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Innovative cladding system bolsters campus theater

January 8, 2014
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While the Performing Arts program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL, has enjoyed a solid reputation over the years, it was lacking a first-class theater facility. When the school finally had the means to update its facilities, it retained the services of renowned architectural firm Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCPA) to design a new theater. The resulting building is clad in Limra limestone and Luna Pearl granite, and it utilizes a unique cladding system that allows for a relatively quick installation that maximized the efficiency of the labor on site.

“The overall design goal for this project was to create an important Western gateway for DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus, and to provide a home for one of the country’s leading theater conservatories, while maintaining a visual and physical connection between the community and the school,” said Katy Harp, an Associate Designer at PCPA. 

The five-story steel structure of 175,000 square feet has a facade of glass and white limestone.  Approximately 32,000 square feet of Limra limestone — with 2,500 different pieces — clad the building. “We selected the Limra limestone for its brightness/whiteness and its appropriate properties relative to performance criteria,” said Harp.

The Limra limestone has a honed finish, and it was quarried in Turkey. To make the building stand out from a standard stone-clad structure, the limestone facade features unique spandrels at each floor level, giving the theater a constructivist look.

The architects went through a lengthy selection process in choosing the limestone, which was supplied by Classic Stone of Aurora, IL. “We looked at probably a dozen different limestones before finalizing on the Limra,” said Michael Patrick Sullivan, AIA, of CannonDesign, the architect-of-record for the project. “Limra limestone was an aesthetic design consideration. The majority of DePaul’s campus is brick, with some buildings being Indiana limestone. So the choice of Limra limestone was contextual to those other buildings.”

The limestone was chosen for its functional benefits as well, as the material has high flexural and compressive strength, lending technical benefits to going with the larger panel size of limestone, which was used in a 50-mm thickness.

In addition to the limestone, 3,400 square feet of Luna Pearl granite was used for the base of the building. Also providing character to the front of the building, the same granite was used for flower beds located at the north side of the facility. “The Luna Pearl granite is a sturdy light-colored granite, which was a good protective transition at the base of the building.”

The Luna Pearl granite was quarried and fabricated in China. “There are two reasons granite was chosen for the base,” Sullivan said. “It takes impact better than limestone, which is important in the city, and granite deals with salt better than limestone.”

Executing the design

With a critical completion date of the summer of 2013 in order to be operational for the new academic year, the installation of the stone presented a unique set of challenges. Construction could not be started inside of the building until it was sealed, and the stone was installed on a relatively fast track.

Performing Arts Theater

DePaul University

Chicago, IL


Job Conditions:

• Cladded the five-story steel structure of 175,000 square feet with approximately 32,000 square feet of Limra limestone — with 2,500 different pieces

• Created unique spandrels at each floor level, giving the theater a constructivist look

• Utilized a unique cladding system that allowed for a relatively quick installation that maximized the efficiency of the labor on site.

Products Used:

• ESW carrier system from eclad

Installer:

• W.R. Weis Co., Chicago, IL

 

The stone was installed using something called the ESW carrier system from eclad, which eliminates the need for a back-up structure because the system is designed to span from floor to floor. The nature of the system allowed the building to be sealed prior to the stone installation. “An advantage of using our system is once our system is up, it holds the insulated metal panels in place, and the building can be sealed,” said Kevin Klein of eclad.

The material was installed by W.R. Weis Co., which installed all of the stone onto the eclad ESW carrier system as well as the eclad system itself. It took five months for W.R. Weis to complete the eclad system installation, and four months to complete the stone installation. Due to the complex nature of the project, eclad sent a team of trainers to W.R. Weis prior to the installation to explain some tricks of the trade and answer any questions.

“There was a big issue from the schedule point of view,” said Peter Weis, Vice President of W.R. Weis and Project Manager on DePaul’s theater. “Because we used eclad, the building was able to be weather tight three to four months before the stone was set. In addition to the scheduling advantages, eclad accommodated the structural movement of the building without increasing the joint sizes between the stones, and it allowed the substructure to move a bit more.”

Furthermore, the eclad system not only provided backup support for the stone, but also for the windows. Additionally, it provided the insulation and air and vapor barrier for the facade. The building was effectively weather-tight prior to the stone being installed.

DePaul University’s Performing Arts Program new theater facility was completed in July of 2013 — the move-in of students in August and the beginning of classes in September. “Everyone is thrilled with the outcome,” said Sullivan. “Now they have a better facility than they may experience in the real world.”

The architects at Pelli Clarke Pelli have received positive feedback as well. “We have received extremely positive reactions from the community, the University — its administration, faculty and students – and the press,” said Harp. 

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