Established in 2010 as part of a content partnership with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the Museum at Prariefire (MAP) was designed to be the centerpiece of a 60-acre mixed-use development in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. Giving visitors “the unique opportunity to experience cutting edge, world renowned exhibition and view artifacts from the [AMNH],“ the owners of MAP, Merrill Companies, LLC., wanted a design as distinctive as its offering.
Verner Johnson’s website notes, “the expansive lobby is enclosed by ‘lines of fire’, facetted vertical planes composed of tinted vision glazing, dichroic glass, and iridescent stainless steel panels, set in a composition invoking flames. The dichroic glass and iridescent stainless steel are color shifting depending on the viewing, creating a vibrant animated glow of color around the building.” The Museum at Prairie Fire is the only building in the United States to feature dichroic glass developed by NASA.
The project’s unique aesthetic called for a very particular set of deliverables. To keep the appearance of flames, Kharfen and his team wanted the walls to appear as thin as possible. Columned spaces were dismissed because of their bulky look, but the design called for a mullion system that could offer crisp corners and support the roof. After seeing a custom detail of Kawneer’s 1600 Wall System™1 Curtain Wall, Kharfen determined that the product would be a fit.
With its crisp, clean monolithic appearance and flexibility, 1600 Wall System™1 Curtain Wall proved ideal for the MAP application. A veneer version of the stick-fabricated, pressure glazed curtain wall worked into the museum’s varied façade profile to give the building its unique, vibrant appearance. Kansas City, Missouri-based Jim Plunkett, Inc. (JPI) was selected to serve as the glazing contractor. The company self-performed 100 percent of the glass and glazing for the complex project.
To accomplish the design’s one-of-kind look, Kharfen worked with Kawneer Architectural Sales Representative Tom Meyers and several company engineers.
“Kawneer took all of my ideas seriously and was willing to see if each element in the design, no matter how challenging, could work. Tom and the rest of the Kawneer team were open to exploration and that is one of the things that helped make this project so successful,” said Kharfen.
Together the team devised a plan to first accommodate the weight of the glass and support the roof. As part of the effort to maintain the aesthetic, most of the curtain wall’s aluminum features were removed. Still, the application had to remain watertight, sustain the high wind loads of the Kansas plains and the gravitational loads associated with the structure’s weight
“The aluminum system that held the glass had to be minimal,” Meyers said. “The veneer system featured an aluminum membrane inside of the glass and attached to a steel grid tube structure to maintain the structural integrity of the facility.”
“During the installation process the glaziers had to develop a way to set the glass because there weren’t many square pieces of glass,” added Andrea Plunkett, title, with Jim Plunkett, Inc. “Because there were so many different shapes and sizes of glass, they were very difficult to set. In order to set all the glass correctly, we developed a numbered system in order to ensure that each piece of glass was cut and set in the correct order.”
The team also ended up with three-pane spacing of 25 1/8” between verticals. The project features two different types of glass – one laminated with diocrhoic film and the other not – as well as the angled panels necessary to accomplish the design.
As expected, sloped tops proved to be a challenge in the numerous interior and exterior doors. Hinge placements were varied and could easily cause misalignment. Kawneer engineers brainstormed ideas to customize arrangements; for the details to work out just right areas of the frame were notched to make hinges function properly without affecting the overarching design. Once a mockup of the solution was constructed, the Kawneer team delivered videos of the process to the construction team to ensure a smooth transition from idea to reality. “What was amazing about Kawneer,” Kharfen said, “is that it’s a big company that is willing to go above and beyond, no matter the client or project.”
The Museum was designed using modern technology for energy efficiency. Dubbed “The Jewel of Overland Park,” the museum, which registered with the certification goal of LEED® Silver through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® green building program, has received rave reviews since opening Spring 2014.
“This project was unique both because of the materials used and the difficulty of installation,” said Plunkett. “The public response has been very positive. The Museum at Prairiefire is a very recognizable project and people are often commenting on it and it’s unique glass features.”
“Everyone has been really excited about it and people have been very engaged,” Kharfen noted. “Now, the rare exhibits inside the museum have a one-of-a-kind facility to match.”