Winner: 2009 NWCB Outstanding Project of the Year (Suspended Ceiling, USA)

Deceptively Simple

The Clean-Lined Ceilings Seemed East to Install, But 1/4" Reveals and More Tell A Story of Complexity

The North Pavilion is part of the Providence Portland Medical Center, Portland, OR. The structure houses state-of-the art, comprehensive facilities devoted to cancer treatment. It's a 490,000-square-foot, 11-story tower with 250 patient beds and 21 operating rooms.

John Thompson, Interior Principle, ZGF Architects, Portland, says the interior design was intended to be inviting — oriented towards patients and their families. The wood ceilings are an important part of the interior, which uses natural materials in a conscious effort to avoid the look of an institutional environment. "We wanted to emphasize the healing power of nature," Thompson says.

Hybrid Power

Thompson describes the suspended wood ceiling as notable not only for its unique and organic aesthetics, but also for being a design that's both complex and simple at the same time. "It's a simple system used in a creative way," he says.

While the design may appear to be simple, it is, nevertheless, a complex system of assemblies. Charley C. Coury, General Manager, 9Wood, Inc., Springfield, OR, refers to it as "deceptively simple." It's inventive and engaging, but based on some rigorous analytical processes. For example, the design called for a hybrid wood panel, a combination of solid Beech grille members with European Steamed Beech veneered linear members — both fabricated with 1/4" reveals — in a custom, 16" wide panel. The hybrid panel was designed to meet multiple goals. The combination of grille and linear members visually makes the ceiling come alive. Gentle curves, aided by the glowing tone of Beech wood, harmonize the ceiling with the hospital's other design elements. This restful design keeps sound to a minimum, using fiberglass batts installed above the wood panels.

Tight Tolerances

Sometimes forgotten in the blush of wonderful woodworking are the severe +/- 1/32" tolerances needed to keep consistent reveals across the ceiling field. Normally, millwork does not have to meet extreme, +/- 0.005", ceiling grid tolerances. But at the North Pavilion, the ceiling's tiny reveal required use of a special, lathed installation tool. The tool could reach inside the 1/4" gap to fix a screw attachment (for seismic compliance).

The ceilings were unusual in their blend of different styles and materials. and different geometries. They combined curving ceiling layouts, with 'L' trim surrounds, with rectilinear panels featuring accent wood tiles. Lobbies and the boardroom feature 2 x 2 panels perforated and non-perforated.

One final challenge was the demanding, year-end schedule. "This was the project that ruined my Thanksgiving," laughs Tonya Cronkwright, Coordinating Engineer, 9Wood.

Ceiling in a Box

Besides the hybrid nature of the ceilings, another factor making them complex was direction from the installer. He wanted a "ceiling in a box" to simplify the installation process and assure greater precision of his work. It meant that 9Wood had to fabricate all the ceiling components — the multiple unique panels and grilles, with each specially labeled and located — to the site's as-built conditions. It was an obvious coordinating challenge, requiring five different shop drawing revisions alone.

Critical Schedule

Working from the as-built also created a built-in critical schedule because of the compressed cycle time from availability of building dimensions to shipment of finished panels. "It was a lot of extra hours during the holidays," recalls Michael Creech, 9Wood Production Manager.

No Room for Error

Because the wood modules fit exactly within bays of narrow metal MEP pans, each abutting with the same tiny reveals, there was no room for in-field adjustment. Each time a room dimension changed the panel layout and production drawings had to change, too.

"We don't like to do 1/4 inch," comments Jayson Hayes, 9Wood Lead Fabricator. "But we do like a challenge, so we produced the tolerances needed on the job."

One remarkable lobby, dubbed "the Egg," consisted of a small, oval ceiling cloud with curved wood 'L' trim and light fixture and column cut outs. It, too, was a completely pre-fabricated for the installer and shipped as a "ceiling in a box." It typified the features and challenges of the project's wood ceiling system. Again, what seemed simple to some was, in fact, difficult to design, coordinate and build.

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