Origami-like Cladding Modernizes Former Switching Station

Empty for nearly two decades, an AT&T switching station gets new life.

This once high-security building, made to survive a nuclear blast, has found new life as a modern mixed-use center with a unique cladding system created from perforated metal. Photos: David Wakely

This once high-security building, made to survive a nuclear blast, has found new life as a modern mixed-use center with a unique cladding system created from perforated metal. Photos: David Wakely

Four decades ago AT&T built a switching station in downtown Santa Rosa, CA, to handle Transpacific calls into the United States. AT&T vacated the building two decades ago, leaving it empty until 2007, when the city redevelopment agency bought and sold it to the current owner, developer and general contractor Hugh Futrell Corp. TLCD Architecture partnered with Hugh Futrell Corp. for the design and renovation. Both companies are based in Santa Rosa.

Today, this once high-security building, made to survive a nuclear blast, has found new life as a modern mixed-use center with a unique cladding system created by McNichols Perforated Metal, Tampa, FL.

Built windowless in the 1970s with 18-in. exterior concrete walls, the five-story, 99,000-sq.-ft. structure is now known as Museum on the Square or 520 Third Street. The renovation and addition of the perforated metal façade produced a contemporary design that belies its fortressed past. The renovation, completed in February 2016, is expected to help revitalize Santa Rosa’s city center.

With the help of 5-ft. diamond saw blades, large portions of the fortified wall on the north side facing the city’s Courthouse Square were cut out and replaced with 17 openings. The openings, averaging 250-sq.-ft. each became a series of glass panels and balconies.

Substantial portions of the south exterior wall also were removed and replaced with glass panels for additional interior light. Gone is the telephone switching gear, along with miles of obsolete wiring traversing the building.

Most noticeable is the expansive cladding system made of off-white coated perforated metal by McNichols that features origami-style vertical fins. The decorative element adds personality and shade to the façade. Inside are tenants including Luther Burbank Savings, professional offices, a restaurant, and what will become the California Wine Museum, or Wineseum. The Wineseum will preserve and exhibit California’s wine heritage and educate visitors about sustainable grape growing and the art of winemaking.

The project was a challenge and a welcome change for the City of Santa Rosa, Hugh Futrell Corp., and for TLCD Architecture, which moved its office to the building’s second floor.
Removing the fortified exterior walls was the most difficult and expensive part of the renovation because of the walls’ thickness and weight. The removal allowed the project team to take full advantage of the light that now shines into the interior spaces where ceilings are as high as 16 ft.

Project architect and TLCD partner Don Tomasi, AIA, said redevelopment of the vacant building had been on the city’s radar for economic development for years.

“It was seen as a high visibility and symbolic project because of the activity it brings to the south side of the town square,” said Tomasi. “The redevelopment fits nicely into the urban fabric of downtown Santa Rosa.”

To create the finlike origami feature, the fabricator took the 4- x 10-ft. flat perforated metal panels and made a 120-deg. bend diagonally down the length of the panels.

To create the finlike origami feature, the fabricator took the 4- x 10-ft. flat perforated metal panels and made a 120-deg. bend diagonally down the length of the panels.

Glass to metal

Original plans called for an all-glass façade for the 83- x 126-ft. building front. Considered too expensive for the $16-million project budget, the team opted for a combination of glazed glass, balconies, and approximately 6,000 sq. ft. of McNichols aluminum perforated metal. The panels are made from perforated metal, round hole, aluminum Type 3003-H14, .250-in. thick, 5/8-in. round on 7/8-in. staggered centers, 1 1/2-in. solid margins, all sides, with 46.3% open area.

Approximately 150 of the off-white, resin-coated panels, each measuring 4 ft. wide and 10 ft. long, were applied in a flat fashion over a section that consists of the original cement façade and the newly added glazed glass. The decorative portion resembling origami, an ancient form of Japanese paper art, comprises approximately 24 x 42 ft. of the cladding.

Fabricator and installer B.T. Mancini Co. of Milpitas, CA, followed TLCD Architecture’s design specifications, which called for the cladding and sculpture-like origami feature to be coated with the white, resin-based finish. With its familiar twists, the sculpture complements the modern transformation. It also provides an unusual contrast between the modern element and the industrial nature of the concrete exterior, which, left partially exposed, respects the building’s historical past.

“We were not trying to hide the original building,” said Tomasi. “Instead we put a veil of metal over it to give it a contemporary face, and then added a sculptural element to bring the whole façade to life.”

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Approximately 150 resin-coated panels, each measuring 4 ft. wide and 10 ft. long, were applied in a flat fashion over a section that consists of the original cement façade and the newly added glazed glass.

Origami folds

To create the finlike origami feature, the B.T. Mancini team “took the 4- x 10-ft. flat perforated metal panels and made a 120-deg. bend diagonally down the length of the panel,” said Mancini project manager Dave Jacks.

Before installing the fins, Mancini fabricated 2- x 2- x ¼- in. structural tube steel frames and positioned them at a 60-deg. slope from the wall. Mancini’s general foreman, Rafael Velasquez, said they mounted the frames to the exterior wall with Hilti KBTZ wedge anchors (Plano, TX) and then attached the angled panels onto the bolted frames. Tomasi describes it as “a sculpture that looks different from every angle.”

The flat portion of the cladding system, consisting of perforated panels with solid borders, is affixed to a two-piece set of 14-gauge sub-girts to hide the underpinnings from view. The mounting technique allowed Mancini to plumb the linear surface of the concrete wall, which is as much as 1 1/2 in. out of alignment in some places.

The owners expect the redeveloped building to reinvigorate Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square, to create as many as 255 jobs, and to bring thousands of visitors to the ground-floor restaurant and wine museum.


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