Millwork as open-air social stairs
The second, and much larger, specialty millwork feature at NKU is an open-air social stair feature. Open-air seating areas have become common inside many educational classroom buildings. This particular social stair feature at NKU is located in the public forum area just inside the entrance to the Health Innovation Center. The stair feature includes 14 levels of long, winding, 610-mm (24-in.) deep wood seat benches with 330-mm (13-in.) tall solid surface backs and risers. Both ends of the social stairs incorporate a stairway to the upper levels.
From a fabrication standpoint, these long and winding wood seat benches and risers were more complicated and involved more work than the atrium feature. Overall, the social stair feature required around 3000 short pieces of tongue-and-groove (T&G) flooring and more than 1200 linear feet of tall solid surface risers and custom-shaped wood nosing.
As was the case with the atrium feature ribs, each individual piece of flooring, length of the solid surface riser, and wood nosing required its own customized geometry, machining, and craftsmanship to accommodate the meandering design of the seats. Each piece was different as they all required a subtle change in the pie-shaped geometry and needed a radius along the front edge to accommodate the curved nosing.
The risers in the social stairs were made of 6 mm (¼ in.) solid-surface material laminated to a 19-mm (¾-in.) kerfed substrate. All of these required heat forming to conform to the geometry of each particular section of seats. To do so, the manufacturer designed and fabricated individual forms for each section of solid surface risers. The solid surface was cut to the correct size and, after being heated in an oven, was removed and draped over the corresponding forms. Once cooled, the solid surface retained the required shape.
Together, these two custom millwork fixtures in NKU’s Health Innovation Center-Founders Hall set a new standard for wood features in commercial construction in at least two ways. The first way is the aforementioned necessity to focus on each element of the wood design as a distinct geometrical entity, a far cry from assembly line production of wood casing. The second way is in the architectural design. As is clear, with innovative designs, the architects blur the line between millwork and furniture precisely because they incorporate patron usage into the design and functionality. The fabricator then actualizes this design, in some cases using specialty steel bracketing hidden within the structure.
University of Kentucky
Another innovative design using custom millwork, also at an institution of higher education in the state of Kentucky, is the new men’s basketball locker room at UKY. Historically, this university has been considered a ‘blue blood’ of college basketball, and they wished their new locker room to reflect that identity.
In designing the locker room, therefore, the architects at Sherman Carter Barnhart (Louisville and Lexington) made the shape of a basketball. The walls of the concentric room host the various locker units for each player. An entryway is to the side of the main room.
The challenge presented by this otherwise simple design was in getting the wooden locker units to meet at the top in a way that preserved the perfect circle of the overall room design. To accomplish this goal, the fabricators constructed a model of an elevated concentric circle. The concentric circle was first placed in the room. Each locker was then strategically fixed so as to meet the circle. After installing all the locker units in their appropriate places, the circle was removed, leaving only the lockers arranged in the shape of a basketball.
In their own respective ways, each of these jobs represents approaches in which architects are beginning to use millwork creatively, and going beyond what standard casework companies are able to do. These jobs require fabricators and engineers who have the technical and mathematical ability to bring such innovations to life. Thus they serve as harbingers of unique projects yet to come, and exciting careers in millwork to bring about those projects.
Mark Klingberg is general manager of Morgan Smith Industries in Columbia, Kentucky. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Chris Keith is director of research and development at Stala Integrated Assemblies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.