North Dakota research facility ascends to the top

The University of North Dakota’s Robin Hall, Grand Forks, has a 38-m (127-ft) glass and metal tower at the structure’s entrance.
Photos © Robb Siverson. Photo courtesy Tubelite and Linetec

The University of North Dakota’s (UND) Robin Hall opened last year as the tallest building in Grand Forks and the headquarters for the unmanned aircraft systems programs at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. The new building’s sleek, light-filled design features curtain wall and storefront systems that meet the structure’s modern aesthetic, sustainability goals, and performance requirements.

The $22-million, 6689-m2 (72,000-sf) aerospace research facility was designed by ICON Architectural Group. Olaf Anderson Construction served as the general contractor. After more than a year of construction, the first students arrived in autumn for the 2016-17 academic year. As the area’s tallest building, Robin Hall’s base rises five stories and ascends into a 38-m (127-ft) glass and metal tower at the structure’s entrance.

According to ICON’s Matti Roinila, AIA, the new building accommodates the exponential growth of unmanned aerial systems in the region.

“We carried this vision into the design with such areas as the executive board room featuring floor-to-ceiling curtain wall and the ultra-clear glass tower observation floor. These two areas invoke the sense of expanse and are where some of the most remarkable views in all of the Red River Valley can be witnessed,” he says.

The building’s tower was enclosed on all sides with a screw-spline curtain wall. The aluminum-framed system was fabricated using 1046 m2 (11,261 sf) of insulated glass with low-e coatings.

“The tower’s glass is crystal clear. When backlit at night, it radiates across the campus. During the day, the interior is brightly lit with natural light,” describes Elias Tovar, project manager at Brin Contract Glazing, which worked on the project.

Roinila also emphasizes, “Managing solar heat gain was a key performance requirement due to the design intent for the 38-m (127-ft) glass tower. The system provided this performance requirement, while allowing ultra-clear glazing to be utilized.”

Screw-applied pressure bars secure the glass and a cover plate conceals the fasteners. Enhancing the tower’s structural performance, 7937 kg (17,500 lb) of steel reinforce the aluminum framing members. For added durability, a black anodize finish was applied.

Including the curtain wall on the glass tower, the building’s façade showcases:

  • nearly 930-m2 (10,000 sf) of screw spline shear block curtain wall for the tower and lower levels;
  • a shear block curtain wall of 130-m2 (1,400 sf) long on the northwest corner;
  • a 1207-m2 (13,000 sf) of storefront for the punched openings; and
  • the vestibule has 33 m2 (360 sf) of interior framing.

Some unusually shaped, trapezoidal units were necessary to achieve the precise appearance of the tower and the lower concave, segmented wall. Brin pre-glazed all these units in its facility and then shipped them to the job site for installation.

“The project was placed under an aggressive 14-month schedule,” notes Roinila. “Due to this schedule, a majority of the tower steel and glass installation occurred during winter months. Strong winds and protecting the building from the elements were constant hurdles contractors successfully handled.”

Tovar continues, “One notable challenge was the scale and height of the work to cap off the 12 1/2 story tower with a metal-framed skylight, which was designed with a steeply sloped pitch. The surrounding areas of the tower lacked any outside catwalk framing to work from, so to make it accessible for manpower, equipment, and material staging, our team brainstormed and devised a unique solution.”

An engineered floor truss deck system at the skylight base provided a staging area for materials and access to the anchor locations. From this vantage point, Brin’s glaziers used an overhead crane to set and secure the aluminum rafter and purlin sections atop the curtain wall.

Inside Robin Hall, four floors house a large auditorium, student study space, administration offices, classrooms, collaborative learning spaces and a hangar space for flight testing. The building’s basement also includes an open research space with laboratories and simulators. A skywalk directly connects the new facility to UND Aerospace’s Ina Mae Rude and Ryan Hall.

UND’s School of Aerospace Sciences has seen tremendous growth. The university was the first to offer a bachelor’s degree in unmanned aircraft systems, which has been a major focus since 2008.

Private donations and $1.5 million in matches from the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education Challenge Fund largely financed Robin Hall. The building’s name honors the largest contributors to the project, Mary E. Bazar and Si Robin.

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