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Columbia St. Mary's Hospital


Since being introduced more than a decade ago, Dri-Design dry-joint rainscreen metal wall panels have gained the attention of architects nationwide. Even heavyweight firms such as Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), St. Louis have noticed the system’s combination of benefits---looks, performance and an “affordable” price.

HOK specified 136,000 sq. ft. of Dri-Design panels for the exterior of the new Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee. Two colors of the .080”-thick Dri-Design aluminum panels—Champagne and Bone White—were utilized on the project.

The nine-story, $417 million Columbia St. Mary’s project is a significant piece of architecture in the urban fabric of Milwaukee due to both its size and its prominent location along the upper shores of Lake Michigan.

The 20-acre lakefront campus includes the 670,000 sq. ft. hospital, a new 25,000 sq. ft. cancer center; two medical office buildings; and three new parking structures.

“We wanted the building to work on several different scales,” said David Buckley, HOK’s project designer. “The project anchors the north end of the city plus it sets in a beautiful neighborhood that welcomed commercial/institutional development compatible with the look of its surroundings. And, of course, we needed a design that was cohesive with the existing campus buildings.”

Since Buckley had not used the Dri-Design system before, he traveled to Denver to look at several Dri-Design projects before recommending its use on St. Mary’s where it interfaces with precast concrete. According to Buckley, “HOK is committed to sustainable design and on exterior wall systems, we’re very convinced by the rainscreen system. One of the goals was to make the entire exterior a rainscreen system. That was pretty simple with the Dri-Design but more of a challenge with the precast.”

Buckley said that rainscreen systems are particularly important in a healthcare environment because is prevents moisture from entering the wall cavity and thus prevents any opportunity for mold to grow.

The precast was applied three to five stories in order to relate to the scale of the neighborhood and the masonry that was used throughout. “But we wanted the higher parts of the building to be light colored because that’s what you see from the city and the metal panels look great against the blue skies that are common in the upper Midwest,” Buckley said.

In order to break down the scale of the elements further, the designers used datum line reveals on two foot increments that aligned through the precast and metal cladding.

The installation of the Dri-Design system was handled by Architectural Products of Wausau. “This may be the largest metal wall panel project using that type of product in Wisconsin,” said John Schremp, president. “The project was originally planned and bid to use ACM,” he noted. “But the Dri-Design system was significantly less expensive, primarily due to the labor costs. We were able to cut the per-panel labor cost in half.”

HOK’s Buckley acknowledged the important role that APW played. “I appreciated the great cooperation with the installer,” Buckley said. “APW helped make the system more efficient and less costly. The owner was pleased with the relationship between architect and installer and was pleased with the cost, too. It was less than what we had been estimating for a composite panel.”

The general contractor on the project was CG Schmidt—Barton Malow, A Joint Venture. CG Schmidt is located in Milwaukee and Barton Malow is located in Southfield, MI.

Dri-Design panels can be made from a variety of materials including painted aluminum, zinc, copper and stainless steel and are 100% recyclable. Panels are available in any Kynar color in both standard and custom sizes.

About Dri-Design

DriDesign_logo_020511Dri-Design was founded in 1995 with the successful development of the Dri-Design® Wall Panel System. The system's panels can be installed over commercial-grade Tyvek onto plywood, or they can be used as a sophisticated outboard-insulation, pressure-equalized rainscreen. The 100% recyclable panels can be manufactured from a variety of materials, including zinc, copper, stainless steel, and painted and anodized aluminum. Panels are available in any Kynar color and are sized and detailed to meet the specific requirements of each project. Unique profiles include: Shadow, Tapered, Perforated, Embossed, Textured, Dri-Design® with Corian® EC, Imaging Technology and Inspire. These options create angles, textures, depth, images and performance that cannot be matched. The Dri-Design® Wall Panel System is Dade County and AAMA 508-07 approved. To learn more about the company's products, visit

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