The new auditorium building features dramatic cantilevered overhangs. The sculptural form required creative structural design (Thornton Tomasetti).
The University of Iowa’s new Hancher Auditorium makes its debut on September 9. With a sculptural form composed of curving, cantilevered terraces clad in stainless steel and glass, the 1,800-seat performing arts facility is the result of intensive collaboration among design-team members from 17 organizations. Theater design is never simple, but a compressed schedule and atypical geometry added complexity to the design process. Thornton Tomasetti’s façade specialists, structural engineers and construction support professionals worked closely with one another and with all design and construction team members to develop sophisticated solutions to several significant engineering challenges.
Team members from many disciplines gathered often during design to coordinate their efforts. Clockwise from front center: Matt Sargent, Scott Koelzer, Sam Haberman and Gary Cooper of Alvine Engineering; Mitch Hirsch and Katy Harp of PCPA; Joe Troness of Mortenson; Anthony Shou and Joseph Myers of Kirkegaard Associates; Amrit Pilo and Gina Narracci of PCPA; Tim Perez of Threshold; and Scott Crossfield and Jill Collins of Theatre Projects Consultants (© Cliff Jette).
Fast-Track Schedule Required Early Steel Bid Packages
A requirement for early steel bid packages – for foundations and the superstructure – put structural design far in advance of other disciplines. Because no two theater designs are alike, our engineers reached out often to all team members for details on their design criteria, equipment choices and loading requirements. Insight gleaned from past theater projects taught us which questions needed to be asked. Establishing these particulars upfront increased the quality of our construction documents, reducing the potential for coordination issues later on.
This structural Revit model shows the large, steel-framed cantilevers of the southeast lobby. We worked closely with the architects to find patterns in the asymmetric forms and place columns where they could support aesthetic and programming priorities as well as walls and slabs (Thornton Tomasetti).
A Three-in-One Solution for Vibration
To meet the strict acoustical and vibration requirements of a top-notch performing arts venue, the facility is actually three distinct structures wrapped in one façade. The auditorium at the heart of the facility consists of 24-inch-thick concrete walls that curve to maximize acoustic performance and also provide the structure’s lateral support. Lobby, circulation space and support areas, framed in steel, wrap around the auditorium and define the sweeping form of the building. This structure features dramatic overhangs, including a 70-foot, two-way cantilevered terrace. The third section is a three-and-a-half-story, steel-framed structure that houses rehearsal space. The central auditorium is separated from the other structures by a two-inch isolation joint and vibration isolation bearings, which keep noise from the surrounding areas out of the performance space.
The curved concrete walls of the auditorium support two cantilevered balconies and a double-layer roof: A concrete “acoustic lid” keeps noise out, while a more standard composite steel roof above caps off the building’s architectural form (Thornton Tomasetti).
Multidisciplinary Collaboration Tamed Thermal Movement
The unified efforts of our structural and façade engineering teams helped solve the project’s biggest engineering challenge. A building 500 feet long would typically include an expansion joint to handle thermal expansion and contraction, but it would have interrupted the façade’s sleek, continuous curves. The cantilevered terrace, which supports live loads of various events throughout the year, made the challenge more complex. Together, our designers analyzed the problem and defined parameters for a solution, then worked with the entire team to find a combination of structural support, façade design and operational guidelines that controls thermal movement without sacrificing aesthetic priorities.
The east side of the auditorium includes a 500-foot-long exterior wall, free of expansion joints. A replacement for old Hancher, which was destroyed by flooding, the new facility’s construction received FEMA funding and was designed to resist hydrostatic uplift and to be flood-resistant (Thornton Tomasetti).
Construction Support Services Expedited Delivery
Our Construction Support Services practice was brought on by the steel fabricator to provide connection design and shop drawing review. Being in-house with the structural and façade designers enabled our construction support team to quickly answer questions and resolve constructability issues as they arose in the field, expediting construction.
Design team members (back row, from left: Gary Cooper of Alvine Engineering; Hans Michel of Kirkegaard Associates; Nate Sosin and Edward Peck of Thornton Tomasetti; and Brian Lindgren of OPN Architects. Front row, from left: Justin Cline, Chris Hart and Carol Post, of Thornton Tomasetti; Joseph Myers of Kirkegaard Associates; Amrit Pilo of PCPA; Susan Bowersox of OPN Architects; and Gina Narracci of PCPA) at a concert held as a thank you to the team a week before the facility’s public opening; the main entrance at night; and a view of the lobby’s airy terraces (Thornton Tomasetti).
Owner University of Iowa; Design Architect Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (PCPA); Architect of Record OPN Architects; Construction Manager M.A. Mortenson Company; MEP/T Engineer Alvine and Associates; Acoustics Kirkegaard Associates; AV Consultant Threshold; Theater Consultant Theatre Projects Consultants; Civil Engineer Shive Hattery Inc.; Vertical Transportation Lerch Bates, Inc.; Environmental Design Consultant Atelier Ten; Food Service Michael L. Bradnan & Associates; Lighting Design Cline Bettridge Bernstein; Signage Pentagram; Landscape Architects Balmori Associates and Confluence; Steel Fabricator American Structural Metals.
The west side of the new Hancher Auditorium (Thornton Tomasetti).
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