The 8,000-pound bronze International Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge, Tenn., was installed in a park in 1996 to symbolize the spirit of peace and friendship shared between the cities of Oak Ridge and Naka, Japan. A newly-constructed pavilion added last year features freestanding CFRP beams over the bell that are also symbolic, representing a bridge between traditional design and radical innovation in architectural applications. The curved beams are not only eye-catching to the public, but they also provide an opportunity to educate the architectural community about the possibilities of composites.

Even the architect who designed the beams had an eye-opening experience working on the pavilion design. “The architect mentioned that when it comes to new projects, he will start thinking of composites more in the future,” says Uday Vaidya, chief technology officer at the IACMI—The Composites Institute and UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair, University of Tennessee, who helped spearhead the project.

Although composite materials have pushed boundaries in architectural applications in recent years, many architects remain largely unaware of the benefits of composites in architecture and how best to utilize FRP materials. Projects like the Friendship Bell pavilion are helping to educate them.

“Finally, after years of missionary work, I think most architectural firms are now familiar with the term FRP,” says Bill Kreysler, president of the engineering and fabrication firm Kreysler & Associates in American Canyon, Calif. “Now it’s a matter of educating those architects and engineers about where and when you should and should not consider FRP.”

A Striking Pavilion

The park where the International Friendship Bell resides was renovated in 2018 to create a larger plaza around the bell and a pavilion where visitors could gather for thoughtful reflection. The curved beams, which are the world’s largest overbraided structure, were developed by several expert organizations in the composites industry. Knoxville-based IACMI brought together Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, the University of Tennessee and the overbraiding experts at Highland Composites in Statesville, N.C.

That local carbon fiber expertise, coupled with the innovative concept from Ziad Demian of Demian Wilbur Architects, gave composites an edge in being specified for the pavilion. Composites also provide the required stiffness to achieve the large length desired for the pavilion beams – 33 feet – as well as light weight, durability and easy installation.

To park visitors, the pavilion may seem deceptively straightforward. Above the bell, 17 free-floating arched beams cantilever from a central concrete/steel superstructure. To create the appearance of an open dome for anyone standing beneath the structure, each beam features an entirely different arc radius.