New Curve in System Ceilings
Executing the industrial theme in the design of the ceiling was tricky, however, because the total cafeteria space was composed of two distinct areas: the existing 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) space with a 15-foot- (4.6-meter-) high ceiling and the 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) addition, a full 10 feet (3 meters) higher.
"A key concern of ours was how to aesthetically link the old section with the new addition," recalls Marchetti. "The goal was to find design elements that would make the two sections look like one complete room ? like they were born to go together." They also wanted to lower the perceived height of the higher ceiling without blocking the daylight entering from the upper side windows.
A Curved Solution
The architects found their answer in the "Curvatura? 3-D Ceiling System" from USG Interiors. The curved ceiling fitted with perforated silver aluminum panels in a steel grid hangs in a wavy, undulating pattern, becoming the design focus of the room.
Marchetti varied the pattern of transparency in the ceiling by specifying panels with differently sized perforations. The panels with the largest perforations appear the most transparent. The large holes also enabled contractors to run power feeds for hanging light fixtures directly through the ceiling. Fire sprinkler heads, piping, and ductwork were left exposed above the suspended ceiling, in keeping with the don't-hide-anything high-tech design directive.
"The most important quality we achieved in using the Curvatura specialty ceiling was the level of openness it allowed us," said Allen. "Even though we wanted to bring the space down, we still wanted to be able to visually read the structure. It acts as a spine running down the middle of the room."
From Vision to Reality
Although designing curved surfaces can be complex, Marchetti notes that manufacturers are now offering digital design tools to aid in visualization and planning. "By working with representatives from USG, including architectural sales rep Don Pool, and using USG's CAD-compatible 'Design Wizard' software, we were able to create a variety of 'genetic codes' to visualize different configurations and ultimately generate an accurate 3D rendering of the design we wanted," she says.
Such digital tools can also be helpful for specification writers and installers. The Design Wizard, for example, can automatically generate project specifications and installation instructions, which can be submitted to the contractor.
In recent years, trained and certified specialty ceiling contractors have multiplied in number. Their confidence in their ability to assemble the systems has given architects a measure of assurance that a variety of ceiling shapes and planes are workable in the field.
Installing the Curves
The ceiling installer on the Niles West project was Kurt Schimelpfenig of Central Ceiling Systems, Inc. of Deerfield, Wisconsin. Although he had installed many specialty ceilings ? from drywall to wood ? he had never installed a Curvatura system. "Because the curved ceiling did not look like the typical ceiling, we thought it would be a difficult project," said Schimelpfenig. "But by using the computer-generated instructions, the installation was fast and easy."
After hanging the wires and grid by himself, Schimelpfenig brought in a partner to help install the system infill panels. The panels were installed in two inverted radiuses with a 4-foot- (122-centimeter-) wide flat section running in between the two curved areas. The entire 3,500-square-foot (325-square-meter) ceiling in the Niles West High School cafeteria included a total of 935 infill panels.
The new, higher ceiling area features five distinct curved grid assemblies, each containing 140 perforated infill panels. The lower ceiling also features five curved assemblies, each containing 36 smaller panels.
"The structure was on a 16-foot (5-meter) spacing with an even 2-foot (61-centimeter) spacing between each panel," said Schimelpfenig. "That made the system easy to work with, especially when we were dealing with such a large ceiling that needed to be finished before school started."
"From superintendents and school boards to principals and staff," says Allen, "school district personnel rely on networking to stay up to date. They know the latest design trends even before they start a project. And they know which design concepts will create the type of environments they want for their students ? open, welcoming, bright, and stimulating spaces."
While specialty ceilings, such as the Curvatura system, are considered the "high-end" of school ceiling construction, some school districts consider the significant improvement in places for learning to be worth the small additional cost.
Graeme D. Gee is the product manager for Specialty Ceiling Products, USG Interiors, Inc., in Chicago.