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WWII Museum Pavilion Salutes Nation’s Strength

Interior of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center, displaying a collection of WWII-vintage aircrafts
Inside the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center the collection of WWII-vintage aircraft hangs from 10 ft deep exposed trusses, taking center stage in the five-story atrium. A series of suspended steel bridges affords visitors an up-close perspective of the historic planes. © Voorsanger Architects PC

The National WWII Museum’s newest exhibit space combines innovative architecture and engineering to create a dramatic setting for artifacts from land, sea, and air battles that narrate the uniquely American story of the war.

February 12, 2013—The National WWII Museum in New Orleans celebrated the public opening of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center, the latest addition to the museum’s six-acre campus in the city’s trendy Warehouse District, on January 13. The museum originally opened in 2000 as the D-Day Museum and was designated by Congress in 2003 as the country’s official WWII museum.

The 26,000 sq ft Freedom Pavilion represents phase six of the museum’s ambitious $325-million, multiyear expansion plan. New York City-based Weidlinger Associates, Inc., is providing structural engineering for all phases of the expansion, which includes multiple pavilions and the signature fabric Canopy of Peace. Voorsanger Mathes LLC Architects, of New York City and New Orleans, developed the museum’s master plan and designed all phases of the expansion, and Morphy-Makofsky, also of New Orleans, is providing structural engineering for the foundations and first floors as well as the site civil work. (See “World War II Museum Expands,” Civil Engineering, January 2010.)

Voorsanger Architects PC won a design competition for the project and selected local architect Mathes Brierre for the production, forming Voorsanger Mathes LLC to serve as the architects of record. Voorsanger’s competition master plan features a series of five pavilions, each dedicated to a different aspect of the war, that engage visitors in a “Path to Victory.” The pavilions surround the parade ground, a large, open lawn that eventually will be shaded by the Canopy of Peace.

Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, the principal architect on the project, explains that with respect to the master plan, “we saw the pavilions as fragments—a mosaic that when assembled would yield and understanding of World War II.”

The pavilions are being constructed one by one as philanthropic support permits. Funding for the Freedom Pavilion was provided through a $20-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and a $15-million gift from Boeing Corporation.

Anchoring one axis of the parade ground, the imposing Freedom Pavilion is 96 ft high and has a 100 by 200 ft footprint. It is the largest building on the museum campus, designed to accommodate a fleet of suspended WWII-era planes, a Sherman tank at grade, and an interactive submarine exhibit.

The pavilion’s sloping facades consist of a series of irregular horizontal precast-concrete panels—8 ft tall by 30 to 50 ft in length—that cantilever up to 6 ft. The panels are supported by horizontal steel tubes spanning between significant steel columns that also support the roof trusses. To add to the complexity of the design’s geometry, all joints in the precast panels are offset, and the panels have no 90-degree angles. The north side of the building features a dramatic steel and glass curtain wall, allowing a view from the Parade Ground of the immense war birds suspended inside the pavilion.

“The whole envelope has almost no similar sizes,” notes Tian-Fang Jing, P.E., a principal of Weidlinger. “Every column is slightly different, their weights varying between 150 and 300 pounds per foot.” 

Exterior of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center

Guests and visitors at the January 13 grand opening of the U.S.
Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center were dwarfed by the building’s
soaring façade, which was constructed of enormous
precast-concrete panels. The 96 ft high glass and steel curtain wall
offers a tantalizing preview of the exhibits inside. 
© Voorsanger Architects PC

The architecture is purposely irregular to reflect the uncertainties of war, Voorsanger notes. “War is an indeterminate event; therefore, the geometry became indeterminate. I did not want to put it in an orthogonal box.” The architecture reflects the strength of the museum’s theme through the use of powerful visual elements and materials, including stone, glass, and metal.

Under New Orleans’ building codes, which require public buildings to withstand wind speeds of up to 130 mph, the wind load became an integral factor in the Freedom Pavilion’s architecture and structural system, Jing notes. “The wind load is so strong that it governed not only the lateral load system but also the perimeter column design,” he says.

“Wind load is transferred from the facade panels to the perimeter columns and the roof, which is composed of steel trusses, beams, and diagonal braces and acts as a rigid diaphragm to distribute the loads to the lateral system,” he explains. Wind load on the roof deck and parapet is as high as 100 psf.

Inside, the five-story atrium is an open exhibit space where the museum’s collection of WWII airplanes is suspended from the ceiling. The heaviest, a Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress,” weighs in at 35,000 lb. The collection also includes a P-51 and a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber.

Weidlinger’s solution to the load demands is a strengthened steel frame system that creates a column-free space with 10 ft deep exposed trusses to support the roof. Trusses vary from 60 to 100 ft in length, spanning façade to façade, with diagonal bracing between the trusses for added strength and stability.

A series of suspended bridges constructed of W40 beams with metal decking allows visitors to view the airplanes up close and participate in virtual cockpit tours via touch screens. Visitors also can view a second-floor gallery highlighting the wartime activities of all of the branches of service and incorporating interactive displays featuring specific campaigns and battles and a tribute wall that honors WWII Medal of Honor winners.

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year on the 450 ft by 125 ft Canopy of Peace, to be suspended above the Parade Ground. Planned to be 135 ft high at its tallest point, the fabric canopy will be framed in steel with only four supporting columns, including a V-shaped pedestal that signifies victory and peace. All phases of the expansion are scheduled for completion in 2016.


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