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$1-Million Kinetic 'Skylight' Is Showstopper in Illinois

At a 1,100-seat theater at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., the curtain isn’t the only thing that goes up.

A just-finished $8.5-million renovation of the open-air Bengt Sjostrom Home of Starlight Theatre has “put on” a kinetic canopy that steals the show for 12.5 minutes. Over the audience’s gaze, the stainless steel cover’s $1-million center unfolds to reveal the sky.

Unfurled. Theater canopy lets the stars or sun shine in.

After exploring a hydraulic operating system for the “skylight,” the architect, Studio Gang/O’Donnell, Chicago, with structural consultant Dewhurst McFarlane and Partners Inc., New York City, opted for lighter electrical components. The challenge was to design an assembly, “appealing to the eye,” that would lift a 14.5-ton panel quietly and quickly, says Frank Worms, senior project manager for Uni-Systems, Minneapolis, the engineer-supplier-installer of the kinetic section.

The theater’s multipitched canopy has a lower, fixed section, 100 ft square in plan, around a higher, 90-ton movable assembly over the seating area. The assembly, a hexagon in plan with 40-ft sides, has six, triangular panels that cantilever from steel trusses that bear on freestanding columns. Each panel opens to a 68° pitch and has a 5-hp motor that drives a 50-ton-capacity screw jack. Panels have a 20-ton dead-load capacity. Control software only activates after the operator clears digital security, including biometric thumbprint identification. A backup hydraulic circuit allows manual operation.


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