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DCD Design Cost Data

The “Harp” – University of Florida Architecture Building

Brooks + Scarpa Architects with KMF Architects

Posted: September 2, 2022 | Projects

The open atrium of the University of Florida Architecture Building is arguably its defining feature. Unfortunately, the intrusion of water migrating through it — which was never designed to occur (the building originally had plans for a canopy) — has led to an abundance of maintenance and occupancy issues.

While views to the sky have become commonplace and any alternative proposal is considered incorrect and/or inappropriate, this opening presented the Brooks+Scarpa Architects / KMF Architects design team with serious life safety hazards during rain events.

The building was originally completed in 1979, and in that time has seen several renovations to try and fix the leaking that has persisted over 40 years. Water intrusion from wind-driven rain events caused many life safety and maintenance issues. The design team was asked to avoid the use of a canopy and look at other options. However, it became apparent that various slab, storefront, and stair systems would need to be extensively remodeled — at a cost double that of a canopy. Thus the canopy became the option of choice, and an extensive public engagement plan was implemented to go over solutions and field concerns.

The original design included a canopy that was solid, and all building users advocated for the openness of the existing space. Rain screens and other elements were considered, but the designers realized that wind-driven rain exposure would continue to be an issue.

The team went through an exhaustive process of “designing for designers”, where multiple solutions were considered beyond the placement of the canopy. However, the cost impacts far exceeded the cost of a canopy, therefore a solution was sought that would balance remediation efforts and maintain a visible connection to the sky.

The opening itself is an irregular form, a combination of three trapezoids, which created interesting opportunities when designing a potential covering. The design team presented three categories of options: skylight systems, ETFE systems, and solar arrays. 

The skylights utilized traditional glass and metal solutions, but it was determined that these systems were too heavy to utilize the structural connections designed for a canopy. Solar arrays over the entire atrium opening were presented with varying densities, allowing unique solutions, but did not allow enough daylight into the space.

ETFE solutions using single or dual layers became the preferred choice, and could provide daylight, rain coverage, wind load criteria, selfcleaning performance, and insulated/passive cooling design options that were lightweight and could be supported by the existing structure.

Ultimately the ETFE system with a “Harp” form was selected as the final solution, and the design team moved forward, working with the construction manager and manufacturer to develop the design solution and construction documentation. The form takes its cues from the building geometry to elegantly and seamlessly blur the addition to give a sense that it was always there.

The “Harp” features 38 two-layer cushions utilizing clear transparent ETFE film, allowing students and visitors to see the sky from under the roof. The system is an open-air structure, enabling air flow and ventilation around the perimeter of the structure.

The new canopy uses five existing column touchpoints and end shear walls to distribute weight and load over the existing structure, thus minimizing costs and giving the visual perception that the canopy is floating over the atrium.

The canopy was fabricated from standard structural steel sections, and connections/fasteners were carefully detailed to be concealed and hidden. This approach further allowed the canopy to visually “disappear” within the space.

The assembly and construction took less than two months on-site, which diminished downtime and closure of the building and allowed it to stay open and accessible through the process of installation, while minimizing disruptions to the active and bustling campus.

Architect: Brooks + Scarpa Architects with KMF Architects
Contractor: Stellar
Location: Gainesville, FL
Square Footage: 10,000
Cost per Square Foot: $200
Construction Cost: $2,000,000
Date Completed: March 2022
TLC Structure: Birdair, Inc. featuring TensoSky® ETFE

Click here to view the full cost details for this project in the September/October 2022 issue of DCD