Winner: 2014 Construction Excellence Awards: Gold (Ceilings, West Region)

Geometric Tree House

Approaching the UCLA Hitch Commons building, the folded exterior ceiling with stained Douglas Fir linears invites one into the space within. The ceiling's natural tones and grain add warmth to the angular design, and elegantly tie in the natural surroundings. At first glance, the linear planks appear fairly ordinary, which is the intent. Upon inspection of the shop drawings however, the dimensions and details of the planks and end-joints reveal tight execution. The consistency of the installed ceiling was made possible by significant coordination and modelling. It was simplicity achieved through complexity.

The challenges presented by the ceiling design centered on the angled geometry. The first question was, "why so many angles?" "Why not?" would be the better question, according to architect Geoff Doorn of Steinberg. "The building structure and ceiling were canted up at the west end to highlight the view. The intersection of sloping planes was required to match the building folds, as well as to create a rich visual impact." The exterior angles continued through glazing, into the large interior space. 9Wood's solid vertical grain Douglas Fir linears were selected due to their dimensional stability, meaning they could withstand swings in temperature and humidity.

Ten unique, articulating planes formed the facetted interior and exterior ceiling. The "folds" posed a challenge: how could the suspended linear planks appear as one width as they zig-zagged up and down each plane? And, when jumping 3/4" reveals at the seams, how could their ends maintain alignment? The mathematical reality was that if plank widths or reveals were not adjusted in some way, they could not align properly and it would compromise the architect's design intent.

To understand the complexity, 9Wood drafter Robby Ball drew a 3D model of the entire ceiling. Each plank and joint was examined to figure out how it would fit together as a finished, suspended ceiling. Then, like flattening an orange peel to understand how its spherical shape is composed, the angled ceiling was "flattened" to measure each of the linear plank widths. That painstaking process yielded dozens of net plank sizes, separated by fractions of an inch. It would be impossible to track in production and the field. Instead, Ball "rounded" every plank to one of three sizes: 3", 3-1/8", and 3-1/4". The result: a suspended ceiling where all the linears appear as the same module. "By coming up with three sizes, it created classy and correct joinery. We found a simple approach to tackle a complex design."

The 3D modelling and head scratching up front cut out a lot of the complexity, and allowed the acoustical sub-contractor to focus their efforts on the field-cuts at the angels. Matt Paul with Elljay Acoustics summarized the process: "9Wood did a great job with the shop drawings and grid layout drawings that made our job a lot easier." The 2,600SF project still took 720 man hours to install.

Ball summed it up best: "The highlight was having all of the complex geometry come together. That was really satisfying."

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