Since its completion late in 2011, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has not only revitalized the region it serves, but has dramatically changed the Kansas City, MO skyline. With its sweeping façade clad in stainless steel, glass and pre-cast concrete enveloping an impressive 285,000 square feet of space, the scope of the project is only matched by its design prowess. Architect Moshe Safdie designed the building—which is as practical as it is expressive—to be a model of functionality, accessibility and sustainability. However, as a $386 million investment in the future of the arts, the facility is only as good as the acoustical principles of its concert halls. It is in one of those halls where GKD-USA metal fabric plays a starring role.
GKD-USA, the leading manufacturer of woven metal fabrics, was approached by the project architect and engineering team to develop a dynamic metal fabric backdrop for Helzberg Hall, a 1,600 seat concert hall that serves as the home of the Kansas City Orchestra and acts a performance space for a variety of local, national and international groups. As the building façade and substructure are formed by a series of undulating and curved surfaces, the interior façade of Helzberg Hall is a mirror image, similarly curved and segmented. Although covered extensively with beechwood panels, several exposed concrete bays were left behind the stage area. Extending nearly 70 feet high and radiused from top to bottom in a concave shape, it was GKD’s responsibility to design a cost-efficient and aesthetically stunning solution to dress the empty space, while overcoming a series of hurdles.
The first hurdle in designing a workable solution for Helzberg Hall was a small freight elevator that acted as the only access to the nearly completed space. The architect originally envisioned a continuous panel of rigid metal mesh, extending from floor to apex. However, this design proved impossible to install as any material brought into the hall needed to be small enough to fit into the elevator.
In response to this obstacle, GKD worked with the architects to propose a system of stackable, framed modules that were enveloped in GKD manufactured Tigris PC metal mesh. As the building’s concrete bays are both concave and tapered, 16.5 feet wide at the base and 9 feet wide at the highest point, the metal mesh needed to be manufactured with absolute precision and flawless weaving to create a virtually seamless look. Not only did it need to look faultless, but it was imperative that it be acoustically transparent. Any sound waves needed to pass directly through the metal mesh and the material itself needed to have a neutral effect on the natural acoustics.
Once brought into the space, the stackable modules were tilted into place and secured with fasteners to the building sub-structure. One of the concerns with this system, and yet another hurdle, was that the series of fasteners and framed modules might “buzz” due to high-intensity sound waves. In response, GKD devised a method of isolating each framed module, using tapered nubs to prevent metal on metal contact and dissipate sound waves. The finished product, comprised of 101 panels and 8,000 square feet of material, met both the architects’ vision and the approval of the project acoustician.