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Realizing the architect’s final project using advanced fabrication techniques Johnson may have never known.
Philip Johnson completed the design for the Interfaith Peace Chapel in Dallas just before his death in 2005. Working with Johnson’s firm Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects and architect of record Cunningham Architects, the Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ and non-profit social advocacy group Hope for Peace & Justice moved forward with the building. Completed late last year, the chapel is a monument to the congregation’s pluralistic worldview and acceptance of all religions. Its smooth, curving walls are central to Johnson’s goal of creating a cave-like sanctuary that is far removed from the site’s banal location near the runways of Dallas Love Field Airport. The project team hired cold-formed steel framing fabricator Radius Track to help realize the design.
As a contributor to projects including Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Grimshaw’s Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute outside Troy, New York, Radius Track are experts at framing large curved surfaces. Construction of the Peace Chapel began with structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti’s structural steel 3-D Tekla BIM model, which defined the asymmetrical geometry of the chapel’s approximately 3-foot-thick interior and exterior walls—the design is free of any parallel lines or right angles. Cunningham Architects converted that model into a Rhino 3-D model that contained all of the finished surfaces in addition to the structural steel details. Radius Track used that model to create its cold-formed steel framing details while identifying any conflicts between the structural and cold-formed steel systems.
The team was also faced with the challenge of meeting the high wind load requirements of the tornado-prone Dallas area. Because the framing system needed to be strong but flexible enough to handle the chapel’s curves, Radius Track created twin structures to frame interior and exterior walls, using 3 5/8-inch 33-mil studs and track for the interior walls and 6-inch 54-mil studs and track for the exterior walls. The company’s CEO, architect Chuck Mears, added strength and saved time and material costs by designing a system that attaches both walls to the structural steel using a single horizontal clip. The construction also allowed consulting engineer THHinc to use only one support header in each window or door opening, saving the cost of creating additional curved header shapes. Radius Track fabricated all of the project’s steel studs in its Minneapolis shop.
Clad in a skin of cement plaster supported by metal sheathing, the 8,000-square-foot, 175-seat chapel is 46 feet tall and 106 feet wide, creating the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Hope’s campus, which is home to one of the country’s largest gay and lesbian congregations. Johnson also designed a nearby bell tower, completed in 2000, but his plans for a grand cathedral adjacent to the chapel remain unbuilt.