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Feature> Brownsteel
The Barclays Center's undulating bands of rusted metal panels reach out to Brownstone Brooklyn.
The BIM process allowed the designers to quickly rationalize steel frames for the 85-foot cantilever of the canopy.
Courtesy SHoP Construction

A three-part series on the opening of Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards:

 · SHoP Redeems Ratner
 · Going Mod?
 · Brownsteel

SHoP Architects designed the skin of the Barclays Center to soften, as much as possible, the impact of this 675,000-square-foot professional basketball arena on the edge of residential Brooklyn. “We tried to mitigate the size of the building by making horizontal bands that could be read at different scales,” explained SHoP partner Gregg Pasquarelli. “There’s a larger band at top that responds to the urban scale, and a lower band that is at the neighborhood scale, rising to around the height of a four- or five-story brownstone.”

Composed of a latticework of weathered (rusted) steel panels, the bands undulate as they wrap the arena, opening up to reveal glazed concourses that offer visitors views of the city, and closing down to conceal the building’s opaque quarters, such as mechanical areas or fire stairs. In addition to the undulations, the spacing of the panels in the latticework is also varied, giving the architects another lever of control to adjust the cladding’s gradient between permeability and solidity. The panels themselves—of which there are 12,000, each uniquely sized—feature 45-degree bends that create a shadowbox effect, giving the facade a sense of depth.

Since the facade was designed in CATIA, SHoP Construction was able to create fabrication files from its digital model that fed straight into its milling machine.

The panels and the vertical channels that hold them went through a 3½-month pre-weathering process before arriving on site. Done in four batches, they were subjected to 12 to 16 wet-dry cycles a day up to a limit of 1,000 cycles, achieving in less than one year what it would have taken Mother Nature six years to accomplish and significantly reducing any future onsite weathering. “We thought about lots of materials,” said Pasquarelli. “There was something about this raw industrial material’s grittiness combined with the sensuous morphology of the building and the forward-looking, digital quality of the patterning that seemed like the right metaphor for Brooklyn.”

The latticework overlays a curtain wall system of insulated glass units—Viracon 13⁄16-inch VRE1-59 insulating clear laminated glass—and aluminum panels—a combination of Alucobond 4-millimeter composite metal panels with a two coat Kynar custom finish and formed 1/8-inch aluminum sheets. The latticework and curtain wall units were fabricated into unitized megapanels in dimensions that range in size from 40-feet-high by 10-feet-wide to 15-feet-high by 10-feet-wide. In most cases, the latticework is offset from the curtain wall exterior by 72 inches and connected by an A36 painted steel framework. Trucked onto site, the megapanels were lifted into place by a crawler crane and then fastened to the structure with curtain wall anchors.

Detail showing structural support sections through the canopy that attach to the metal skin (left). Each steel panel went through a three and a half month pre-weathering process (right).
Courtesy SHoP Construction and Bruce Damonte

SHoP Construction, SHoP's digital integration arm, facilitated the delivery of the exterior of the building in CATIA, which allowed them to deconstruct the model into its fabrication elements. The weathering steel panels were unfolded and exported into a program that “nested” (generated a material-efficient layout) the parts and produced the cut file that was delivered directly to the CNC machine via USB stick for production. All 12,000 weathered steel panels were cut from 3/16-inch thick, 62-inch by 156-inch A588 steel sheets. Months before the first panel was to be hung on the weathering line, the architects provided the facade contractor with a fully nested facade for purposes of the early procurement of the A588 material, which was essential due to the time period required for the pre-weathering process prior to unit assembly. In all phases tracking the components was essential. SHoP Construction linked 4-dimensional (schedule) models with a database, prototyping a functional iPhone interface. This allowed the architects to not only track the individual panels as they were processed, but to also coordinate the installation sequence of the assembled megapanels with the design build team.

The lower band of latticework cantilevers 85 feet out over the entrance of the arena supported by a structural steel armature. This canopy looms above a minimalist plaza and the subway and commuter train stairs, from which 80 percent of the Barclays Center’s visitors are predicted to come. In the middle of the canopy is a 110-foot-wide by 60-foot-deep oculus lined with a dynamic LED sign that will flash announcements about upcoming events at the arena. Couching the sign within the steel armature was another gesture of contextual sensitivity. “We didn’t want the sign blaring out into the neighborhood,” said Pasquarelli. “We wanted something focused inward.” The same can be said of the rest of the facade’s lighting scheme. The folded element of every third weathered steel panel is lit by a white LED light source, creating a soft glow across the surface. From a distance, the little irregularly spaced spots of illumination seem to come from multiple smaller buildings, dematerializing the arena into the wash of city lights.

Aaron Seward

Aaron Seward is AN’s Managing Editor.