Port canaveral
exploration tower

With its shimmering, iridescent exterior, Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral beckons visitors with its unique appearance as its color changes in different light and when viewed from different angles.

An integral part of Florida’s Space Coast and Canaveral Cove’s revitalization, Exploration Tower is owned by Canaveral Port Authority. Its opening coincided with the Port’s 60th anniversary of its establishment and the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s landing on Florida’s east coast.

Taking its cues from the shapes and hues of the port, GWWO Inc. Architects designed the seven-story, sail-shaped structure to express the common characteristics of “transience, function and imagery.” The building’s southern elevation soars from the water to the sky. It narrows in scale and reduces its exterior coverage until only the steel frame remains to outline the curvature and comes together at a peak 60 feet above the main roof level.

Radius Track Corporation fabricated the curved structural framing and provided the 3-D building information modelling (BIM) to coordinate the connection points for each panel in the building’s parabolic curve, to the steel and concrete structure and the connection points of the cladding to the structural panels (a Navigable 3-D pdf generated from BIM model is enclosed on the CD).

The model and engineering was developed concurrently over a very short period of less than three months from award of contract to the installation of the first panels. During the design period, three engineering firms developed over 600 pages of engineering to accompany the over 150 pages of project-specific shop drawings.

A tight schedule predicated the manufacture of the south elevation cladding panels prior to the structural face of the building being in place and prior to field dimensioning being possible. Such an undertaking is difficult enough under normal circumstances, let alone attempting this on a complex curved structure. The margin for error was particularly large due to the unusual shape of the cladding panels, all of which had varying degrees of “smiling faces” to maintain line and level. The constantly changing radius and the narrowing of the building towards the top, predicated an unusually large number of unique panels. A full-scale mock-up of the top of the building was built in the manufacturing plant in Minnesota to evaluate how the material would react to geometry.

While the structural panels were in manufacturing, the cladding panels simultaneously went into production. GWWO Architects selected Valspar’s Blue Pearl II color-changing paint to capture the themes of revitalization and change it sought to represent for the Port Canaveral area. This innovative, multicolored system uses mica flakes to create a consistent, iridescent look.

An on-site mock-up validated the requirement for a very high level of quality control during the painting process. A second mock-up was prepared, using different spray techniques, at the paint factory in Wisconsin.  There was some trial and error during the process. It was critical that each paint run maintained the same parameters. The spray conditions, paint prep and application consistency of the paint itself were all critical. The slightest change could alter the look of the paint.

A major challenge to the project team was the fact that the color shifting paints system had never been spray applied before. To ensure consistency and minimize variation, the amount of paint needed for the entire project was determined and ordered as a single batch at the beginning of the project. Valspar prepared the special mica technology paint all at one time to ensure consistency. Schedule dictated that the structural panels be manufactured to very tight tolerances in a factory environment, using strict quality control procedures. An air and vapor barrier was factory applied, prior to the panels being shipped to the construction site, on low bed trucks.

Once on site, the panels had to be hoisted into position, achieving the exact dimensions required for the cladding panels that were already in manufacturing. Tolerances had to be accommodated through adjusting the structural panels “in and out” to maintain the shape of the predetermined parabolic curve, regardless of the tolerances in the previously installed steel and concrete. It was not possible to set the structural panels with the crane to the required 1/8” tolerances. The accurate setting of the panels posed a major problem, until Steve Fobert, Kenpat’s superintendent created a plan based on how the pyramids were built. In order to achieve the vertical alignment of panels, the panels were hoisted into position, positioned on top of the slab in soft “containers” filled with sand. The sand was then gradually let out of the “container” until the exact height was achieved to within an eighth of an inch.

Once the exact height was achieved, the panel could be “clipped” to the structure. The corner alignment of each panel was achieved through establishing off-set corner points on the concrete slab, provided by Kenpat’s professional surveyor. State coordinates were used to establish these points and the points were then cross referenced to the building’s datum lines and setting out points. Purpose-made curved hat channels were then installed over the structural panels, to serve as the primary attachment point of the aluminum rain screen cladding panels.  The hat channels had to be radiused horizontally and vertically, where the wall exceeded a 15 degree slope. The development of this capability was another first for the project team as the initial response was that a complex radius of a hat channel in two directions “was not possible”.

The setting out of the hat channels was a particular challenge. The governing factor was that the cladding attachment point on the flange of the hat channel had to be an exact point in space, to ensure that the cladding panels fit. This point is 2” away from the surface of the structural panel. Due to the parabolic curve of the façade, off-set points had to be established on the face of the structural panel and then transferred with the use of a purpose made adjustable template. The radius of the building constantly changes along the vertical face of the building and the establishment of each off-set point was thus particularly challenging. A total station could not transfer points from the membrane surface of the panels due to the reflectivity of the surface and lasers were ineffective on the curved surface. An old fashioned water level proved to be the most effective in ensuring that all panels could be installed perfectly level and plum, on the face, returns and back of the sail wall.

The ultimate test for the accuracy of the planning process and execution was whether the last of the continuous line of panels around the building, fitted on the convex back surface on the observation deck.  The team passed this test with flying colors.

Once panels were installed, the interior face of the panels was sprayed with a closed cell foam insulation to provide the required insulation value to the south wall.After the curved panels portion of the project was completed, attention then shifted to the installation of the composite cladding on “non-curved” surfaces to complete the exterior work done by Kenpat.“The building’s dynamic form and features – sun louvers, exposed structure and iridescent skin – contribute to a constant sense of movement as the sun plays across the structure, meet functional needs, and evoke imagery of the Port and Brevard County,” noted a project statement by the architect. “A rocket ready to launch, a surfboard in the sand, a ship’s hull, a rocket contrail; all can be seen in the structure’s striking presence.”

Kenpat was honored to have had a part in the successful completion of this historic structure.  The metal panel work makes this a unique building that evokes memories of the past as it looks bravely into the future of this area of Florida.

From Concept to Reality!




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