Designed for Optimal Energy Efficiency

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March 5, 2021


Discovery, Healing

Beyond being a tech-savvy, visually stunning addition to Hospital Hill’s landscape, Children’s Mercy Research Institute’s new headquarters exemplifies optimal energy-efficient design.

Planning to design the building’s systems began five years ago. The project was challenging to design a non-traditional laboratory and research building with a glass façade, open spaces, and a monumental stair.

We knew early on that glass would be the main exterior material, and we knew we would need the inside to be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of changing research. This meant minimizing additional interior wall construction. It started us down the path to push the limits of traditional curtain wall systems.

The form of the building and the monumental stair on the west side are inspired by science and the research that will take place inside. It was essential to consider energy impacts at the monumental stair. Without the ability to have clear-vision glass, the stair structure would be lost, and the connection to the institute’s purpose would not be on display. However, ignoring the energy requirements would mean no one would ever use this space. Working alongside partners that understood the importance of balancing energy efficiency with aesthetics allowed for the true vision of the building, specifically the monumental stair, to be realized.

The curtain wall system is 12 inches in depth, notably thicker than standard commercial curtain wall systems that measure seven to ten inches deep. The primary reason for the depth is the amount of insulation needed in the spandrel area, the curtain wall area that wraps all the spaces that need obscuring between the ceiling and the bottom of the structure. To optimize energy efficiency, we got creative to ensure the insulation in these areas was as continuous as possible. There are approximately six inches of insulation in these cavities, easily half of which is continuous, noting that the curtain wall’s frames ranged from a U-value of .22 to .24, compared to typical curtain wall frames have a U-value ranging from .35 to .40.

The diagrid curtain wall – an aerodynamic system comprised of interlinked triangles that eliminate the need for vertical columns – fills the space between the main tower and the monumental stair from ground level to just above the sixth floor. The diamond-patterned glass was designed with the project’s four primary glass colors but also pulled in various blues and greens from the existing hospital. The main tower and the iconic stair each have an independent unitized curtain wall system.

Sequencing of the building’s construction enabled the prefabrication of all the unitized curtain wall system components off-site as the structure was erected. Prefabricating allowed us to install the curtain wall system one five-foot-tall by 16-foot-wide frame (weighing 900-1,000 pounds) at a time. It took two to three weeks to wrap each floor, with more than 1,400 prefabricated frames for the entire structure. The glass was sourced from Viracon in Owatonna, MN, and installed into frames.

The project team spent much time and research creating the variations of the glass positioned within the unique curtain wall framing that wraps the Children’s Mercy Research Institute. There is a very distinct and precise pattern on the glass. The colors and reflectivity of the glass needed to allow the pattern to reveal itself. This time, the balance between the performance of the glass and its reflective films helped complete the design intent of the pattern.

Thank you to our partners, structural engineer Bob D. Campbell and Company and Architectural Wall Systems LLC, and contractor McCownGordon Construction.