Case Study: Desert Aviation Center; North Las Vegas, Nevada
Built in the 1970s, the Desert Aviation Center at the North Las Vegas Airport (VGT) offers convenient office space, classrooms and adjacent hanger space for its tenants. It is the first building seen by people arriving at the north entry of the state’s third-busiest airport. The center’s concrete and steel construction served as a functional, but indistinctive structure. The owners invested in a substantial renovation, transforming the property into a high-profile building that leaves a memorable impression.
Desert Aviation Center’s improved two-story exterior features EXTECH/Exterior Technologies, Inc.’s KINETICWALL® wind-activated, dynamic wall system. To achieve the project’s aesthetic and performance goals, EXTECH’s design-assist team worked closely with the owners of Desert Aviation Center, Haan Development, Carpenter Sellers Del Gatto (CSD) Architects, AJB General Contractors and Hartlauer Signs.
“We turned an ugly building into something beautiful. I think everyone involved feels a sense of pride and accomplishment,” said Gerald Haan, managing partner of Desert Aviation Center. “The group at AJB and at EXTECH did a great job turning an imaginative design concept into a fully realized transformation.”
Collaborative, Cohesive Project
Further complimenting the teamwork on Desert Aviation Center’s renovation, Haan added, “Our on-site facility manager, Tom Salmon, diligently coordinated with the tenants and construction crews to ensure everyone stayed on the same page. Without his hard work and the entire team’s collaboration, this project would not have gone as smoothly.”
Salmon was impressed with both the process and the outcome. “We were all working toward the same goal. The combination of our efforts shines through in the results. It’s a dramatic improvement for the property.”
Completed in 2021, the Desert Aviation Center’s 5,133-square-foot façade installed on the south elevation is composed of nearly 1,000 aluminum flapper elements. Each 6-by-6-inch flapper has a 90-degree range of motion. Some of the flappers are perforated to form two custom-designed patterns. The perforations change the value (the brightness) of those flappers so as to make them stand out.
On the wall’s eastern edge, the perforated flapper elements combine into the silhouette of an airplane spanning 13 feet high and 50 feet wide from wing tip to wing tip. On the western edge, the flappers' perforated pattern displays the property’s street address, “2722,” 5-foot-high by 12-foot-wide.
“It really is a cool project and quite a feat of engineering and installation,” praised AJB’s project engineer, Frankee Jefairjian. She credited teamwork, collaboration and communication as contributing to the project’s success. “We went back and forth in communicating. EXTECH’s really great about being responsive. They get right back to me and also were in direct contact with our installer, Hartlauer Signs. It made for a cohesive project, where everything flowed just right.”
Aviation-Inspired Dynamic Design
Aviation themes inspired CSD’s rebranding of the Desert Aviation Center, while re-using the existing structure. “Since the building becomes the front door to the VGT airport, the design presents a visual reference of what is beyond and within,” explained the architect. “Each flap is set in motion by the varying winds, creating a dynamic composition that speaks to aeronautics – air, wind and movement.”
The building’s innovative façade renovation design won an American Institute of Architecture (AIA) Nevada Merit Award even before the project moved from concept to construction. Bringing the idea to reality, EXTECH designed, engineered and factory-fabricated the KINETICWALL system.
EXTECH’s team also prepared the shop drawings, installation drawings and submittals for approval, as well as producing a mock-up. The mock-up allowed the owner, architects and contractors to review the KINETICWALL system as a physical sample and ensure it matched their expectations.
Precisely Measured and Custom Fabricated
“Our greatest challenge on the project was getting the exact field measurements before EXTECH could begin fabricating the wall system. The measurements had to be precise to align everything correctly,” said Jefairjian.
Once approved, EXTECH began manufacturing the full-scale system at its headquarters in Pittsburgh. The flappers were pre-assembled into 54 panels, each approximately 5 feet wide x 5’ to 10’ high, making them easy to ship and quick to install by hoist. The total unitized wall system spans more than 280 feet wide and 18 feet high. The top-most portion cantilevers 12.9 degrees. This projected parapet not only presents an active, visual screen along the roofline, but also facilitates a smooth transition of the staggered planes throughout the entire length of the façade.
The lower sections of Desert Aviation Center’s KINETICWALL façade align vertically, draping the building like a moving, metal curtain. Within the structural framework, the aluminum flappers are horizontally suspended on a pin-mount system with adjustable clips spaced 1-inch on center. This system allows the flapper elements to seemingly float in front of the support rungs and side rails as a veil. Where perforation is specified to convey a message, each 6-inch-square, 0.032-inch-thick flapper element is fully or partially perforated with holes ranging from 1/2-inch to 3/32-inch in diameter.
The KINETICWALL system’s vertical rails and horizontal rungs were manufactured with extruded aluminum. The aluminum components were finished in clear anodize to accentuate the natural metallic appearance and deliver the high-performance protection for the extreme Las Vegas climate and the active airport conditions. Should future repairs or replacement flapper elements be needed, the pin-mount suspension simplifies the process, saving time, labor and associated costs. After its useful life on the Desert Aviation Center, the metal is 100% recyclable.
Carefully Coordinated, Smooth Installation
Once it was fabricated, EXTECH carefully sequenced and packed the unitized KINETICWALL system into three trucks. “When it arrived, everything was numbered and labeled correctly for installation,” noted Jefairjian. “They also sent complete installation instructions with diagrams and photos. Each unit was hung with cranes with just three or four people in the field depending on the day. It was completely installed in about 10 days. It’s sort of like a giant game of Tetris.”
“Keep in mind, this was all being done while it was a functioning office building with people working there,” she emphasized. “Although the building is not technically part of the airport, it does sit on their property, so we also were coordinating with the DOA (Department of Aviation).”
She highlighted AJB’s general superintendent, Todd Markwart, “who coordinated everything perfectly. Up to a week in advance, everyone was notified and knew where we would be working and parking. Posters were put up all over the place, the area would be blocked off and there was a temporary fence that was moved with the field team. It ran very smoothly and everyone was pleased.”
Beautiful, Metallic Flowing Façade
From the outside, the full effect of the dynamic, wind-driven movement can be viewed. From the inside, tenants appreciate the daylighting, shading and views. Each flapper’s custom-perforated patterns had to be accurately positioned to create the completed wall system’s design.
“On one side of the wall, you have the street address and on the other is the airplane image,” reiterated Jefairjian. “It’s phenomenal how these shaded graphics turned out picture-perfect. It looks absolutely amazing when the wind blows and you see the EXTECH wall in motion.”
She added, “The building really stands out. It used to be this unattractive, cream-colored concrete and stucco structure. Now, it’s this beautiful, black and metallic flowing façade. You can’t go by it without noticing. It’s certainly a conversation starter. I loved working on this project from start to finish. I’m proud to be a part of the AJB team and involved with this project.”
“After” photos: Matt Martin, EXTECH / “Before” photos and video: AJB General Contractors
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