Changing Skylines with Landmark Buildings

Written by Karen Hawthorne

Think of some of the most amazing buildings in the U.S. – the three bulbous glass spheres with pentagonal panels for Amazon’s new office in downtown Seattle, the Chase Center Office Complex and impressive new dome for the Golden State Warriors, the wave-inspired expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Modern design and construction go far beyond conventional, vertical towers and materials. The latest smart buildings offer architectural elegance in a variety of fascinating shapes and textures – all with superior function for structural reliability and performance. They combine both beauty and brains.

“What makes a building last over time is keeping the air and water under control,” says Jeff Vaglio, Vice President of Enclos. “This little six inches to twelve inches of exterior really is your whole control barrier between comfort and the uncontrollable nature of the elements.” Enclos is a leading design-build contractor headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis.

The firm, renowned for putting big glass on big buildings, brought these iconic structures in Seattle and San Francisco to life. The company formed in 2001, merging generations of knowledge from two skyscraper leaders, Cupples International, who built the 1973 World Trade Center Towers in New York, and Harmon, Ltd., the team behind the 1997 Getty Center in L.A. and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

Enclos’ expertise is the high-tech “skin” of buildings that push the traditional envelope in a mind-blowing way. The company offers the full service, from design and engineering to custom fabricating and installing curtain wall and building façade systems. Along with these services, LEED certification for these sustainable working and living spaces is always top of mind.

Consider that 15 years ago, most of the work Enclos completed was flat and predominantly glass. In recent years, the geometries have grown in complexity, which has meant introducing computer-numerical-control (CNC) milling mold forms and integrating new materials beyond glass that deliver advanced energy performance.

Enclos prides itself on being innovative and adaptable to take on whatever architectural visions may come. In other words, the sky is the limit for the firm’s clients and the cities that benefit from these extraordinary structures.

Take a look way, way up at the revamped tower soaring above Central Park in New York and you’ll get an idea of what the company does best. “A great example of our technical specialty is the recent capping off of the MoMA Tower in New York,” Vaglio says. Enclos’ project managers, kinetic engineers, safety team, and field crew worked together on the tower’s highest apex. Two prefabricated mega-assemblies were merged on the ground into a 40-foot x 9-foot x 20-foot-tall wedge, weighing in at 44,000 pounds, before flying 1,100 feet above Manhattan.

“This is the type of work we thrive on, which others might back away from, because it’s not figured out. It’s daunting and you’re supposed to assign a price to it and commit to delivering it on time,” he says.

Then there are patience and safety considerations that go hand-in-hand with these feats of construction and complex geometry. “You have to wait for the weather conditions to be right on an early morning in December,” Vaglio says of the MoMA Tower cap installation. “But if you’re in the middle of the streets in New York, it can be very turbulent just because of the wind. But credit to our crews – they were prepared.”

Indeed, it is in the company’s nature to not shy away from a challenge. “We always want to be near the forefront when it comes to new technology,” says Enclos’ President Bruce Bornhurst. “It’s our people who are really, really good at doing that and make the difference.”

Vaglio himself joined Enclos in 2007 as an aspiring young architect coming out of school who gravitated toward the more challenging projects that bridge the gap between architecture and engineering. That gap is where his training in parametric design, a process based on algorithmic thinking that captures design intent and actual function, became part of the Enclos competitive advantage.

In 2009, the company took Vaglio’s initiative a step further and formed its own Advanced Technology Studio, a think tank for investigating and integrating materials, processes and analytical techniques that focus on the increasingly complex nature of building façades.

“You know, sometimes you’re young, you’re naive enough just to charge ahead and here we are at a juncture point in 2012 where we’re seriously entertaining spheres for Amazon which have this cosmic geometry that architectural students dream of working on. But at the same time the organization says, ‘hey, we don’t know how to even model this.’”

The studio team became very positive disruptors to the organization, paving the way for remarkable projects like the 2016 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expansion – and praise from Bornhurst:

“Jeff’s group broke through a lot of technological barriers that came in,” Bornhurst says. “That was a breakthrough job with regard to utilization of digital technology to determine the complex surface geometry in a drawing state, and then at the 3D modeling state. The talent we have under our roof doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

The museum expansion is a work of art with incredible technical innovation behind the scenes. The project elevated the building mass above street level to offer new spaces to showcase the museum’s growing collection, along with terraces and outdoor sculpture gardens.

The standout feature of the 10-story structure is the rippling bands of the exterior that evoke the waters and fog of the San Francisco Bay. The wall is notably the largest architectural application of fiberglass-reinforced plastic in the country. It’s made with an opaque rain-screen panel in front of a backup system with interlocking curtain wall technology and insulation – the collaboration between Enclos, design architect Snøhetta and leading FRP manufacturer Kreysler & Associates.

What’s key in building skins for a fast-evolving industry? Big data and contractors putting it to the best use. Just as the architectural geometry of façades has increased in complexity, the inventory of data to stay attuned to a project has expanded exponentially. Digital analytics starts in the early modeling stage and moves through the fabrication and field work.

“An exciting strategic response to this big-data-set quandary has been our Project Controls team,” Vaglio says of the group dedicated to tracking all manufacturing and field processes from initial plans to project completion.

The use of new and progressive approaches and materials is another element that sets Enclos apart. “What keeps us on the leading edge is our ability to collaborate with outside resources,” says Bornhurst. “If someone we’re speaking to comes up with the idea of turning old car tire carcasses into some kind of building products – but they know nothing about building – we have the resources to work with them to collaborate and bring those products to life.”

All of this positions Enclos for more top-tier projects to come. Just on the horizon is the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium slated for opening in 2020, in time for Super Bowl action. The stadium has a sleek, black unitized curtain wall and doors at the north elevation point that open to give spectators a great view of the Las Vegas strip.

“Each of these doors is the size of a basketball court tilted up vertically,” Vaglio says. “They slide open, so what you’re talking about there is sliding a 45 x 90-foot-tall steel structure that has aluminum and glass hanging from it,” he explains.

“On that special moment on that Super Bowl Sunday, things have to open smoothly and they’ve got to do their job. That’s a lot of planning. That’s a lot of sophisticated engineering that goes into it.”



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