Special Conditions: Special Design

Working with unusual materials always presents a challenge for manufacturers – especially when the product is a wood ceiling with complex geometry. This project, a medical research building at Stanford University, incorporated bamboo veneer and a highly custom fabric wrap in a complex 8,000 square-foot wall and ceiling system. To further add to the challenge of the project, a design change after the ceiling had already shipped required about half the project to be shipped back to the factory and remade, all on a tight schedule. The end result is a striking linear wall and ceiling, created using sustainable materials.

Bamboo is the fastest-growing woody plant in the world, and thus provides an attractive option as an ecological building material. But unlike traditional wood products, bamboo is technically classified as a grass and can react quite differently to changes in relative humidity in the environment.

If the panels aren't properly balanced, they can warp or crack due to changes in the moisture content of the air. While this is a problem for all wood products, it is especially significant for bamboo. Raising the stakes was the proximity of the wall system to one of the main stairwells in the building: Anyone taking the stairs would have a close-up opportunity to pick out even minute defects in the wall panels.

We took this into account when designing the linear panels. All panels were specially balanced and mechanically stiffened to minimize the impact of wood movement.

Another challenge was the unique acoustic fabric wrap behind the linear panels. The custom red fabric, chosen to match the school colors, was stretched and attached to each panel by hand. Fabric wrapping can be extremely unforgiving; any creases or wrinkles become obvious through the reveals in the wood members – especially on walls at eye level. Furthermore, the fabric had to be attached after finishing, raising the possibility of scuffing or dinging the finish. We devised a special assembly routing to ensure that every panel met the stringent quality standards required.

Still another complicating factor was the complex geometry of the ceiling. The architect's design called for several triangular sections, starting with 14-foot-long panels. This presented a challenge from two perspectives. First, the diagonal cut required a large number of custom panels, each factory-cut to perfectly fit with the other panels.

Second, bamboo veneer is typically unavailable in lengths longer than eight feet. In order to create 14-foot panels, we had to design a unique system of joining two seven-foot members into one long panel.

Despite the complicated design, the biggest challenge of the project came after the entire ceiling and wall system had already shipped. The design originally called for half of the ceiling to consist of wood grille panels. After the ceiling was already installed, the design was changed to include only linear wood. Thus all the grille panels had to be changed into linear panels. This not only presented a huge logistical challenge, the last-minute nature of the change meant an extremely short schedule. We were able to develop a process for remaking each grille panel into a linear panel without damaging the finish of the wood – while still meeting the aggressive schedule requirements.

The end result is striking: The custom red fabric shines through the bamboo linear members to create a truly unique look that matches the atmosphere of the Stanford campus. The articulation of the ceiling and wall panels beautifully combines the wall and ceiling into one cohesive element. The bamboo on FSC core reflects the environmentally sustainable nature of the ceiling and contributes to the building's expected LEED silver certification. All this was made possible by our expert design team and a high level of flexibility on the part of our production team.

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