similar sizes, but there were irregular shapes that required fabrication onsite.
Chris Mann, project manager at Kansas City, Mo.-based A2MG Inc., the fabricator of the panels, says he knew Alucobond’s coated paint finish would be ideal for the stadium.
“The paint finish is as good as any you can get,” he says. “It’s just well suited for any kind of construction, especially one where you’ve got a lot of shapes you need to match and do it in a quick time frame.”
Mann says the original specification was a foam and metal wall panel. However, Alucobond’s bend radius lines were crisper on the panel edges. Plus, 3A could deliver the product quickly.
A2MG fabricated the panels at its facility with an Axyz Panel Builder. “We form them with machines or by hand then assemble the panels,” he adds.
The panels are attached to the walls with a grid and clip system from Southern Aluminum Finishing Co., Atlanta, according to Mann. Panels connect to an extruded aluminum track and frame. With this method, the panels actually float on the wall surface, allowing for a dry seal to keep out moisture behind the panels.
Defense from elements
No matter the color, the attractive, sleek finish of Alucobond imparts benefits beyond what a spectator would notice. The paint finish technology provides energy-saving high solar reflectivity and durability, and it needs little maintenance. Its qualities are expected to hold up during decades of exposure.
“The finish system is perfect for high-performance, architectural-grade cladding solutions,” Twitchell says. The material’s diverse applications, one of which is Epcot Center’s spherical Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World, make it a viable cladding option.
“Although the product was originally developed as an architectural facade cladding, I can truly say I receive calls almost on a weekly basis with new and interesting uses for Alucobond,” says Twitchell. “The product can be manufactured in nearly any color, stays ultimately flat and be fabricated to form nearly any shape.”
Livestrong Sporting Park’s construction, aside from giving Sporting Kansas City a new home, made a thematic statement for future soccer stadium designs. It’s one of the most technologically advanced soccer venues built and the first to be fully equipped for HDTV. However, it’s the Alucobond panels that fans see before setting foot in the stadium.
Aside from advancing MLS stadium design, Ficklin says the design team was confident Alucobond would satisfy local architectural regulations. “We wanted a modern building that one, reflected our forward-thinking approach to building a fan base and two, that would reflect the fact that soccer’s future is strong while at the same time using a material that allowed us to give a human scale to the architecture.” MM