Custom fabricator Feature Walters profiles two of its extreme architectural projects
Feature Walters works with progressive architects and engineers to create unique elements that define leading-edge architecture. The talented design, planning and fabrication team can make anything possible, and has had its functional works of art installed in corporate headquarters, universities, retail stores and cultural centres across North America.
Feature Walters has taken on many challenging projects, including this article’s focus: a 14-storey sculpture in the heart of New York City and a feature stair for a children’s hospital in Texas.
Artwork Given An Extended Stay
“Feature Walters is not afraid to take on big projects,” says Jeremy Campbell, the Feature Walters Welding Department’s Team Leader. There are few custom fabrication projects bigger and more complex than the art installation destined for the soaring space inside the Conrad New York Downtown hotel in Battery Park City.
The atrium artwork was conceived by architect Mónica Ponce de León, who was inspired by the hotel’s 13-storey wall art called Loopy Doopy (Blue and Purple) by Sol LeWitt. But it was Feature Walters who brought the art to life with two veils – a weaving box beam upper veil and a hollow ring lower veil.
“Everything was a challenge,” says Wendy So, a Feature Walters designer on the Conrad Hotel project. “We had to do the research and find components, often custom designing the solutions like springs to tension the lower veil and a four-sided plate system to make curves and twists. For shipping, most parts needed to be broken down, then reassembled onsite. And of course the whole thing was to be suspended in a hotel atrium, so it had to be structurally sound.”
Feature Walters chose to use aluminum, mostly for its lightweight properties – the cable bolts couldn’t take any more weight. The design team worked on an innovative cable suspension system that used thousands of springs to control the tension of the cables, which would hang the veils.
Campbell and the welding team worked with Feature Walters’ designers to create jigs to allow the in-house fabrication team to make the connections and ensure perfection. Each ring had a different shape and size, therefore every node, bend, connection and jig had to be custom made.
Extra hands were needed to take on such a unique hands-on project. Fortunately for Feature Walters, a large project was just finishing, and many of the trades who worked on that project jumped at the opportunity to make this project come to life.
The fabricators opted to build the upper vale upside down in Feature Walters’ shop using ⅝ aluminum sheets, which were curved and cut with water jets. Each flange then needed welding prep, and because of the extreme accuracy needed on such large sections of aluminum, the swelling of the welding resulted in a lot of manual blending.
In the end, there was much adapting, welding and Bondo, before the eventual priming of the completed pieces.
The upper veil, which was designed as one continuous work of art, was split into nine sections and there were 10 separate, unique rings for the lower veil, most of which were also taken apart for shipment to New York. “There was a lot of shop coordination,” explains Campbell. “The pieces took up a good part of the shop, so there was intense effort to follow the plan. Each ring had a certain schedule and sequence of fabrication and delivery. We had a lot of late nights to continually feed material to the installation crew in New York.”
With careful planning, the erection took 50 days – on schedule – with each of the 1,200 ropes needing to be individually tensioned.
“The scale of the thing is massive,” says So. “We work on a lot of stairs and modular projects, but this was fabrication wise and modelling wise one of the most complex.”
Conrad New York Downtown – Veil Sculpture
Length of Cables: 26 kilometres (16 miles)
Artist: Mónica Ponce de León
Size: 600,000 cubic feet
Weight: 77 tonnes
Height: 14 storeys
Health & Happiness With Feature Stairs
At a glance, the feature staircase in the lobby of the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children looks simplistic, but its structural design and fabrication were anything but.
Feature Walters took on the monumental task of creating a staircase that had no obvious structural post, and would wind 720 degrees from the hospital’s lobby to mezzanine.
The architect defined the parameters of the staircase, then Kristof Janukiewicz, Senior BIM Modeler for Feature Walters, led the design. Using 3D models every aspect of the project from fabrication to shipping to installation was planned out. It took months of coordinating every ‘step’ with architects, general contractors, fabricators and other component manufacturers, such as the stair tread producers, who needed exact measurements down to the millimetre.
Although design was a challenge, Janukiewicz says that fabrication was the biggest problem. “You can model pretty much anything if you are good at the software,” he says. “Fabricators needed to split the stair into five somewhat symmetrical sections, and one smaller piece to allow for manageable lift loads. They also built jigs to fabricate each piece, then trial fit it all right here in the shop.”
Feature Walters’ expertise in project planning, communication and custom fabrication resulted in the general contractor’s seven-day stair erection schedule being five days too long. The six sections were erected in just two days.
The staircase is beautiful and functional. But what’s more important is the smile on the face of every child who scales the rainbow treads, demonstrating in real time the power of healing.
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children – Feature Stair
Number of Treads: 37
Glass Weight: Over 2,000 pounds
Stair Structure Weight: 12 metric tons
Rotation: 720 degrees with no columns
Days planned for erection: 7
Days to erect: 2
From Concept to Reality
No successful custom fabrication project is possible without a strong team of talented, intelligent individuals working together with a common goal. Working together with our industry partners, Feature Walters is North America’s leader who can take on any project, no matter the material, shape, size or texture.
The Feature Walters Design Guide
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
Our Feature Walters team has created this guide as a resource to help educate and inspire you with the many styles, materials and finishes available for architects seeking leading-edge architectural options for feature staircases.