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Neil Armstrong Hall Of Engineering

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The Purdue University engineering program counts 22 NASA astronauts among its graduates, including Neil Armstrong, the namesake of the school's new facility. A vital part of the university's strategic plan to remain at the forefront of engineering education, the new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering increases the size of the university's engineering complex by 60 percent. The university commissioned RATIO Architects Inc. of Indianapolis, IN to design a building that will continually inspire the next generation of engineers to "reach for the stars."

RATIO's design for the $53 million Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, completed in October 2007, celebrates the innovative spirit of engineering with a symbolic salute to Purdue's contributions to the development of the U.S. space program and aeronautics industry. The design team, led by Thomas Cheesman, AIA, developed a dramatic design for the 200,000 sq. ft. teaching facility that harmonizes with the historic campus while at the same time setting it apart through the selective use of materials. The limestone and brick façade reflects the look of the existing buildings, juxtaposed with the sleek, modern profile created by using Reynobond® ACM on the distinctive wing-like cantilever roof shaped to mimic the appearance of an aircraft.

"We really wanted to use the roof as the piece that really helped give the building its identity, that thing which described the innovative spirit contained within," said Chris Boardman, LEED AP, of RATIO architects. "The university and design team looked at several materials. There is a very strong precedent in the use of terra-cotta roofing tiles throughout the historic core of the campus; when you blur your eye, it's really about its deep, rich red color. To help differentiate Neil Armstrong Hall from the historic structures around it, a metal system which could color match the terra-cotta exactly was selected. After comparing a painted-metal shingle system against the ACM, we found that Reynobond® ACM would provide the more tailored, streamlined visual aesthetic the university was looking for."

Shaffner Heaney Associates of South Bend, IN fabricated 40,000 sq. ft. of Reynobond® ACM in Mayflower Red and installed it on the high roof, which was designed to mimic a wing at both ends, and as a sharp edged eyebrow sun shade above various curtain wall and window wall elevations. They also fabricated 20,000 sq. ft. of Reynobond® ACM in Sea Wolf for canopy and vestibule cladding. "The main challenges on the project were as a result of the wings' warped shape, which required that the panels warp along with the substrate," said Craig Heaney of Shaffner Heaney. "Complex surveys and 3-D modeling had to be employed to fabricate the panels to fit this shape. In addition, the leading edge of the wing had to be installed over hundreds of Shaffner Heaney-fabricated and -installed framing members that were attached directly to the structural steel provided. These too had to reflect the desired warped-wing shape." Smoot Construction of Indianapolis, IN served as the General Contractor for the project.

"This was a very important project for Purdue University and the College of Engineering," continued Boardman, "as evidenced by honoring its most significant alumni, Neil Armstrong, as the namesake for the building. Very early on, the roof of the building became the symbol of both the tradition and innovation that Purdue University has come to embody so, it was very important that it was done well. Our past experience with composite metal panels from an aesthetic and performance standpoint gave everyone the confidence the vision for this piece would be realized."

Neil Armstrong Hall houses research labs, undergraduate teaching facilities and linked collaboration spaces equipped with the resources needed to design, develop, build and test projects for the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, School of Materials Engineering, Department of Engineering Education, the Minority Engineering Program, Women in Engineering Program, Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), the dean's office and engineering administration. Throughout the interior the structural, electrical and mechanical systems are exposed to provide a heightened sense of engineering's role in the vital functions of a building. Walkways cross the space below an expansive, 53'-high atrium that showcases a replica of the Apollo I command unit, identical to the one in which Purdue alumni Roger Chaffee and Virgil Grissom and astronaut Ed White perished while training for the Apollo I mission in 1967. Adjacent to the atrium a 50-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling photomural pays tribute to Chaffee. Displayed at the center of the mural is a lunar sample collected during the Apollo 17 mission by another Purdue alumnus, Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the moon, and donated by Martha Chaffee through NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award program.

Project photographs ©Bill Gnech/The Apple Group

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