AGS Case Study: Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia

Kimmel Center

In Philadelphia, the vault of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts soars, and in the chapter on CAD/CAM technology in Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, Marc Swackhamer tells us why and how.

Fabricator Architectural Skylight (now Architectural Glazing Technologies) cranked up the building information modeling (BIM) software, some of it custom-created by them for this project. First, there were hand sketches, which were electronically transformed into a 3D representation of the vault. The computer figured out how it would work, once the weight of the cladding and the inevitable precipitation were added to the weight of the skeletal framework itself. Of course, the accurate ordering of materials is always a plus, too, and this software took care of it. When it came to the fabrication process, CAD/CAM provided for vertical integration, so parts tracking, milling, and assembly all flowed without a hitch.

Architectural Skylight also went so far as to invent a glass-lifting machine especially for this project, along with an accompanying animation showing exactly how to run the device. Using suction cups to hold the glass, it delicately placed each panel in just the right position. As described in Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition:

Architectural Skylight developed customized proprietary software that associated a numerical database with each individual component in the skylight system. This instructional database contained operational instructions for CNC machinery such as hole tapping, cutting, milling, notching, drilling, and countersinking. The database also included information on material supplies, bills of quantities, and cost, as well as instructions to installers. Video capabilities were used to demonstrate the process to installers, illustrating installation methodologies graphically in real time.

This skylight covers an entire city block, and at 156,677 square feet it is said to be the most extensive such construction in the world. The Architectural Record website has a nice page about it.
The making of just the fasteners alone provides a fascinating story, and it’s on page 944 of Architectural Graphic Standards.

One thing this project really proved (as if the notion of building information modeling needed any more validation!) is how much better it is to work together than at cross-purposes. Harmony of purpose was achieved in the several ways. Visually, the architect wanted the glass vault to have a slender appearance. The visual weight was kept in the ethereal range by minimizing the size of the vault trusses. The thinness of the glass mullion system was accomplished through the intervention of CAD/CAM technology.

Erection time was minimized, as was the cost of materials, because the software was able to show the most economical path. Testing of the details having to do with the connection process was carried out by the software’s ability to do rapid prototyping and material simulation:

Common to all of these technologies was a general improvement in project flow and communication. Improvements were achieved between many stakeholders, including architect, engineers, fabricators, and installers; between design drawings and fabrication/construction drawings; between drawings and fabrication equipment; and perhaps most importantly, between design intention and project reality.

SOURCE: “Architectural Graphic Standards” 2007
photo courtesy of lgbsneak , used under this Creative Commons license

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