A North Carolina State University lobby creates the feel of an art gallery and the look of upscaler offices.

Visit the Web site of North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, and you'll find that partnership, innovation and solutions are three key words that describe the mission of the school's unique research and development campus.

Partnership, innovation and solutions are also three key words that describe the design and installation of a unique, vaulted metal ceiling in the lobby of Venture Center III, one of the newest facilities on the campus.

As a result of collaboration between the architect, interior finishes contractor and ceiling manufacturer, the recently opened office building not only features a lobby that has an upscale "look," but also one that has the "feel" of an art gallery.

Located adjacent to NC State's main campus in Raleigh, the sprawling 1,334-acre Centennial Campus is a research "community" where university, industry and government partners interact in multi-disciplinary programs directed toward the solution of contemporary problems.

Situated around a small, picturesque lake, the campus consists of several R&D "neighborhoods" supported by an advanced technology infrastructure. One of the neighborhoods, called Venture Center, is home to a number of entrepreneurial businesses, as well as organizations that can offer consulting services to the incubator companies.

The combination of the softly curved ceiling and the soft pastel-colored fabrics on the walls gives the lobby of NC State's new Venture Center III office building the upscale look and feel of an art gallery.

Five buildings

When complete in 2003, the Center will consist of five buildings totaling 478,000 square feet of space. Four of the buildings will house office and research space, while the fifth, called Venture Place, will also feature retail and food services. Privately developed by Craig Davis Properties Inc., Venture Center is being constructed by J.D. Beam Inc., of Raleigh.

The newest of the five-building cluster to open is called Venture III, and features 115,000 square feet of office space. Venture III, as well as Venture I and II, was designed by the architectural firm of Jenkins Peer of Charlotte. Founded in 1978, Jenkins Peer is well known in the Southeast for its work in educational facilities.

According to Tyke Jenkins, a principal of the firm, one of the highlights of the new Venture III facility is the vaulted metal ceiling that greets tenants and visitors when they enter the building's lobby.

Jenkins explains that this lobby is more upscale than those in the other Venture buildings. "The lobbies in Venture I and II are more traditional," he states. "In the case of Venture III, the developer wanted a lobby that would be more of a treat to the eye."

To accomplish the developer's goal, Jenkins and his team designed a lobby that features the vaulted metal ceiling, fabric-covered walls, a marble and carpet floor, and a variety of artwork on the walls. "The combination of the softly curved ceiling and the soft, pastel-colored fabrics almost gives the space the feeling of an art gallery," he says.

Interior and exterior

Jenkins and his design team chose Armstrong's MetalWorks Vault ceiling in a silver gray finish for the lobby. One of the reasons was that the ceiling is made of aluminum. "We used anodized aluminum on the exterior of the building. By using the same color aluminum in the lobby, we were able to tie the interior and exterior together." Accessibility, durability and aesthetics were other factors in the decision.

Acoustics were also considered, and in this regard, the team chose a perforated vault with acoustical fleece rather than a non-perforated vault. "The perforations provide an opening for sound to enter and be absorbed, rather than striking a hard surface and be reflected. We wanted some degree of acoustic control in the lobby, and this provides it."

The lobby itself measures 14 feet in width and runs the entire length of the building, connecting a courtyard on one end to the soon-to-open Venture Place on the other. The ceiling design features a pair of suspended, symmetrical vaults separated by a slot down the middle that contains light fixtures, sprinklers and HVAC elements.

Installation of the ceiling was handled by Paul Barbour & Sons Inc., an interior finishes contracting firm based in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.

According to Andy Denning, the firm's vice president, the Venture III project was unique in that it was his company's first installation of an Armstrong metal ceiling. "There was some apprehension in the beginning, which is to be expected when you're installing a manufacturer's new product for the first time," he says.

However, when the materials arrived, he and his two-man crew were pleasantly surprised. "The system was very well engineered," he says. "It went up in a day and a half without any hiccups."

Denning says he found the Armstrong metal ceiling to be more flexible than other specialty ceiling systems his firm has installed. "In commercial construction, the situation is never perfect, and custom ceiling manufacturers tend not to allow for the imperfections that exist at the site. This system, however, seemed to have a bit more tolerance for dealing with the out-of-scale conditions in the field."

On hand to help

Denning notes that one of the factors that made the installation easier was the presence of Mark Paternostro, an Armstrong Architectural Specialties representative, at the site at the start of the job. Architectural Specialties is Armstrong's consultative service that provides project management for the company's MetalWorks and WoodWorks ceiling systems. It is comprised of specialists with expertise in both architecture and engineering who partner with customers throughout the design and installation of signature metal and wood ceilings.

Paternostro flew from his Miami office to Raleigh the day the ceiling installation began. "This wasn't your basic rectangular ceiling," he notes. "This was a custom job, and I wanted to make sure everything went as well as expected."

According to Paternostro, the arc of the vaulted ceiling was custom made to meet the architect's specifications. "The radius of the arc in these ceilings can vary from very small to very large, depending on the design criteria," he explains. "However, with the advancements in computer and CAD technology, it's becoming easier to design these complicated shapes and to have those shapes manufactured into metal ceilings."

Paternostro made it a point to familiarize Denning and his crew with the various components of the ceiling. "Since this was our first Armstrong metal ceiling job, we were not familiar with the suspension system," Denning says. "Having the specialist on hand the first day made the job go very smoothly. Our mechanics soon got the feel of the system, and felt very comfortable putting it up."

Planks planned

Denning and his mechanics will soon get another chance to install a metal ceiling system since the lobby in the new Venture Place facility will feature Armstrong's MetalWorks Plank ceiling. Compared to Venture III, this ceiling will be flat instead of curved, and made of steel instead of aluminum.

Jenkins also notes that Venture IV, the final building in the complex, is now in the design phase. The ceiling for this facility has not yet been determined, but based on the Venture III experience, you can bet that its design and installation will incorporate the same spirit of partnership, innovation and solutions that pervades the entire Centennial Campus.