Discovery Center At The Discovery Park Of America

Arconic Architectural Products

Clad in gleaming white Reynobond® Aluminum Composite Material (ACM), a unique structure rising alongside of Interstate 69 in Western Tennessee has literally brought traffic to a standstill. Surrounded by flatlands, the new Discovery Center at the Discovery Park of America can be seen for miles. The effect is exactly what Robert Kirkland, the co-founder of the Kirkland's home store chain, had in mind for the project he created to bring educational opportunities to his hometown of Union City.

A total of 105,525 square feet of Reynobond composite material–98,000 square feet of 4 mm Reynobond composite material with a polyethylene (PE) core and just over 7,500 square feet of Reynobond ACM with a fire-resistant (FR) core–was used to clad the building. The panels are a combination of Natural Brushed Aluminum and ACM finished in either Pure White Colorweld® 500 or Bright Silver Metallic Colorweld 500XL coatings. “This is the biggest, most complex job we’ve done in our 35-year history,” commented Gordon Jones, president of Ralph Jones Sheet Metal Inc. of Arlington, Tennessee, the metal fabricator for the project. “It was important that we ensure the quality of the job, and we were confident that we could depend on Alcoa Architectural Products to deliver the quality and quantity of material on schedule.”

Kirkland wanted the project to be on par with science centers in larger cities like Memphis and Nashville, and commissioned the architectural firm Verner Johnson Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts–specialists in museum architecture and planning–to design the facility. “Our goal was to pique people’s curiosity with a distinctive and futuristic design,” said Lou Sirianni, FAIA, principal of Verner Johnson Inc. “Mr. Kirkland wanted it to be an exciting building, unlike anything in the region–something that would inspire others to reach for the stars. The forms for the building evolved out of his notion that the building should have a soaring, uplifting feeling about it and project the future. We selected metal for the cladding because it projects the right expression of the building’s purpose, particularly when used in white or silver.” Pricing and energy consumption/conservation also factored into the decision.

The 100,000-square-foot, three-level, white metal and glass structure incorporates a dramatic three-story atrium and five curved roof structures of different shapes and heights. The shapes all curve, swoop and peak upward. It is anchored by a 120-foot-tall spaceship-style tower.1 To meet the challenges of the unique structure, the Ralph Jones Sheet Metal (RJSM) team worked in small crews of three or four people. The panels were laid out and engineered in the field with a 3-D laser scanner where necessary, then imported into AutoCAD® software to produce the final drawings for fabrication. Because they were building in an earthquake-prone region, the general contractor for the project, Allen Searcy Builder-Contractor Inc. of Union City, Tennessee, used 16-gauge steel framing members and seismic expansion joints.

Ralph Jones used their proprietary RJSM dry-seal system to install the Pure White Reynobond ACM on the soffits, façade, entry and coping; the Bright Silver Metallic Reynobond ACM along the bottom edge of the building and the penthouse roof; the Reynobond Natural Aluminum material on the escalator and balcony covers and on the interior trim pieces for the floor, escalator and stairs; and the Pure White Reynobond ACM with a FR core on the tower façade at the stairs. Fireproof caulking was used throughout the structure–in some areas there is a 12-inch “z” around the radius. The client did not want a built-in gutter so the gutters and downspouts were fabricated from Reynolux® flat sheet material, then inlaid back into the wall and covered with an outside wall created specifically to hide them. Reynolux flat sheet finished in both Pure White Colorweld 500 and Bright Silver Metallic Colorweld 500XL coatings was used for flashing. To cover roof imperfections and hide a radius gutter, Jones’s team also crafted a coping cap from the Pure White Reynobond ACM.

The Discovery Park of America was 10 years in the making, and the Discovery Center is a major part of the attraction. According to Robert Kirkland, “It’s a piece of sculpture and artwork that changes hue or meaning from different perspectives. Across the entire US this building itself is a masterpiece.”2 The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation is Discovery Park’s principal benefactor.

The Discovery Center features 10 galleries with almost 60,000 square feet of exhibits including a three-story atrium housing large dinosaur skeletons and other natural history exhibits. “Wow” features include a theater that simulates the 1911-12 New Madrid earthquakes, some of the most violent quakes ever recorded; a hologram of a storytelling Native American; a planetary tour on the 30-foot-diameter, 270º curved screen in the Starship Theater; a 20,000-gallon aquarium visitors can walk into; a 50-foot replica of the human body that includes a 30-foot slide down the leg; dynamic floor tiles that create the illusion you’re falling into the abyss; and a tower with a glass-enclosed observation deck 120 feet tall topped by a flagpole 200 feet high. In addition to the Discovery Center the 50-acre complex features numerous exhibitions on history, farming, milling, railroads, early commerce, a replica of the Liberty Bell inside a Philadelphia-style “Freedom Square” building, an old train depot, an old gristmill, an amphitheater, and American-, Japanese- and European-style gardens.


2 New tourism destination: $80 million Discovery Park of America,” San Jose Mercury News, Associated Press, November 7, 2013.

Reynobond®, Reynolux® and Colorweld® are registered trademarks of Alcoa Inc.

AutoCAD® is a registered trademark of Autodesk Inc.

Photographs by Bob Perzel Photography, Minneapolis, MN

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Arconic-logo-previewArconic Architectural Products manufacturers metal composite material and single-skin metal claddings for use in both exterior and interior applications. For more information, visit

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