Figge Art Museum, clear and square
Facing a downtown in serious need of makeover, city fathers in Davenport, Iowa, place the innovative, glass-clad Figge Art Museum at the forefront of urban renewal. The museum broke ground in September 2002 and opened in August 2005.
Overlooking the banks of the Mississippi River, the $46.9 million landmark was designed by London’s David Chipperfield Architects. Its striking box-within-a-box, double-plane exterior with a passive wall cavity ventilation system is the first of its kind in the United States, says Wes Higgins, principal-in-charge and owner of W.J. Higgins & Associates Inc. in Wausau, Wis.
With simple lines, the design hints at the ships that ply the river while honoring the vertical cityscape it inhabits. In an abstract way, the 140-foot tower acknowledges the scale of neighboring buildings, says Douglas A. Frey, senior architect and project manager with the architects of record, Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture in Des Moines. The museum also adopts a typically urban stance with its curb-to-curb footprint on every exposure except the riverfront.
In another city, a designer might have tried to create the illusion of space around the base. Davenport’s downtown blight, however, centers on the fact that it possesses little urban fabric. Residents have fled to the suburbs and have left a city littered with acres of surface parking lots. In a way, building to the curb was an act of faith on the part of museum board members. It anticipates a time when every square inch of Davenport’s downtown real estate will be put to maximum use.
Chipperfield architect were not interested in designing an Incredible Hulk. Their vision was to create a “crystalline” structure, Frey says, a building that “reflects the sky and its surroundings” rather than projecting itself as a solid object. He succeeded by separating the interior and exterior glass walls of the 100,000 square-foot building by 3.5 feet. This element, combined with the glass parapets, “dematerializes” the structure by outlining it in a glow of light, Frey says.
More than 80 percent of the 65,000 square feet of glass that wraps the museum’s exterior has a frit design, using three different custom patterns, notes Ryan McDougle, customer-service supervisor at fabricator Oldcastle Glass in Perrysburg, Ohio. Pinstripe frit of varying widths was applied to every type of glass, whether insulating, laminated or monolithic. The result, a canvas writ large, hosts a play of light that dances between hues of white, pale green and soft blue.
The curtain wall, an aluminum-framed, open-joint rain screen of 1⁄4-inch clear tempered glass, creates an aesthetically pleasing caulk-free design that stretches the exterior maintenance cycle from 10 or 20 years to 50-to-100 years, Higgins says. “Most museums don’t have enough money to build what they need for their programs,” he says. “They certainly don’t have enough for traditional building enclosure maintenance.”
The open-joint construction allows for continuous natural ventilation. Air flows through the rain screen and, as it gains heat, rises up to the parapets and escapes through vents. The movement of air facilitates evaporation of moisture in the space, Higgins says. This keeps the building’s insulation free of moisture damage and performing at its intended R-value.
A grated steel walkway separates the rain screen from the interior wall, allowing maintenance workers easy access to clean the space and the glass. The perforated screen that forms the skin of the nonvision areas of the inside plane also is made of galvanized steel. It hides, in progression from the outside toward the interior dry wall, 4 inches of mineral wool insulation, a continuous asphalt, waterproof, air-barrier membrane, and plywood sheathing, treated with fire retardant, supported by structural steel studs. The vision areas of the interior plane hold aluminum-framed, 1-inch clear insulating glass, structurally glazed to the interior.
Delivery of 65,000 square feet of glass required staging. Every two weeks for eight weeks, Oldcastle Glass shipped nearly 30,000 pounds of glass. Though it is one of the biggest jobs the company ever fielded, “it went fairly smoothly,” because it did not require highly fabricated glass and only called for five different panel sizes, McDougle says. To accommodate the work load, Oldcastle Glass managers brought one person back into the fabrication department and set up another temporary production line to handle the company’s other projects.
Installation presented challenges to the wall contractor Architectural Wall Systems Co. of West Des Moines, says Mike Cunnigham, president. An outrigger gusset system served double duty, supporting the grate walkway between the two glass planes and providing the structural support for the vertical mullions in the rain screen.
Aligning two walls demanded exacting patience. “If the outrigger attached to a vertical mullion in the backup wall is off by 1⁄32 inch, by the time the outrigger cantilevers out 3.5 feet, the discrepancy can magnify to 2-to-3 inches,” Cunningham says. And because there was glass on all four sides, “there was no place to hide a dimensional snafu.”
Curiously, though completely wrapped in glass, the Figge’s view windows cover only 18 percent of its surface. The curators aim to host traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution. To qualify, the architect had to meet detailed standards governing lighting, ventilation and temperature control. Sunlight could damage artwork and artifacts, and when it comes to apportioning wall space, art displays get priority over windows. Consequently, most view windows reside in the administrative, educational, social and dining spaces and in some walkways. They are covered by a horizontal frit pattern, though there is no fritting to block eye-level views, providing visual continuity across the façade and moderating the physical environment of the wall cavity zone. The rain screen shields the interior wall from the elements and the frit limits heat gain.
Natural light makes its way into the galleries via 28 skylights supplied by Unicel Architectural Corp. of Longueuil, Quebec. However, the light is diffused, rationed and tightly controlled. The skylights contain 92 of Unicel’s Vision Control units consisting of hermetically sealed insulating glass units with integral operable louvers made of extruded aluminum. The units include 3⁄8-inch clear tempered glass on the exterior, a 2-inch air space, 7⁄16-inch laminated glass on the interior composed of 3⁄16-inch clear heat-strengthened glass, 0.060-inch polyvinyl butyral interlayers and 3⁄16-inch clear heat-strengthened glass with a hard-coat low-emissivity coating on surface No. 3.
In the Figge, sun sensors monitor light intensity and transmit data to a computer that automatically adjusts motorized louvers and artificial lights to desired levels of intensity, says Viviane Chan, Unicel’s U.S. director of sales.
The special double-plane envelope and the side-by-side use of steel with aluminum and glass called for contractors who employed laborers qualified to erect steel as well as aluminum, Higgins says. In the process, Figge design and construction teams created an icon: a building that bespeaks the beauty of simple lines and pure design; an elegant cornerstone for the recreation of a vibrant downtown Davenport.
Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa
Owner: Figge Art Museum
Size: 100,000 square feet; parking, 35,000 square feet; plaza, 38,000 square feet
Cost: $46.9 million
Design architect: David Chipperfield Architects, London
Architect of record: Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture, Des Moines
Construction manager: Russell/Pepper Construction Co., LLC, Davenport, Iowa
Glass fabricator: Oldcastle Glass, Perrysburg, Ohio
Wall contractor: Architectural Wall Systems Co., West Des Moines
Skylights: Unicel Architectural Corp., Longueuil, Quebec; Oldcastle Glass, Perrysburg, Ohio
Design structural engineer: Jane Wernick Associates Ltd., London
Structural engineer: Charles Saul Engineering, Des Moines
Mechanical-electrical engineer: Ove Arup and Partners, London
Civil consultant: Missman Stanley & Associates, PC, Rock Island, Ill.
Curtain-wall consultant: W.J. Higgins and Associates Inc., Wausau, Wis.
Graphics and signs: Liska + Associates, Chicago
Viviane Chan, Unicel Architectural Corp., 2155 Fernand-Lafontaine Blvd., Longueuil, Quebec J4G 234 Canada, 800/668-1580, ext. 227, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Cunningham, Architectural Wall Systems Co., Suite 100, 6601 Westown Parkway, West Des Moines, Iowa, 50266, 515-255-1556, email@example.com
Douglas Frey, Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture, Suite 202, Fleming Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50309, 515/288-9536, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wes Higgins, W.J. Higgins & Associates Inc., 6241 Packer Drive, Wausau, Wis. 54401, 715/848-8677, email@example.com
Ryan McDougle, Oldcastle Glass, 291 M St., Perrysburg, Ohio 43551, 419/666-2000, firstname.lastname@example.org