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Coated Coil
Tuesday | 15 September, 2015 | 12:06 pm

Discovering drama

By Lauren Duensing

Above: The panels are tapered as well as curved. Roofing installation was performed by Ralph Jones Sheet Metal Inc., in Arlington, Tennessee.

Aluminum roofing products, used in a compelling sculptural design, help educate and inspire visitors to Tennessee museum

September 2015 - Spending a day exploring exhibits at a museum allows both children and adults to actively learn, expand their critical thinking skills and excite their creativity.

Boston-based architecture firm Verner Johnson Inc. specializes in museum planning and design. Louis Sirianni, principal and an American Institute of Architects fellow, notes that although science and history museums are stimulating for adults, their primary purpose is to educate youth.

According to Sirianni, the design and layout of a museum helps contribute to that learning experience. “We try to make the interior feature space memorable,” he says. He wants visitors to enter and react with “Oh, wow.” 

In addition to being memorable, the interior space of a Verner Johnson-designed museum is easy to navigate. Visitors don’t have to search for directions; instead, they can focus their energy on the exhibits. 

“A hallmark of Verner Johnson museums is that you don’t need signage to get around,” Sirianni says. Typically, he notes, a visitor will walk in the front door and enter a lobby “that is manageable for school groups and includes the gift shop, ticketing and the cafe.” Just beyond the lobby is an atrium. “If it’s a multistory building, and most of them are, you can readily see where you want to go and what there is left to see,” he says. As a visitor explores, he or she wanders off the central core that houses the dominant exhibits, but Verner Johnson plans the interior “so you come back,” Sirianni notes. “You go out, see a certain aspect of the museum, and then you come back, walk along the central core, go into another area, meander around and come back. When you are finished on that floor, you can go upstairs or downstairs.”

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Making memories

A recent project for Sirianni and Verner Johnson was the Discovery Center at the Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee. Opened in November 2013, this is a multimillion-dollar education center and tourist attraction. The Discovery Center has nine galleries, with exhibits that include an earthquake simulator, a giant climb-through human body, an interactive starship and a secret vault that holds treasures from around the world. The Discovery Park of America project was financed primarily by the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation and fulfills a personal vision of Robert Kirkland, who was raised in Union City. “My family’s focus on education and hard work provided the foundation for my success,” Kirkland said in a statement. “It was my goal to build a permanent venue to enhance education for children as well as adults and do it in an entertaining way for all ages.”

Museums like the Discovery Center “should look like science museums, which, to me, means they don’t look like anything else,” Sirianni says. “They need to be exciting and attractive. I have nothing against brick but brick, to me, doesn’t seem like the right material for a science museum.”

In addition, the theme for this particular project focused on inspiring visitors to “look beyond,” says Sirianni. “We spent a lot of time talking to people in the community before we started to design. What we found in this sparsely populated area of Tennessee was a desire to not only educate their children but also to inspire them to look beyond and understand the potential for what they can do.”

His firm took that inspiration and “tried to express it in the forms on the exterior of the building. So when you see those sort of forms that are elevated, they are kind of arching toward the sky, that’s a response to aspirations.”

A good fit 

Metal roofing products from Petersen Aluminum Corp., a service center based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, were used to create the dramatically curved, inspirational roof design for the Discovery Center. The roofs are clad with approximately 33,000 square feet of PAC-CLAD 0.032 silver metallic Tite-Loc and Snap-On Standing Seam Panels. In addition, 11,000 square feet of PAC-CLAD flat stock in silver metallic and bone white was used for soffits, flashings and detailing. White and silver metal roofs are a good fit for science museums, Sirianni says, adding, “[The panels] work with the design—the curving forms.” Metal roofing is “also very technically appropriate. They don’t generally fail, they don’t leak. They are exceptionally good roofs, and they have longevity.”

Petersen sales representative Clay Snyder says his company recommends the Tite-Loc line for this type of curved profile, and the roof on the Discovery Center is a “good example and application of curved Tite-Loc panels.” The roof design included a segment of a dome, “like half of a football,” Snyder says, which “required a lot of expertise and craftsmanship to be done in the field.” That portion of the roof was constructed with Petersen’s Snap-On Standing Seam Panels, which were able to achieve the required taper for the dome shape, Snyder says. “Each panel individually had to be laid out, a template had to be made, drawn, cut, form the leg back, then it was curved in the field.”

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Roofing contractor Ralph Jones Sheet Metal Inc., Arlington, Tennessee, installed the Petersen-manufactured material. All the panels on the Grand Hall’s roof were tapered as well as curved on site. 

“This was one of the more complex jobs we’ve done in our 35-year history,” says Gordon Jones, president of Ralph Jones Sheet Metal and project manager. “On the Grand Hall, the deck slopes in three different directions—almost like a football shape. There are about 400 panels on the roof, and no two are exactly alike. Every one of them is custom.”

Ralph Jones Sheet Metal is a longtime customer and partner with Petersen Aluminum. “I wouldn’t have tackled a job like this without Petersen,” Jones says. “We knew we could count on them to get the job done and get it done right.”

Snyder returns the compliment. “We pride ourselves on being able to retain business with contractors such as Ralph Jones—contractors that are very skilled, longstanding businesses,” he says. “If they needed a little piece here and there or just a little bit of coil to finish the curved tapered roof, we responded quickly with quick lead times. That’s a lot of what we do to try to earn our customers’ business. We try to be ahead of our competition in lead times and the service that we provide.”

Petersen furnished its expertise to the contractor “through some of the technical aspects, as well—if he needed our input,” Snyder continues. “He’s done it for so long that there’s little that we haven’t come across together but, when it comes to troubleshooting the technical aspects of a complicated job such as this, we really try and make ourselves available for him [Jones] and have the people with the knowledge to do that.”

The partnership between Ralph Jones Sheet Metal and Petersen Aluminum epitomizes the atmosphere of collaboration that has characterized the construction of the Discovery Park of America from start to finish. Ultimately, the goal for the museum was to build something fresh and engaging that would contribute to the education of young people in the community. “The owner, Robert Kirkland, specifically told me that he wanted something that no one has ever seen in those parts,” Sirianni says. “He wanted it to be dramatic, and I think we’ve done that.” MM

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