Winner: 2010 Construction Excellence Awards: Gold (Interior Finishes, West Region)
Winner: 2011 NWCB Outstanding Project of the Year (Interior Commercial, British Columbia)

Flexible Grilles: Flexible Manufacturer

A tight schedule is perhaps the most challenging design environment. The margin for error is significantly reduced as mistakes or poor initial designs lead to costly schedule overruns. Coordination between the key players becomes paramount. The atrium at 800 Yates Street, a 10,000 square-foot wood wave wall grille, is a perfect example of a successful design under an extremely demanding schedule.

The wood grilles form the walls of this large, seven-story central atrium in an innovative office building in British Columbia. Katherin Logan with D'Ambrosia Arcitecture summarized the space well: “The atrium is the heart of the building. It's a semi-public urban 'room'. We chose wood to give it a sense of welcome that would be perceptible from the street."

The building contains 200,000 square feet of office and retail space. The central atrium creates a spectacular arrival hall and provides an area for social interaction and casual meetings. It can also be adapted as a music venue for evening performances.

The 9Wood grilles help the atrium fit into the larger building. Logan commented on the installed product: “The wood grilles are sort of a 'wrapper' making it legible and distinct from the office. To have that very fine scale over such an expansive area is really dramatic. When you walk into the atrium you say, 'Wow!' It's a leap of scale from the fine to the very large."

The wall grilles are the most visually striking aspect of the atrium. The grilles are composed of 5/8" x 1" Western Hemlock members. The relatively tight 3/8" reveal between members emphasizes the wood, while still allowing the grilles to curve to match the atrium's undulating shape. The reveals between members also create a high noise transfer coefficient, which allows for acoustic material set behind the grille to control the acoustics of the vast open space. “The grilles are part of the acoustic strategy. We worked with an acoustical engineer to design those walls," added Logan.

The glass atrium ceiling fills the space with natural light, which interacts with the warm tones of the natural Western Hemlock to create a genial atmosphere. The grilles intersect and accent banks of windows, which add to the brightness of the space and provide a sense of openness with the offices and retailers surrounding the atrium. Speaking to the building's language of the exterior translating to the interior, the Logan reflected: “We wanted to use the slats because they could take the curves so elegantly. The outside of the building has radiused corners; the glass and concrete panels curve. Those materials have a 'liquid' form and we wanted to keep those bends from exterior to interior so we chose wood. They give a 'lightness' to the material that we couldn't have achieved with a solid-faced wood panel. The wood slats slide effortlessly across the space."

What is truly remarkable about the project is the speed with which it was accomplished: From submittals to full install in less than four months. In an industry where projects can stretch over several years, this is truly remarkable. An early web conference between 9Wood, 9Wood rep Mark Bromley of Cascadia Design, the subcontractor, general contractor and owner set the tone for the project. The need for a tight schedule was established and coordination between the involved companies was planned and put into place at an early stage.

There were many challenges to overcome. The architect's design called for the wood grille panels to be attached to notched z-bars which, in combination with the radius of the curving atrium walls, required a special flexible metal backer to be designed. These had to be expedited to arrive in time for production. In order to meet the demanding schedule, the wood itself had to be procured in only two weeks. 9Wood project manager Leo Batenhosrt remarked, “[our supply chain manager] really worked some magic to get the wood in so fast."

The fine scale of the Western Hemlock members became even finer just before production because of a fire code red flag limiting the depth of the grilles to 1" versus the specified and approved 1-3/8". “We were able to continue with the schedule and the same budget, and you didn't make a big deal about it. You were very supportive in the process," said Logan appreciatively. To accommodate such a small slat, a special fastener had to be designed that would not cause the wood to split. The sheer volume of wood members meant that over 100,000 fasteners had to be used in the grilles. A special fabrication process was designed to speed up the attachment of the grille members to the metal backers.

Even more complicated was the coordination of the sizing of the grille panels with the as-built conditions of the building. A common solution to deviations between the planned and as-built dimensions of a building is to redesign panels using field dimensions. Because of the tight schedule of the project — the finish work for the atrium was entirely completed in only eight weeks, including the erection and dismantling of scaffolding — this kind of design modification was impossible. Instead, digital modeling allowed the products to be aligned in the field to a very tight tolerance.

This level of precision, combined with a highly skilled installer and a well-designed product produced fantastic results. As one of the project managers for the installer recalled: “The product was amazing. It's got to be the best project I've ever worked on." This was made possible by good coordination and flexibility on the part of the supply chain, the designer, the manufacturer, and the installer. The result is an exciting and beautiful new building.

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