When guests enter the new Etihad Airways lounge at JFK International Airport in New York, they find themselves in a private world of indulgence designed to be the ultimate expression of 21st century Arabian modernism.

As national airline for the United Arab Emirates, Etihad wanted the lounge to reflect the design of its new brand image, which draws on the geometric shapes found throughout the architecture of Abu Dhabi and its desert landscape.

“This was an opportunity for us to translate the two-dimensional Etihad brand into a three-dimensional built environment and share a little bit of the culture of Abu Dhabi with the world,” says Gensler design team manager Matt Johnson.


The Design Vision

Anchoring the design is the ceiling showcased above the bar. The design vision Gensler had in mind for the ceiling called for a modern interpretation of an antique Persian lantern with a warm glow emanating from within.

The concept Gensler developed for the ceiling featured triangular-shaped metal ceiling panels installed in a faceted geometric pattern above the bar. To create the lantern visual, the panels feature triangular-shaped perforations and translucent infill panels. The perforations allow light to penetrate the space from fixtures behind the ceiling and the translucent panels filter the light to provide a lantern-like glow.

While Gensler had a clear vision of what it wanted the ceiling to look like, it needed to find a ceiling manufacturer that could help it bring this unique concept to life. The design team turned to the You Inspire Solutions Center at Armstrong Ceiling Solutions to realize its design intent. The center is a free service Armstrong offers to architects, designers, and contractors to help turn one-of-a-kind ideas like the lantern ceiling into a reality.

After reviewing the initial drawings, the design team at Armstrong Ceilings realized that the MetalWorks Torsion Spring Ceiling System could be customized to create the design required for the 600-square-foot ceiling. “This was a complex geometric design,” according to design engineer Dan Holdridge, who worked with Gensler on the project. “There were approximately 160 ceiling panels with different sizes and shapes and each pod had its own custom suspension system.”

The lantern visual was created by cutting triangular-shaped perforations into the aluminum panels, powder-coating them with a bronze finish, and backing them with custom Armstrong Infusions infill panels in a golden brown color. The Infusions panels have a paper-thin ghost layer inside to help diffuse the light coming from LED fixtures behind the ceiling and provide the desired warm glow.

The panels were manufactured in triangular pods of approximately three-to-six panels each with each pod representing a different plane or facet in the ceiling. Each pod was about 6 to 8 feet in size. The ceiling is made is made up of about 50 pods altogether.


Keys to Success

Keys to the success of the project were the 3D models the You Inspire Solutions Center created to help the architect and client visualize what the ceiling would look like. The models also provided installation solutions by making it easier to understand how the ceiling would be suspended.

To facilitate installation, the ceiling pods were pre-assembled with the suspension systems attached. “That made our job a whole lot easier,” says Robert Doxey, project manager for Cord Contracting Co., who worked with Armstrong Ceilings to achieve the best finished installation. “Then, basically, all we had to do was bolt the pods together.”

The You Inspire Solutions Center designed the pre-assembled ceiling pods to automatically hang at the proper slope angles when bolted together, greatly reducing the number of hanging points the installer would need to locate. “Instead of having to worry about a multitude of hanging points and building a spider web of ceiling grid one piece at a time, the contractor only had to worry about the elevations where a group of pods joined together,” explains Holdridge.

Months in advance of the actual installation, the contractor installed a plywood ceiling below the deck and asked the You Inspire Solutions Center to plot every point of suspension in AutoCAD.

“(Armstrong Ceilings) indicated where every drop needed to be to suspend the ceiling and put it in the drawing,” explains Doxey. “Then, using our rotary laser system, we were able to plot every hanging point on the floor and transfer them up to the plywood ceiling. That took out a lot of the layout time. As a result, we had all our anchor points already secured through the plywood three months before we installed the ceiling.”

When installing the ceiling, the contractor suspended the pods with a threaded rod system and made adjustments to the heights as needed. “At that point, all we had to do was crank the pods up and down until we got them to the height on the drawing,” adds Doxey.

At the contractor’s request, the You Inspire Solutions Center also incorporated round metal panels 6-inches in diameter into the design of the ceiling panels where high-hat light fixtures would be installed. “We were able to drill through the solid material and center the light fixture on that,” explains Doxey. “That way, we wouldn’t have the effect where the fixture is half on a perforation or not. Instead, the fixture has a nice half-inch border of the solid panel material around it which gives it a cleaner look.”

To prevent light from leaking through the corners of the ceiling pods, the contractor installed extra gasketing. “We cut star shapes out of the gasketing material and installed them above where the corners of the triangles intersect to make sure the light only comes through the perforations.”

At one end of the bar, the lantern ceiling drops down to meet a structural column encased in bronze millwork. “That was probably the most difficult part of the project,” says Doxey. “The ceiling comes down and creates a reveal around the millwork. We were working with an existing structure that could not be moved so we had to make sure the ceiling would coordinate with it.”

A Jewel of a Ceiling

Etihad was so pleased with the result that it replicated the ceiling design in its lounge at Los Angeles International Airport and plans to make the lantern ceiling a hallmark of its lounges in other destinations around the world.

“The lantern ceiling has become the jewel–the showcase piece within the lounge–that ties together the different elements in the Etihad brand,” says Johnson. “This is what we set out to accomplish in our design vision. The team worked really hard to make sure the actual installed piece maintained the integrity of that vision.”