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Best Government/Public Buildings: New NOAA Center Interacts With Weather

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Photo by Alan Karchmer
Photo by Alan Karchmer
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To design the new Center for Weather & Climate Prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, HOK turned its eyes to the sky. The 285,000-sq-ft facility is organized into three curved, cascading wings intended to resonate with workers and their mission.

"They look at natural patterns all day, curving and swirling forms," says Roger Schwabacher, senior associate, HOK, Washington. "The design reflects the work they do."

The facility includes a 500-seat auditorium, conference center, library, cafeteria, fitness center, multiple laboratories, 10,000-sq-ft data center, forecasting areas, media room and office space.

Designed to achieve LEED-Silver certification, the facility features a unitized curtain wall with custom exterior sunshades, a five-story atrium and green roofs on approximately two-thirds of the building.

Among its most unique features is a four-story waterfall that transfers rainwater from the membrane roofs to onsite bio-retention gardens. The feature was designed to utilize 30 stainless steel cables, attached with turnbuckles at the top and bottom, to guide the water like a "rain chain" from the rooftop scupper down to a perforated, precast concrete basin in the garden.

Careful studies by the design team took into account the water volume and flow rate from the roof and the capabilities of the bio-retention area to absorb the water. However, once it came time to build the feature, designers and contractors had to collaborate to fine-tune it. The flow rate from the large, steeply canted roof was initially too fast and needed to be modified with roof diverters. The four-story waterfall was not fully contained by the cables and sprayed on the curtain wall. The construction team solved the problem by narrowing the scupper's opening to the cables to better direct the flow downward.

Other features include a wind sculpture, pedestrian plazas, walkways and a 700-car parking garage.

"Many elements of the design interact with the weather," Schwabacher says. "When it rains, the waterfall flows. When the wind blows, the sculpture is activated."

NOAA Center for Weather & Climate Prediction Riverdale Park, Md.

Key Players

General Contractor: Skanska USA Building, Rockville, Md.

Owner: NOAA MD, Williamsville, N.Y.

Lead Design: HOK, Washington, D.C.

Client: General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.

Structural Engineer: Walter P Moore and Associates, Washington, D.C.

Civil Engineer: A. Morton Thomas and Associates, Rockville, Md.

MEP: Vanderweil Engineers; Washington, D.C.

Submitted by: HOK

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