Ceilings play a big role in creating a successful design as there are many variations available that will accomplish a wide range of effects such as adding warmth to a space, controlling sound reflections or highlighting a unique space. The design of Amherst College’s New Science Center includes fifteen different ceiling types which can be grouped into four categories – wood slats, metal panel, accoustical ceiling tile and gypsum board.
The densely spaced wood slats are featured in the floating walkways in the Commons to add warmth to the main atrium space. In the classrooms and offices, the metal panel ceilings provide an energy efficient heating and cooling solution, and the acoustical ceiling clouds help control sound reflections from the mechanical and laboratory equipment in the labs. The gypsum board ceilings are primarily located in the corridor transitions to highlight unique spaces such as the library and the café.
Incorporating Each Ceiling Type
Walkway in the Science Center Commons
Wood Slats at the Commons
In order to maximize the height of the glazing panels along the Commons, we kept the walkway depth as thin as possible, which meant fitting all the systems within an 18” section. With an 1 ¾” wood flooring assembly, a 9” slab and a 2 ¼” wood slat, we were left with 5” for the suspension system, the sprinkler system, insulation, lighting, j-boxes, drivers and other devices.
Diagram of the walkway depth
The sprinkler system was one of the more challenging systems to coordinate because of the tight clearances at the slab. The outside diameter of all piping within the walkway cavity was 1 ½”, this limited the branches to only three or four sprinklers each. Since more sprinklers were required, we increased the number of branches integrated within the cavity along the walkway.
Radiant Metal Panel Ceilings
Layout of a classroom with a radiant metal panel ceiling
The radiant metal panels provide an aesthetically pleasing and an energy efficient ceiling solution. It was relatively easy to establish consistent panel size in the offices due to the consistent and regular office sizes. Sizing panels for the classrooms posed a challenge due to the size and proportion of the space. In order to overcome the challenge, we organized the ceiling layout using a standard active panel size of 3’0” x 6’0” which is the largest size recommended that wouldn’t result in visible sagging which could cause cracks, breaks or even the ceiling to collapse. The panels were designed with a backer strip to hold piping and to maintain integrity. The custom panels remain non-active, leaving room for a “tech-zone” strip to ogranize the ceiling devices in a cohesive manner.
One aspect of the design vision for the New Science Center is to expose as much concrete slab as possible, which led to the design decision of using ceiling clouds in the labs, creating a more open feel to the space. In the research labs, the chilled beams have been integrated in the clouds over the aisles. The lights have been positioned under the beams with all other devices centered in the ceiling tiles. Originally, we designed the lights to be the same length as the chilled beams which required extensive coordination of locating light cables at the edges of the chilled beams when intersecting with the ceiling grid. This meant we needed either non-plumb hangers to clear the grid or holes had to be drilled into the chilled beams. Wanting to avoid both the non-plumb hangers and beam penetrations, we reconfigured our designs to make sure our fixtures extend at least 12” inches past the beams.
Taking the time to evaluate all of our ceiling style options has greatly benefitted our Amherst College New Science Center project as each selected ceiling type generated valuable and specific effects creating a sucessful design for the space.