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Case History: Metal panels create high-tech look

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The Udvar-Hazy addition to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum uses metal exterior panels to create a high-tech, lightweight look, and perforated interior panels to improve acoustics.


The Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center is now home to the world’s premiere collection of historic and rare aircraft and spacecraft. But how did the designers create an architectural aesthetic that adequately reflected the age of spaceflight? The design concept dictated a sleek appearance while the mammoth open area necessary to display several full-sized aircraft demanded an acoustically superior design.

Approximately 118,000 sq. ft. of Centria’s Formawall Dimension Series metal panels were installed on the building’s exterior.

“We wanted this museum to look high-tech and lightweight, and be acoustically friendly-that’s why Centria’s [Moon Township, PA] metal panels were chosen for the project,” explained Walter Urbanek, project architect with HOK architects, Washington. “We are very familiar with Centria’s product line and we knew its metal panels would be a good choice for such a high-profile project.”

Approximately 118,000 sq. ft. of Formawall Dimension Series metal panels were installed on the building’s exterior and finished with bright silver metallic and white coatings. L-21A liner panels, perforated for acoustical purposes, were fastened to the Aeronautical Hangar interior and coated with a soft silver color called Evening Dove. The coating was chosen to help brighten the interior. The same panels were also installed on the interior of the space hangar and coated with Steeple Chase, a dark blue/gray, simulating outer space.

“The perforated liner panels were specified for acoustical purposes because of the numerous ‘hard’ spaces that make up the interiors of the hangar museum,” Urbanek noted. “There aren’t many ‘soft’ spaces to help absorb the noise inside the hangars, so installing insulated panels greatly reduces the reflecting echoes of noise. We specified a high NRC (noise reduction coefficient) and the L-21A panels, resulting in a high-performance acoustical facility.”

With the addition of the Udvar-Hazy Center, a companion facility to the museum’s flagship building on the National Mall in Washington, the National Air and Space Museum can display more history, science, and flight technology. Together, the two facilities will eventually comprise the largest aviation and space museum complex in the world. The facility, which will ultimately contain 760,000 sq. ft. of space, opened to the public on Dec. 15, 2003, as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers.

Located south of the main terminal at Dulles Airport in northern Virginia, the center includes an aviation exhibit hangar housing 82 aircraft, a 164-ft. high observation tower, an IMAX theater, three multimedia classrooms, restaurants, and gift shops. Also included is the McDonnell space hangar, which opened in November 2004 and houses the shuttle Enterprise, which is currently being refurbished.

Named in honor of its major donor, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, the museum displays more than 200 aircraft and 135 spacecraft including the Dash 80 prototype of the Boeing 707 and the “Enola Gay” B-29 bomber. Visitors are able to walk among the artifacts on the floor and view suspended aircraft from elevated walkways. A series of connected hangars and 21 steel trusses arching 10-stories high is a signature architectural feature of the central aviation hangar.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Chantilly, VA, served as the general contractor, and A.C. Dellovade Inc., Canonsburg, PA, as the Centria-certified dealer and installer.