Back in the day, most families had a globe in their home. That's not the case today, but even if it were, it's a good bet none would be as big or as accurate as the one now sitting in front of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC. That globe is 70' in diameter. Affixed to its stainless steel skin are permanently adhered vinyl continents rendered using the very latest in satellite imaging technology to depict the land forms in their absolute truest scale.
The Daily Planet, as the globe is called, is the centerpiece of the $56 million Green Square Complex expansion, designed by Fentress Architects in association with O’Brien Atkins (Architect of Record). The complex also includes the four-story Nature Resource Center, offices for the state Department of Environment & Natural Resources, and a parking structure for 700.
The sphere required high-quality stainless steel for its skin, with excellent panel-to-panel matching as the skin would serve as the surface to which the pressure-sensitive vinyl land forms would be affixed. Reflectivity and long-term appeal without signs of degradation were key aspects in the material decision, which led to Pennsylvania’s Contrarian Metal Resources’ InvariMatte® as the choice to cover the planet. InvariMatte® is a low gloss, non-directional, uniformly textured stainless steel finish specifically engineered for architectural applications.
“InvariMatte's® intricate micro-embossed texture serves to absorb color as well as it diffuses light. It does a great job of referencing color from its environment so it is no wonder it also responds well to lighting effects as seen in the Grand Opening photograph showing the dramatic blue oceans,” explained Jim Halliday, President of Contrarian Metal Resources.
The system for the globe is curved secondary structural steel and includes Overly Custom Rain-screen Exterior and dry joint Interior panels. Building Informational Modeling (BIM) was utilized; it is a digital representation process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places, objects, entities. Clancy & Theys Construction Company was the general contractor and served as BIM manager.
During forming, all components were digitally modeled and coordinated with other trades to ensure conflicts were resolved prior to fabrication. Digital components and patterns were exported to CNC cutting and forming processes for manufacturing. The results of the project (BIM) efforts were 99% accuracy for all fabricated components.
Roy Campbell, Director of Exhibits & Digital Media at the museum reached out to Todd Ulrich at Worldfx Inc., Cincinnati because of his expertise and passion for globes. He has worked with National Geographic and has studied historical globes and cartography. Their research into vinyl graphics on stainless steel tanker trucks led to them to require high quality stainless steel. Tanker trucks are on the road all the time in all kinds of weather and are able to withstand the weather extremes and maintain their images for long periods of time. Ulrich worked with 3M to determine the best choice of vinyl for the project.
For the actual land forms, data of Earth images taken by government satellites was converted to a 60-gigabyte image by Worldsat International, British Columbia which was then laminated and trimmed. This was a painstaking process due to the fact such photos are always being taken. Campbell and Ulrich had to cull the photos to find the ones best suited for use on the giant globe.
This enormously detailed satellite mosaic resulted in about 217 panels being adhered to the surface of the stainless steel sphere. “It took months of projection work,” explained Ulrich, “getting the last pieces to fit was nerve racking.” The globe’s stainless steel panels were heated to 120 degrees, hot enough to roll the maps permanently on the skin. “As the continents took shape, it became clear, long before opening that the Daily Planet was already teaching people science,” he added.
“Ulrich’s knowledge and passion shined through in the entire process,” explained Campbell, “this was Todd’s royal commission.”
Designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the Nature Research Center has a 10,000 sq ft green roof. It maximizes daylight by having fewer walls and instead more windows. Cisterns achieve water conservation by capturing rainwater. North Carolina’s number one cause of water pollution is storm water runoff and it has been eliminated. Locally-quarried stone was used, as was recycled steel. High performance glazing and sunshades facing south were used in the DENR office building. The building has a raised floor system with a low velocity HVAC system.
The museum is the oldest established museum in North Carolina and the largest of its kind in the southeast. The Green Square complex encourages environmental learning and allows interaction between the public and scientists and their research. From the outside, the sphere exists as a giant scientific instrument while its interior contains a state-of-the-art theater and amphitheater that offers viewing from three floors.
photo credits: from top (1) to bottom (5)
1 and 3: Karen Swain, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
2: Eric Knisley, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
4 and 5: Contrarian Metal Resources