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Calatrava Designs Campus, First Academic Building

Aerial view of the Innovation, Science, and Technology Building which will be located at the north end of a man-made lake
The Innovation, Science, and Technology Building will be located at the north end of a man-made lake, which will serve as the centerpiece of the new Florida Polytechnic University, in Lakeland, Florida. Santiago Calatrava designed the building and developed the campus’s master plan. © Santiago Calatrava, LLC, 2013. All rights reserved.

The first academic building on a new university campus in Florida will be unlike any other in the world.

February 25, 2014—The first academic building on a new university campus, to be located in central Florida, will do more than provide space for classrooms and laboratories. It will establish a bold architectural tone for the entire campus development. Designed by renowned architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the building will be unlike any other—featuring an arched pergola, a vaulted skylight, and solar-shading louvers accentuating its football-shaped silhouette. The engineering effort required to realize the design is equally ambitious.

Florida Polytechnic University, as the university will be known, will be dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and math. It was originally planned as a branch of the University of South Florida but instead will become the state’s 12th independent public institution. The University of South Florida invited several architecture firms—including Santiago Calatrava, whose firm is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, with an office in New York City—to submit qualifications to develop the master plan for the polytechnic school’s new campus. After interviewing the most preferred firms, the university selected Calatrava to create the master plan for the campus and design the school’s first academic building. Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., an international engineering firm headquartered in New York City, is the structural engineer of record, and Alfonso Architects, an architecture firm based in Tampa, is the architect of record on the building project. The civil engineer is Anderson Lane Inc., a civil engineering firm based in Clearwater, Florida, and the construction manager/general contractor on the building project is Skanska, a project development and construction group with U.S. headquarters in New York City.

The campus is being developed on 170 acre site, in Lakeland, Florida—halfway between Tampa and Orlando. The site once contained phosphorous mines, but those have since been filled with water, forming small lakes—some of which are being enlarged to create a new sprawling lake at the center of the campus. The first academic building is being constructed on a clearing at the lake’s north end, directly adjacent to Interstate 4. “In the tradition of great American universities, the master plan is dominated by the new lake that creates a central space, organizing the site and establishing a scale appropriate for the institution,” said Calatrava in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “The building is located at the north end of the lake, the operable [louvers] of its roof creating an iconic visual symbol of the university from both the campus and the interstate.” 

The Innovation, Science, and Technology Building, as the building is known, will have 200,000 gross sq ft arranged over two above-grade levels. The building will take the shape of a prolate spheroid and will function as a “miniature campus,” serving most of the university’s primary needs until more buildings are constructed. It will house classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, large and small meeting spaces, and other facilities. “The building plan’s simple layout evolved quite naturally out of the space program and the university’s desired educational model, which is to facilitate an interdisciplinary education where the faculty and students interact in a variety of open spaces,” Calatrava said.

Exterior rendering of the Innovation, Science, and Technology Building

One of the defining architectural features of the Innovation,
Science, and Technology Building will be its arched pergola, which
will provide shade to the upper-level terraces and lower-level
arcades. The pergola will comprise 84 arched aluminum “leaves.”
© Santiago Calatrava, LLC, 2013. All rights reserved.

On the building’s first level, the technical research laboratories will be located toward the interior, near the core, which will accommodate substantial mechanical systems for the labs. Classrooms and nontechnical teaching laboratories will line a pair of curved corridors on the first level, near the building’s perimeter. The corridors will be two stories high and illuminated by clerestory glazing. A grand staircase at either end of the building will lead to the second level, where faculty offices and meeting rooms will be arranged around the “Commons”—a spacious multifunctional atrium space located directly beneath the building’s striking vaulted skylight. The offices and meeting rooms will overlook the corridors and have views to the campus through the clerestory windows. The building will be surrounded by upper-level terraces and lower-level arcades, which will be shaded by an arched pergola—one of the building’s defining architectural elements. “What is unique about the building is the pergola,” Calatrava said. “It transforms what is a rather standard building elevation into something really special, both from the exterior as well as the interior points of view.”

The building is being constructed on soft soils. As a result, the site has been reinforced using the vibro-replacement method, which involves drilling holes in the ground and filling them with stone columns. The building rises from those columns, and is framed in concrete. One of the building’s primary structural elements is a series of 30 ft tall cast-in-place, exposed concrete portal frames that form the two-story corridors that rise from the building’s lower level. A great deal of consideration was given to the placement of the frames’ construction joints to ensure that those elements would be aesthetically pleasing without being too challenging to construct. “Everything is exposed to view, so it was critical to arrange the construction joints so that they would be concealed from the corridors and the main lobby,” says Chris Christoforou, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, a principal of Thornton Tomasetti. “It was important that you see only a nice concrete-finished surface without any unsightly construction joints.”

Another primary structural element is the cast-in-place concrete ring beam that encircles the Commons to support the vaulted skylight and its operable louver system. From that beam, the skylight rises with 46 tubular steel arches spaced approximately every 7 ft in the north-south direction to match the spacing of the portal frames below. Rising 48 ft above the floor below, the arch at the apex of the skylight is the largest, while those on either side decrease in size toward the skylight’s northern and southern ends.

The arches are covered by glazing, which is then topped by two sets of 47 operable aluminum louvers—one on the east side and another on the west side of the skylight. The largest measuring 63 ft long, the louvers will ultimately be fitted with solar panels. The louvers will move up and down using the power of hydraulic pistons, which will be programmed so that each set of louvers moves in unison as the sun tracks across the sky. When the wind speed is 40 mph or more, the louvers will automatically retract. “The louvers provide shading for the [skylight],” Christoforou says. “They are hooked up to a computerized system that follows the sun—so when the left side is up twenty degrees, the other side may be up sixty degrees.”

The building will be clad in aluminum and glass. However, its defining exterior feature will be the arched pergola that surrounds the entire structure. The pergola comprises 84 arched aluminum “leaves,” each measuring 40 ft tall. The leaves arch downward from the lower roof to the lake wall that lines the building’s perimeter. Near the wall, the arches converge to form an inverted “Y” shape, enhancing the pergola’s dramatic appearance. In addition to creating an architectural effect, the pergola shades the upper-level terraces and ground-level arcades, both of which provide outdoor gathering spaces and seating areas for students and faculty. Furthermore, the pergola shades the building’s windows, reducing the solar load on the building by more than 30 percent, according to a statement from Calatrava’s office. MG McGrath, Inc., an architectural metal fabricator based in Maplewood, Minnesota, fabricated both the pergola and skylight louver system under a design/build contract; McGrath used performance and geometrical criteria that were developed by the architect and structural engineer. Hardesty & Hanover, an engineering firm based in New York City, served as a consultant to the design team on the kinetic components of the louver system.

The building’s exotic shape and extensive program has made meeting some of the state building and fire codes a challenge. For instance, the vaulted commons space at the center of the building is too large for a standard fire sprinkler system, so the team had to find a way to prove that the building could meet the local fire safety code requirements without one. To that end, Rolf Jensen and Associates, a fire protection firm headquartered in Chicago, provided a “performance-based life safety analysis report” for the building. Using fire model simulations, the firm demonstrated that the building’s commons and two-story corridors will help to contain the smoke and keep it elevated long enough for people to safely evacuate the building during a fire. “The code requirements indicate that when the smoke layer gets to six feet from the walking surface, it is considered deadly,” explains Joey D. Ottman, a project designer for Alfonso Architects. “In a normal building, the smoke will build up and come down to that level pretty quickly. But in our building, it’s going to take quite some time for that smoke to come down to that point because the corridors and vaulted commons skylight actually act as smoke collectors.”

Construction of the nearly $60-million building began in March 2012. Completion of the project, which remains under budget, is anticipated this summer. Calatrava said that when the building is completed, he hopes it will capture people’s imaginations and set the stage for the university’s future development. “I hope that the new Florida Polytechnic University campus and the Innovation, Science, and Technology Building will inspire students, faculty, employees, and all who visit it,” Calatrava said. “And that this first building will serve as an example and model for those buildings yet to come and what the university, as an educational institution, expects to achieve.”



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