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Thursday | 14 January, 2010 | 2:33 am

A Harley-Davidson experience

By Lauren Duensing

January 2010- Designed to showcase 106 years of motorcycle manufacturing, the Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, pays homage to the town's industrial past.

"Milwaukee is a city of manufacturing," said Stacy Watson, museum director. "Harley-Davidson designs and manufacturers motorcycles, so we looked to the forms, shapes and materials of factories when planning the museum."

The museum's design architect, Pentagram, New York used architectural metal from McNichols Co., Tampa, Fla., to create the factory atmosphere. Pentagram worked in cooperation with HGA Architects and Engineers, the museum's architect of record, Grunau Metals, the metal fabricator and McNichols Co. Pentagram focused on close-mesh bar grating, perforated metal and carbon wire steel mesh products.

mcnichols"We have seen our architectural metals used in some unusual ways, but this museum took them to another level of creativity," said Herb Goetschius, vice chairman of McNichols Co.

"Most of the metals in the interior were fabricated from standard shapes of rolled, punched and fabricated steel," said James Biber, FAIA, of Pentagram, who led the design team. "We wanted it to feel like a real factory and less like a custom building."

Natural roughness
To convey the innate roughness of a factory setting, some metal components, such as counters, railings and other trim elements, were exposed to a chemical blackening process instead of a traditional paint.

McNichols' GCM-1, a close-mesh bar grating was used throughout the facility. It appears on the exhibit walking paths, it's found on the treads and landing of the entry staircase as well as on a suspended pedestrian bridge that links the motorcycle gallery to the engine exhibit room.

GCM-1 is a galvanized metal bar grating product, which is often used for platforms in commercial settings and comes in varying hole sizes. It is comfortable as a walking surface for high-traffic areas and is ADA compliant.

Many of the fabrications were built in Grunau Metals' Milwaukee steel fabrication workshop and assembled and welded on-site. Unique to the bridge is the use of bar grating as a handrail to match the walking surface, a design that required the two elements to link like hinges on a door.

"It was like lacing your fingers together," said Brad Landry, operations manager at Grunau Metals. "The bar grating came in 3-foot-wide panels, so we had to piece the bridge together panel by panel."

In some locations, the bar grating is used to cover the air vents along the floor, and it was also installed as guardrails on the observation deck. Placed upright in 3-foot-wide panels, this application required a custom-welded handrail cap to cover the raw edge of the metal.

Perhaps the most eye-catching use of the bar grating within the museum is on an exhibit itself where it was made to simulate a hill climb. Installed at a significant pitch, the bar grating supports several motorcycles that appear to be motoring uphill.

Perforated metal is also featured in novel ways. The walls of the museum's cafe, Cafe Racer, are perforated metal panels that are gray powder coated and wrapped around an elevator shaft that is painted Harley-Davidson orange. The perforated metal doubles as a backdrop for large photo murals featuring famous Harley-Davidson racers.

In addition, some light fixtures are covered with long cylinders of perforated metal to resemble motorcycle exhaust pipes. Light glows through the tiny holes without the need for diffusers.

On the museum's grounds, McNichols' carbon wire steel mesh is used as infill panels on the guard rail along the river's edge for safety and aesthetics. The wire mesh is powder coated in black, another nod to factory chic. MM

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