July/August 2013

Museum Creates Rock Stars With Tile, Granite

Use of a Laticrete system contributes to the beauty and durability of an interactive research lab.


The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ new Nature Research Center wing, a state-of-the-art 80,000-sq.-ft. building with its cornerstone three-story globe of the earth, The Daily Planet, opened in late April 2012 in Raleigh. Its declared mission was to bring research scientists into the public eye, demystify what can be an intimidating field of study, and ultimately inspire educators and students toward a new generation of young scientists. According to the museum’s communications director, Jon Pishney, “Traditionally, museums show us more about what we know. Our new Nature Research Center gets visitors so involved they leave after learning via hands-on processes.”


One of the most popular exhibits at the Nature Research Center is the Daily Planet, a three-story globe of the earth.

Designed to meet LEED Gold criteria, the new wing offers highly visible research laboratories where qualified scientists conduct research projects while visitors are right next to them, observing and learning. Additional investigative labs offer visitors a chance to perform their own small-scale experiments and try their hand at using tools of the trade.

“This way, we’re able to get visitors more directly involved in the scientific process,” added Pishney. “It’s very possible at the Nature Research Center for a museum guest to use a high-powered microscope to look at plant or animal cells hundreds of times bigger than life.”

The Nature Research Center is connected to the existing museum with a two-level pedestrian bridge. The upper story features a progression of handmade tiles, created by artist Barbara Page, positioned along handrails to represent the passage of geologic time. In a nutshell, one can start at one end of the bridge and see tiles portraying life forms dating back 542 million years. By the time he or she gets to the other end of the bridge, the tiles impart images of living creatures that have evolved from back then until right now.

Teamwork pays off

“These exterior hand-made tiles were installed in a stainless-steel pan,” said Jason W. Banks, LEED AP, project manager, BD+C at David Allen Co., an NTCA 5-star contractor and CTEF certified installer with headquarters in Raleigh, NC. “We knew from the start that working with the museum would involve a number of very unique tile projects. That’s why we trusted the Laticrete System for all installation materials. We used Latapoxy 300 adhesive for the handmade ‘time tiles’ due to its bonding strength. We caulked the entire perimeter and joints of these with Laticrete Latasil high-performance silicone sealant. Glass tile at the café was installed with Laticrete 254 Platinum. Before bathrooms were tiled, we protected all substrates by waterproofing them with Laticrete Hydro Ban. Each time, the outcome was perfect.” All products are from Laticrete International, Bethany, CT.

The team from David Allen worked throughout specific areas within the new wing, primarily using Dallas-based Daltile products in the main bathrooms, kitchen, and café. Horizontal granite was specified for the main lobby entrance and as stair treads on the monumental floating staircase. “Great coordination work was done by the general contractor, Clancy & Theys Construction Co. of Raleigh, to get the main lobby and kitchen areas completed on time. The glass barrier around the edge of the floating stairs, for example, could not be put in place until the granite treads and landings were installed,” said Banks.

“When it comes to the selection of products, our hands are tied here a bit, as the architect dictates what tile materials they intend and specify as a basis of design,” Banks said. “The architectural firm that designed the Nature Research Center, O’Brien/Atkins Associates PA [Durham, NC], did an outstanding job choosing products that were both beautiful and functional, while at the same time qualified for LEED points.


A series of handmade tiles represent the passage of geologic time. Visitors can follow tiles portraying life forms dating back 542 million years.

“With my knowledge as a LEED AP BD&C, I understand the LEED scorecard and thus can properly fill out the paperwork for the GC. This helps streamline the process a bit for them. It also helps when looking to collect LEED points within the materials selected. While the specification may indicate only a regional requirement for the product, I can research the product and perhaps add to the recycling content LEED point.”

Rock stars

One area where Banks had some leeway was the choice of setting materials used. He explained that the LaticreteSystem was a great choice for this project due to optimal performance and the convenience of the company’s Hamlet, NC, location. “That allowed most of the installation products used to contribute to the regional-materials LEED certification.”

Greene County granite and Virginia Mist granite were fabricated by North Carolina Granite Corp. in Mt. Airy, NC. Again, because the materials were shipped from their source location less than 500 miles from Raleigh, points were added to the project’s LEED scorecard.

For the museum’s 24-hour grand opening, more than 1,000 people stood in line, waiting 45 minutes for a chance to go inside the three-story globe that had gradually taken shape over the past year. Many were interested in the center’s philosophy of getting visitors interactively involved with scientists. “We’re taking scientists out of their lab coats and isolated labs and putting them into the spotlight,” said Meg Lowman, director of the center. “They are the new rock stars.”

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center has moved its tile-and-stone installation into a veritable spotlight position, as well. “Believe it or not,” Banks concluded, “there is a great deal of scientific know-how involved in these various tile projects. Maybe someday, a technical-services guru from Laticrete will be on hand in this building, offering cutting-edge information to a young, interested generation of potential tile-installation professionals about the correct ways to install tile and stone.”

more information