Approximately 85,000 sq. ft. of Metl-Span CF42 Light Mesa wall panels play a key role in the design of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. The 2-½” insulated panels were finished with Polar White on the exterior and custom Matte Black on the interior to contrast with the gleaming Saturn V lunar rocket vehicle displayed inside the new $22 million facility.
The Davidson Center opened January 31, 2008, which was fifty years to the day after the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1. A grand opening gala event was attended that evening by over 1,400 dignitaries and guests, including Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, and Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell.
The centerpiece of the 77,000 sq. ft. building is the 426'-long display of one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets. Its been stored at the site for 35 years. The first and second stages are pedestal-mounted with the third stage, instrument ring, lunar module section and service module, and command module/escape tower suspended from the building structure. This dramatic display is visible to motorists traveling on adjacent I-565 through 17,000 sq. ft. of curtainwall glass, which faces north and offers a unique view into the building both day and night.
Architecture for the Davidson Center was provided by Gresham, Smith and Partners of Birmingham, AL. “Just about everything related to the overall building design centers on the display of the rocket,” according to Jeff Miller, senior project architect for GS&P. “The sheer size of the rocket alone makes the building monumental, so the building was designed as a background, but with its own distinct visual homage to the Apollo space program.”
The Matte Black interior finish of the Metl-Span panels provided good visual effect for the rocket display which is primarily white with red and yellow components and accents. “A great advantage of the Metl-Span panels is that we were able to clad the building, insulate it, and have both exterior and interior finishes in one application,” Miller said.
The building is 476’ long, 90’ wide, and 64’ tall and also includes a 360-seat auditorium, ticketing area, grand open stair with skylight, some related exhibit space, and a large exterior plaza centered around a stand-up replica of the mighty Saturn V.
Installation of the Metl-Span panels was done by JWC Specialties, Inc., of Nashville, TN. JWC also erected the pre-engineered building and installed the five curtainwall sections. According to Mike Johnson, president of JWC, “The cladding was originally specified using a 3” shadow panel which is common on pre-engineered buildings. But the job was value engineered to get the 2 ½” Metl-Span insulated panels. It was definitely an interesting project. We had to leave one end of the building open during construction in order to get the rocket into the building before we completed the job.”
American Buildings Company of Eufaula, AL, manufactured and engineered the building. Turner Universal Construction of Huntsville functioned as the overall construction manager.