Jul 20, 2018
THEME: Technology + Innovation

Seeing Double: Creating Visual Seamlessness at Case Western Reserve University

Since 2010, the Perkins+Will’s Technical Design Community (TDC) hosts an annual firmwide competition celebrating design innovation in detailing.  After three rounds of evaluating for creativity, level of technical difficulty, cost-consciousness, and elegance of the solution, the Chicago studio prevailed to win the 2018 Transcendent Detail Competition with the Case Western Reserve University Tinkham Veale University Center double-skin wall taking home the honor. 

The development of the Case Western Reserve University Tinkham Veale University Center (TVUC) double skin wall began with the premise that the Case Commons would be a hub of activity – a literal crossroads of the campus –and should be as connected to its surroundings as possible.

The wall is 2-stories tall and faces west, so sun-control was absolutely necessary for both the comfort of the occupants, and to shrink the cooling burden on the building HVAC. The concurrent desires for both opacity and transparency thus became the primary challenge.

The design team explored three options before settling on the double skin. It was discovered that external shading was too much of a visual barrier, and internal roller shades would stop the glare but would allow the heat from the sun into the building and overwhelm the AC. Electrochromic glass was then ruled out as viable option either because even though it can be darkened in response to the sun, the material couldn’t be made in seamless panes large enough for our massive curtain wall module that creates unprecedented access to daylight and a visual seamlessness with the campus nodes.

Once the design team settled on the double skin as the best solution, our next challenge was to make the structure of that system as unobtrusive as possible. We worked closely with Stutzki Engineering to design the components of the wall to be as small and elegantly-detailed as possible.

The resulting design uses vertical rigid frame trusses (without diagonals), made of solid steel bars, supporting both the inner and outer walls. A series of toggle anchors support the individual panes of glass without any visible patch or button fittings and the glass itself is low-iron with a super-clear, high-performance coating.

Finally, the lateral bracing components are made of stainless steel rods and fittings that are carefully designed to present as small a profile as possible.

The exception to this are the end braces that support the end panels. These are the only diagonals in the system, so they are celebrated with complex, 3-dimensional, custom-fabricated fittings that bookend the wall.

The minimalist appearance and seeming simplicity of the double skin wall belie the intensive efforts that allow it to fade into the background, and let the building interior and its site dissolve into one another.

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