Powder Coated Mesh Helps University Ace Its Gold LEED Certification

Posted on Sunday, February 1, 2015

Frank A. Cassell Hall, the first sustainable building on the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg campus, received Gold LEED certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). 

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is the rating system used to designate certification of sustainable buildings. It provides third party verification that projects satisfy prerequisites (required elements or green building strategies) and have earned the appropriate number of points to achieve different levels of certification.

Cassell Hall, formerly known as the Sustainable Office and Classroom Building, is a two-story, 16,837 sq. ft. facility. Its space includes a state-of-the-art computer lab, a video-conferencing classroom, a server room, offices and a technology training classroom. The university chose Banker Wire mesh to outfit its first building designed for Gold LEED certification.

Designed by Pittsburgh-based Forty Eighty Architecture, Cassell Hall is nestled in a steep hillside along the south bank of Slate Run. Its environmental sustainability and aesthetic features—including woven wire mesh infill panels—accentuate its connection to the natural world.

Enclosed in glass, the building’s main internal stairway allows for an expansive view of the surrounding woods and stream. Metal mesh infill panels in a custom angle iron frame, both manufactured by Banker Wire, form a semi-transparent stairway railing that complements the space’s glass façade. The ailing’s transparency was an especially important feature, as the designers wanted the outdoors to be visible from all of the occupied spaces within the building. The Banker Wire infill panels and angle iron frame were used on the building's exterior ramp and plaza, where they allow for the uninterrupted transmission of natural light into the building.

“For this installation, we wanted a railing system that was custom and transparent, but more durable and easier for our client to maintain than glass. The FPZ-16 mesh with a powder-coated finish met that criteria,” says Kent Suhrbier, principal at Forty Eighty Architecture.

Combining two different crimping styles, the FPZ-16 wire mesh used at  Frank A. Cassell Hall has rectangular openings more than three times as long as they are tall. The orientation of this weave makes a strong design statement. Where the infill panels are installed parallel to the staircase’s slope, the long diagonal lines formed by the mesh pattern slice into the vertical and horizontal lines of the glass façade’s frame. The layering of these lines brings a sense of depth and texture to this modern space, Suhrbier explains. Where installed vertically, the mesh’s aspect ratio noticeably deviates from that of the façade, creating a geometrically interesting relationship, he says.

Its powder-coat finish complements the warm hues of the building’s interior, natural light and surrounding flora. The designers had virtually unlimited color choices but ultimately settled on a warm neutral. 

“We enjoyed working with Banker Wire throughout both the design and construction process,” says Suhrbier.  “Banker Wire not only helped us come up with a great idea, they made sure that we could realize it within the client’s budget and schedule.”

The angle iron frame and woven wire mesh infill panels were crafted by Banker Wire to integrate seamlessly, creating a beautiful and strong final product. Custom mounting tabs, which are hidden from sight, securely hold the angle iron frame in place along the staircase, ramp and plaza.  The mounting tabs blend into the railing structure, allowing for an almost invisible interface that matches the simple aesthetic of the space. 

The infill panels and frames had to provide more than a modern appearance for this university space. Because Cassell Hall serves a variety of university functions and is actively used by both students and faculty, the system was also constructed to withstand heavy traffic with minimal upkeep. In addition to being eco-friendly, powder coating also is durable and corrosion-resistant, making it a suitable finish for the university’s needs.

Powder Coating: A “LEEDing” Finish Harrison Horan, vice president at Banker Wire, had been working with the architectural design firm so he knew that the chosen finish would have to meet the requirements for the university to get its LEED certification.  This would mean contributing to LEED credits in the recycled content category. The wire used to fabricate the mesh is composed of 80 to 85 percent post-consumer and 12 to 18 percent pre-consumer recycled steel.  Horan says that after the structures were made, they were outsourced for an eco-friendly powder coated finish to Milwaukee-based B&K Powder Coating Corp. 

Conrad Johnson, general manager at B&K, says that understanding the customer’s needs, paying attention to detail, and the job shop’s responsiveness all attribute to the success of this family-owned business. B&K was founded in 1992 by Jamie Kaufmann to serve the powder coating needs of a Fortune 500 OEM. Since then, B&K has diversified into other industries, including die casting, metal stamping, metal fabricators, automotive, lawn and garden,  appliance, point of purchase, and, of course, architecture.

In the case of the Banker Wire mesh project, the first step of the finishing process was to media blast the mesh with aluminum oxide media to remove any scale or rust. After blasting, the product was hung on one of B&K’s two  5-stage automated coating lines. The parts were conveyed through the pretreatment system, where Coral Chemical’s products were utilized. Stage 1: 90 seconds of COR CLENE 56 heavy duty alkaline cleaner

Stage 2: 20 seconds fresh water rinse

Stage 3: 120 seconds of SURCOAT 680 iron phosphate cleaner/coater

Stage 4: 20 seconds of fresh water rinse

Stage 5: 30 seconds of CORAK 714 final rinse

After pretreatment, the mesh parts were conveyed through B&K’s Therma-Tron-X (TTX) dry-off oven, which is set at 350°F for 8 minutes. Then the parts are conveyed to the Gema powder booth where six automatic and two manual Optiflex2 guns are used to powder coat the parts. The product is then conveyed to another TTX oven, this time for cure at 400°F for 30 minutes.

“For architectural products like the Banker Wire mesh, we first spray TCI Powder Coatings’ zinc-rich primer and then a super-durable top coat color—in this case a neutral,” Johnson explains.

In addition to looking aesthetically pleasing, the building also aimed to realize 30 percent annual energy savings and reduced water usage by 50 percent, helping with its LEED Gold status.  FortyEighty Architecture previously specified Banker Wire for use at The Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College, another building designed for LEED Gold Certification. 

“We’ve always been happy with the variety of options Banker Wire offers and the balance their products bring to projects in terms of quality and durability,”  says Suhrbier. 

Completed in 2012, Frank A. Cassell Hall received the MBA Building Excellence Award for New Construction Under $10 Million as well as its LEED Gold certification. 

“In many ways, Cassell Hall is a physical manifestation of the exciting transformation that is on-going at Pitt-Greensburg,” says Sharon P. Smith, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. “We are creating a visionary new model for liberal arts education, one that keeps faith with past traditions of learning while simultaneously reconceiving a liberal arts education for a world of rapid change in which ways of thinking and communicating have been transformed. Cassell Hall articulates perfectly within a beautiful campus, respecting that environment, and reconceiving designs from existing buildings in new ways for new learning purposes and thus bridges past and future.” 

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached via email at sspielman@powdercoating.org