Civic center unifies a bustling downtown

Silver Spring, Md., turns its business and shopping district into a year-round center of community activity.
June 16, 2011

Silver Spring, Md., lies just north of the District of Columbia in an unincorporated area of Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. In the last decade or so this community of 76,000 has seen its central business area undergo significant reconstruction and revitalization.
    Completing a proper civic space to support the rapid growth of the business and shopping district was the last piece of the county’s comprehensive redevelopment strategy for Silver Spring. The plan called for a community center that would accommodate a wide array of functions: meeting space for small business groups, an annual jazz festival with tens of thousands of attendees, facilities for the arts, and recreation opportunities.
    The available site was an artificial-turf-covered open space used for Silver Spring’s annual jazz festival, as well as by the community’s skateboarding youth. The county wanted a venue that would accommodate the festival while also offering an open plaza for concerts and other public events, including wintertime recreation.
     The solution: a 44,555-sf civic building that also provides space for arts groups, notably the local nonprofit Round House Theatre, and a partly covered 27,660-sf civic plaza for the festival and concerts, including an ice rink for use by recreational skaters and hockey teams.
    Led by Columbia-based Costello Construction of Maryland, the Building Team—including Machado Silvetti Associates, Boston (architect); The Lukmire Partnership, Arlington, Va. (AOR); Richmond So Engineers, Watertown, Mass. (SE); and Setty & Associates, Fairfax, Va. (MEP)—put their heads together to solve a slew of technical problems:
•    An acrylic roof originally specified for the pavilion was found to fall short of meeting the building code. The team replaced it with a manufactured glass roof that exceeded the building code and allowed the sprinkler system to be downsized, saving money for the county.
•    Fiber cement cladding on the building’s exterior was redesigned to provide the county with a single supplier—and a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty—rather than a system comprised of many parts from multiple makers—and no warranties.
•    When Fireslate for the project was damaged in a warehouse fire, the Costello-led team found a soapstone alternative that was installed at no additional cost and with no break in the schedule.
•    BIM modeling was used to reduce the number of MEP systems conflicts, thereby presumably cutting the number of unneeded change orders and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The most interesting innovation had to do with the pavilion columns. As originally designed, the MEP and sprinkler systems were to be contained within a hollow structural steel column wrapped in cast-in-place casing. Realizing that this would make it almost impossible for these systems to be inspected, the Building Team developed a way to move these systems outside of the column and encase them in a separate cast-in-place cladding to allow inspections to be performed and still conceal the piping to provide the desired aesthetic look.
The judges were impressed with the final result. “Getting good work out of a public project is sometimes a huge feat,” said Timothy Brown, AIA, Studio Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. “There’s a very high level of design with so many vectors to it. A remarkable achievement.”
 “It’s more than a building: There’s an integration of constructed public spaces both indoors and outdoors,” said A. Aubrey Swift, AIA, CEM, LEED AP, Director of Design Integration at dbHMS, Chicago. “I like how animated the outdoor space is.”
 “It’s accessible, approachable, and easy to use,” said John (Jay) Frisco, AIA, NCARB, of RTKL Associates, Chicago. “The collaborative effort shows through.”
Even more to the point, the client was happy. “The quality of workmanship is superior and [the] commitment to delivering a quality project to meet the County’s schedule was unwavering,” said David Dise, Director of the Montgomery County Department of General Services.

         
 

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