The ovoid shape of the infoshop was the project’s biggest challenge. “We were exploring how we could achieve that form, and we approached it a couple of different ways,” says Todd Ray, FAIA, principal with Studio Twenty Seven Architecture. Using steel and CNC bending technologies was too expensive, and the structure would be too heavy for the slab. The second alternative – millwork interlocking skeletal frames to achieve curved surfaces – required too many trades working at one time on the 475-square-foot building.
The project contractor, Monarch Construction, suggested molded FRP for the structure, which is only partially covered by the space’s existing glass canopy. After investigating that approach, Studio Twenty Seven selected Compmillennia for the project. The composites manufacturer and boat builder had never worked on a building before, but did have years of expertise in constructing curved shapes.
“We used boat construction methods to build this architectural project,” says Jim Gardiner, Compmillennia’s general manager. It was a learning process for both companies as the design kept changing even as fabrication plans progressed.
The yellow wall panels of the infoshop feature a textured surface of dots and dashes, Morse code for song lyrics by Death Cab for Cutie: “Cause in my head there’s a Greyhound station/ Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations/ So they may have a chance of finding a place/ Where they’re far more suited than here.”
A local artisan routed the dots and dashes into medium density fiberboard (MDF) to form the wall pattern. Working under a limited production schedule – only 32 days – Compmillennia moved quickly from the patterned MDF to a production mold. Six routed panels, each 4 x 10 feet, were assembled and put together on Compmillennia’s 20 x 80-foot flat vacuum mold with an epoxy finish which featured integral heating up to 165 F.
To prepare for the gel coat, Compmillennia used a shrink wrap normally used to cover boats in transit. “We pulled a vacuum under the plastic and sucked it down into the little dots and dashes,” says Gardiner. Next came the bright yellow gel coat, followed by a filled polyester resin coat with low shrink properties, which filled the thousands of dots and dashes. Next came a 1.5-ounce fiberglass skin coat. “Then we laminated the structural fiberglass, which included a chopped strand mat, a biaxial fiberglass and a 1¼-inch thick foam PVC core,” says Gardiner. “After that we applied another structural fiberglass laminate to complete the panel.” Crews reinforced the areas around door frames and along the bottom where the panel rested on its foundation with additional layers of biaxial fiberglass.