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Clemson University’s Lee Hall III Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

November 21, 2013 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – Lee Hall III, a 55,000-sq.-ft addition to Clemson University’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities in Clemson, S.C., has earned national recognition in the 2013 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 project site on Monday, November 25, at 10:30 a.m.

Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects across the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S. and recognizes the importance of teamwork, coordination and collaboration in fostering successful construction projects.

The project team members include:

  • Owner: Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.
  • Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners, New York
  • Structural Engineer: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago
  • General Contractor: Holder Construction Company, Atlanta
  • Steel Fabricator: Steel LLC, Atlanta (AISC Member)
  • Steel Erector: Williams Erection Company, Smyrna, Ga. (AISC Member/AISC Advanced Certified Erector)

Lee Hall III is a Merit award winner in the category of projects $15 Million to $75 Million, making it one of only eight projects around the country to receive the Merit honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel from both an architectural and structural engineering perspective, with an emphasis on: creative solutions to project’s program requirements; applications of innovative design approaches in areas such as connections, gravity systems, lateral load resisting systems, fire protection and blast; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of the steel; and the use of innovative design and construction methods.

Lee Hall III houses academic programs in architecture, art and planning, faculty offices and student workspace. Conceived as “a building that teaches,” the project encourages informal learning through observation of its energy efficient design and exposed functional and structural systems. The building was awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and won an American Institute of Architects’ 2013 National Honor Award.

Nearly all of the structural steel components in Lee Hall III are the direct manifestation of the architectural expression. The building is an open, double-height space (35 ft tall) housing a secondary internal structure of mezzanines and bridges. The structure’s roof is comprised of a lightweight composite concrete deck structure supported by exposed W14 steel beams. The roof rises 4 ft in a gentle arc to drain a planted green roof, which is punctuated by 25 7-ft-diameter skylights directly above the “column trees.” These assemblies conciously draw attention to the structural steel; they are comprised of 10 ¾-in.- diameter seamless steel pipes with 1-in.-thick walls and four curving “arms” built out of flat 1 ¼-in.-thick and 1-in.-thick steel plate. The unusually thick-walled pipe columns (ASTM A106 pipe typically used in oil and gas-line construction) allow remarkably slender columns and enhance their dramatic elegance. The four arms at the top of each column tree support lines of continuous W14 steel beams and allow the roof directly above each column to open into a skylight.

The north and south facades of Lee Hall III are comprised of a custom insulated low-iron glazing, which spans floor to roof. The engineer worked closely with the architects to detail the support system for the glazing out of W6 structural steel members spanning up to 33 ft. The W6 window wall steel incorporates exposed C6 and WT3 exposed steel framing to support operable windows and doors. By directly supporting the glazing on structural steel members (in lieu of conventional aluminum extrusions), the designers developed window walls of exceptional slenderness with minimal and elegant detailing that is consistent with the aesthetic of the primary structural steel frame.

The lateral systems for Lee Hall III consist of exposed “X”-braced pre-tensioned cables on the north and south facades and back-to-back WT ordinary braced frames in the east and west walls. The WT bracing is hidden in the east and west brick walls, but the cable X-bracing is a prominent architectural feature. The cable connections were detailed to be exposed to view just above the finish floor and are offset to pass one another just behind the W6 window wall steel.

Beyond the window walls on the north and south faces of the building, a row of super-slender “Y” columns supports a steel trellis of exterior exposed W6 steel beams and perforated metal panels. The exterior “Y” columns are reminiscent of the 25 interior “column trees”, but are flattened into a two-dimensional plane. Each “Y” column is fabricated from 4.5” diameter HSS steel tubes and is up to 35’ tall. Although the geometry of each “Y” column is different, the castings connecting the vertical base of the “Y” to the branching arms are identical—repetition of the same casting geometry made the connections cost-feasible.

“This elegant project shows a determined drive to reduce columns to their most elongated and slender – a refreshing reminder to continue to stretch design at every opportunity,” commented Anne Lewison, AIA, senior architect and senior design leader with Snøhetta, New York, and a judge in the competition.

At the north and south ends of the east and west walls, brick walls hover beyond the building enclosure in an 18-ft double cantilever with no lateral support bracing. These cantilevered brick “wing walls” shade the ends of the north and south window walls in a subtle but dramatic extension of the brick surface. The cantilevering steel structure resists vertical brick loads and lateral wind and seismic loads, not unlike an airplane wing.

A two-story level of mezzanines and connecting bridges comprises a nearly independent structure within the main Lee Hall III structure. The shafts of some column trees pass through holes in the mezzanine deck and do not support the framing, emphasizing the independence of the two structures. The mezzanine level is supported by W10 and W16 steel beams and HSS5x5 square tube columns. Its structural steel columns and beams were precisely coordinated and offset to align with architectural glass, wood, and concrete surfaces.

Nearly all of the structural steel in Lee Hall III functions as both a load-carrying functional system and a sculpturally expressive medium. What is arguably most remarkable about its use of structural steel is that the highly and expressive character was achieved without any expensive or unconventional fabrication techniques, special finishes, exotic connections or the higher-tolerance AESS designation typical of this type of construction. Instead, the team worked closely to refine conventional, simple connections and fabrication techniques that could be built by any steel fabricator without undo expense. All connections were fully detailed in the structural drawings so the alignment, appearance and architectural character could be evaluated and refined prior to the shop-drawing phase, thereby eliminating the fabricator’s connection engineering time and costs. Although the structure features a curving, warped roof, no curved steel was used in the building’s frame; the geometry is a series of simple faceted arcs that nearly match a true curve. Variation in arc radii requires the metal deck to warp slightly as it spans. The structural drawings clearly and simply convey the geometry in simple 2D plans, elevations and details without the need for 3D modeling or the use of digital files.

Each of the 25 column trees has its own unique geometry due to the changing curvature of the roof, but all column tree arms were fabricated entirely out of flat plate, the geometry of which was determined from simple geometric rules. The realization of complex, organically inspired free-form shapes from the careful assemblage of flat plate and straight pipe was key to the project’s success.

Further cost reduction was achieved by responding to the fabricator’s concerns regarding the blanket designation of AESS. Rather than simply applying this requirement to all of the exposed steel, the architects and the engineer identified only those aspects of AESS that were critical to the project’s success and defined exposed painted structural steel requirements specific to the job.

The 13 IDEAS2 winners for 2013 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received from 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 more than 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E., president of AISC, said, “The entire Lee Hall III project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is an academic building that serves its faculty and students extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

High-resolution images of the Lee Hall III project are available upon request by contacting AISC’s Tasha Weiss at 312.670.5439, [email protected]. To learn more about the IDEAS2 awards and to view all of this year’s winning projects, visit www.aisc.org/ideas2.

Lee Hall III
Photo Credit: Scott Frances Photography


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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