Tuesday | 11 September, 2012 | 8:47 am

Pragmatic Attraction

By Gretchen Salois

Steel and aluminum cloak the atrium of the Conrad Hotel in New York

September 2012-In the many nooks and neighborhoods throughout New York City, the Conrad Hotel features an eye-catching atrium. Aluminum and steel rings and joints hover over gazers who might not realize how carefully a team of experts executed architect Monica Ponce de Leon’s “Veils.”

The design complements the massive blue and purple “Loopy Droopy,” mural by artist Sol LeWitt. “We came up with the idea of the veils to enter into a conversation with the drawing,” says Jeff Dee, project manager at Monica Ponce de Leon Design and Architecture. “Instead of hanging strands straight down, we wanted them pinched at the bottom so you get a better view of the veil and the upper frame.”


The upper frame is composed of a mix of 5/8-inch (nodes) steel at the joints and aluminum, with sizes varying from 1/2-inch through 1 1/4-inch for beams and transitions. Steel provided the necessary weight to hold the cables straight, achieving the desired effect. From creating the concept model of the design through the final installation took nine months to complete. The architectural team relied on the services of Feature Walters in Toronto, Ontario, to make the concept a reality.

“Feature Walters was able to transition the initial model of the design and turn that into solid works,” Dee says, noting the team was limited to space limitations as well as the inability to use much heavy machinery to install the pieces. Because the ground floor slab of the atrium at the hotel was built as structural support, it was not possible to use heavy machinery to load slats.

“All the parts had to be delivered through a storefront double door and hoisted through a restrictive hoist way up the 14-story scaffold tower at the site,” says Patrick Desarzens, design director at Feature Walters. The elaborate sculpture was assembled the company’s plant in Ontario using CNC-produced cradles supporting key structural nodes with transitions and beams linking the nodes.

“The pieces of the upper frame as well as the lower frame had to be sized for weight as well as dimensions to have a reasonably sized crew carry the pieces up—there was a lot going on at the same time,” Dee says.

From concept to completion

A 25-member crew at Feature Walters used a compound stitch prep with a continuous first pass at 1/8 inch depth and a second at the required weld depth/frequency for the structural weld, according Desarzens. “This reduced the amount of heat and distortion in the parts without having to resort to bondo in the joints that may crack when the sculpture deflects when loaded,” he explains. “Touch up and repair are extremely difficult due to the location of the upper structure—so we took no chances.”

 MIG welding was used for the structural welds on the heavy plate. They subcontracted the forming of the steel and aluminum and accepted the usual tolerances for structural plate processing. The entire upper structure and sheet metal cover plates in the lower structure were laser cut.

“We designed and fabricated custom geometry fixtures that had adjustable reference planes,” Desarzens says. “We were able to fit the processed plates to each other in this fixture and clamp the last of the tolerances out of the plate before welding. This allowed us to have the flush-tangent-hairline transitions between segments.”

The design team envisioned the space as a lobby in a public plaza, instead of a classic atrium space, which “tend to be a little bland,” Dee says. “We wanted to take advantage of the height of the space so that at the end of the day, the lobby isn’t an overwhelming empty space, but a comfortable experience.” MM



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