What started out as a utilitarian structural upgrade of a facility at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles turned into a piece of artistic expression and a real aesthetic statement for the well-regarded hospital campus. The Steven Spielberg Building houses an ambulatory care center and research laboratories, and the decision to add more lab space to the third floor came with some unique challenges and opportunities. Thanks to some outside-of-the-box thinking from the design team at Perkins+Will, Los Angeles, the project was able to make the most of those opportunities.
The increased weight load of the third floor called for a seismic retrofit. “Labs are very heavy,” explains Jay Nordsten, associate principal with Perkins+Will and project manager of the Steven Spielberg Building upgrade. “They require a lot of equipment, so a structural improvement of the building became necessary to support all that weight.”
The building needed to remain in service during construction, so the original solution was simple and straightforward. A lateral restraint system using cross-braced, 3-story towers was installed outside the building. Although it did the job of bracing the building and bringing it up to seismic requirements, it didn’t look like much. “It made the building look unfinished and [Cedars-Sinai] was concerned how the occupants would view that,” Nordsten recalls. “Finally the chairman of the board decided he wasn’t satisfied with modest solutions. He wanted to address the entire building.”
A variety of ideas, ranging from glass to a living wall, were bounced around before the concept of using perforated metal came to light. “It had some transparency and in certain ways was very light,” Nordsten explains. “It was affordable and there is equipment that can bend it in an out-of-plane direction. That gave us flexibility from a design perspective. We started to experiment with what we came to call ‘the wave.’ It’s an undulating surface skin that captures the brace frames so it didn’t really call attention to them. With this solution the brace frames are incorporated into the whole scheme.”
The wave concept achieved the transparency sought by the design team and created a ribbon across the upper part of the building. It features 3,622 square feet of straight metal material, 4,244 square feet of convex curved metal and 2,251 square feet of concave curved material from Kalzip, Michigan City, Mich. The metal is silver with a 30 percent open area created by 3/16-inch diameter holes staggered at 5/16 inches. The wave is mounted to steel substructures that attach to the main structures.
“We worked very closely with the manufacturer” Nordsten says. “We had designed a way to panelize the steel pieces so it could be built largely in the shop and trucked in panels to the site to be erected quickly. When the Kalzip people came out and saw the joints in the panels, they pointed out that they could have bent that up in a single piece. I wish we would have had that conversation sooner. We might have still made the same decision because panelizing the construction was a good idea and it may have taken a long time to site-build all of that.”
The design team was able to push the owner’s thinking forward and make a real aesthetic statement. Even though the budget did grow along with the project’s aspirations—some of the original, more modest proposals were in the neighborhood of $50,000 and the final product reached seven figures—the owner saw the long-term benefits of making this kind of investment.
“It was good to be involved with a client that has this kind of vision,” Nordsten says. “The chairman of the board got involved and it was his vision to say this needed to be a world-class facility. They want to attract the best researchers in the field and they can’t invite them to come to an unattractive building. This project was part of fulfilling a larger mission and it’s important because it’s who Cedars-Sinai Medical Center wants to be.”