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Rio Roca on the Brazos Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

October 26, 2011 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The Rio Roca on the Brazos project, a custom-designed chapel overlooking the Brazos River in Palo Pinto, Texas, has earned national recognition in the 2011 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2). In honor of this achievement, members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a ceremony at the chapel on Friday, October 28 at 10 am. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects around the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S.

The Rio Roca on the Brazos project team members include owner Rio Roca Ranch, Palo Pinto County, Texas; architect Maurice Jennings + Walter Jennings Architects, PLLC, Fayetteville, Ark.; architect of record Maurice Jennings Architect, Fayetteville, Ark.; structural engineer Myers-Beatty Engineering, PLLC, Van Buren, Ark.; general contractor English Heritage Homes of Texas, Dallas.

Rio Roca on the Brazos is a National award winner in the category of projects costing Less than $15 Million, making it one of only eight projects around the country to receive the National honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

This steel, glass, stone and wood chapel is situated on a bluff overlooking the Brazos River. It was constructed to provide a spiritual retreat for visitors, and a private venue for religious services, performances, and weddings. A flagstone walkway connects the chapel forecourt to a conference, living building higher on the bluff. The chapel seats 50 people in built-in pews.

The steep slope of the site is cut into by a 10-ft-tall stone wall visitors must pass through to reach the chapel. This retaining wall continues through the chapel and supports each steel column to the north. The southern wall is floor-to-ceiling glass with steel columns framing the view. The lateral bracing is placed toward the inside of the chapel to maximize any obstruction.

The earth drastically slopes away from the chapel exposing it to high winds. Steel HSS columns and cross bracing are concealed in the stone walls to the south to provide extra support. All of the exposed steel is coated with automotive enamel to keep it from weathering.

Each column is composed of a group of steel HSS wrapped in wood trim. The trim provides the connection to the insulated glass. The steel columns are welded to steel flitch beams that support the copper roof. Steel turnbuckles, threaded rods, and acorn nuts provide a delicate structural system so as not to distract from the chapel surroundings and are connected to the flitch beams and columns to resist spread.

“Beautiful building with simple structure,” commented Farro Tofighi, P.E., managing principal at DeSimone Consulting Engineers, and a judge in the competition.

The majority of the steel was fabricated in a sheltered environment off site. It was predrilled and painted to assist in the ease of construction. Because all the steel was shop built, the architects also were able to use a known fabricator from previous projects instead of trying to identify a skilled local craftsman in a remote location.

Once on the site, the column and rafter system was erected and bolted into the anchor bolts cast into the foundation. The turnbuckle and tension bar system was assembled and aligned without any on-site welding. The steel in the chapel provides a strong and delicate structure in juxtaposition to the heavy masonry base.

Custom-designed and fabricated steel elements are used throughout the site. An observation deck surrounded by a steel and glass rail overlooks the river. A 20-ft-tall steel sculpture beckons visitors to the chapel at the top of the bluff, acting much like an obelisk of a pilgrimage church. Three steel channels pierce the stone retaining walls to carry the water into a stone basin on the other side. Steel lights and lanterns illuminate the structure and the surrounding landscape.

The 14 IDEAS2 winners for 2011 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 award dates back over 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire Rio Roca on the Brazos project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a structure that serves its visitors extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

View high resolution images of the Rio Roca on the Brazos project in a slideshow gallery of photos available here.


For more information contact:

Tasha Weiss
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]


American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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