Fire-rated curtain wall helps Pittsburgh science pavilion meet safety requirements

The Carnegie Science Center’s new PPG Science Pavilion in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used fire-rated curtain wall and fire-resistive-rated glass to meet fire- and life-safety requirements. Photo courtesy Denmarsh Photography
The Carnegie Science Center’s new PPG Science Pavilion in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used fire-rated curtain wall and fire-resistive-rated glass to meet fire- and life-safety requirements.
Photo courtesy Denmarsh Photography

The Carnegie Science Center’s new PPG Science Pavilion is putting Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the map as a destination for budding scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians. The wing adds 4459 m2 (48,000 sf) for exhibit space, enabling the science center to host world-class touring exhibitions.

As part of the renovation, the science center also tasked Indovina Associates Architects with incorporating classrooms and a rental space for private events into the design plan along with a revamp of the science center’s River View Café. One upgrade that really made a statement was the addition of a grand staircase, which the architects used to eliminate ramping that ran through the café, while connecting the multi-level building.

In designing this modern stairwell, the architecture firm ran into a roadblock. “When we realized that we were able to move forward with the top-floor rental hall above the exhibit levels, the staircase needed to become a true means of egress,” said Martin Busser, principal at Indovina Associates Architects. “In order to become a true means of egress, the original building needed to be able to be separated from the new addition, as required by building codes.”

To meet these fire- and life-safety requirements, Indovina Associates Architects chose a fire-rated curtain wall with fire-resistive-rated glass for the stairwell’s interior wall. Should flames engulf the café and surrounding ground level, patrons can still safely exit the building, protected by a 70-m (23-ft) fire-rated system for up to 60 minutes. Equally important, the freestanding curtain wall is fire-resistive, meaning it can block the transfer of radiant and conductive heat, while shielding Carnegie Science Center visitors and staff from smoke and fire.

Along with providing fire-resistance, the curtain wall is also visually appealing.

“We wanted the wall to appear to be open-air once we realized we could make form and functionality work with the system,” Busser said. “The curtain wall’s minimal profiles work to achieve this sense of openness, as does the absence of tie-backs for structural support.”

The massive, monolithic wall is also shows the power of steel and its ability to support large expanses of glass.

“We wanted glass lites as large as possible, and the curtain wall did exactly what we needed it to do,” Busser said.

The glass aesthetic allows those on the staircase to catch a glimpse of the Ohio River and waterfront through the café’s non-rated façade, and it also complements the look of the adjacent curtain wall. The result is a more unified interior, as the non-rated and fire-rated systems harmonize.

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