When Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, set out to convert a 4,000 sq. ft. unused space into a student gathering center, the design challenges were numerous. The university wanted a space that would be suited to multiple purposes ranging from seminary, classroom and study use to performances and social events. It also needed to be exciting – a space that would capture the imagination of the students who used it.

The solution from Sheppard Case Architects, Inc. of St. John’s was a flexible design using high-end materials and aesthetics. “We believe that if you build quality into a school or any other public space, the occupants will respect it and use it more effectively,” comments partner Jim Case.

The gathering center was to be located at the southwest corner of the building, adjacent to a busy food court. Case observed that the students enjoyed sitting at the existing window bays in the area. “We created two rows of benches along the windows, where students could sit with their laptops or books and enjoy the natural daylighting,” he explains

“The bench risers extend almost to the level of the windowsills, posing a challenge for head space. So we began to look at different ways to create a raised ceiling above the window area,” he continues. The design team agreed on an S-curved motif to echo the curvilinear form of the window benches. They considered gypsum board and floating panels in various materials, but the cost would have been over $20,000 – more than twice the allotted budget.

After further research, Case discovered that corrugated metal building panels – perforated and lined with acoustical batt insulation – offered an economical solution. “I wasn’t sure if such panels could be S-curved. But after reviewing the project requirements with Curveline, we learned that their crimp-curving process could produce the results we were seeking,” he says. The cost – even with transcontinental shipping – was also comfortably below the $10,000 budget.

The project uses about 570 sq. ft. of 24 GA, 7/8” corrugated, perforated panels manufactured by VICWEST. Curveline shaped the 9-ft 6” long panels into S-curves using 68 and 84.4 degree angles and outside radii of 26-1/2” and 52”.

The Curveline service center is located in Ontario, California – “about as far as you can get from Newfoundland in North America”, notes Case. Distance was a concern, especially when a shipping problem prior to the curving process resulted in delays. “We worked closely with Curveline and they pulled all the stops out to fast-track the project and ship the panels directly to the site. They arrived just before the grand opening in September 2007 – on time and on budget,” he concludes.

The installation process was simple: The acoustical lining was taped to the curved panels, which were then secured to support framing. The panels were pre-painted a simple white, and were mounted to appear free-floating in the space with four inches of free space on all sides. Dimmable pinhole down-light fixtures were suspended in the void just above the panels to create a concealed light feature, similar to a theatre setting.

For maximum flexibility, Sheppard Case also incorporated a Skyfold acoustic partition so the area can be divided or used as a whole. Unlike most partitions, the wall does not stack but folds completely up into the ceiling.

General contractor for the project was Diversified Construction Limited of Conception Bay South, who installed the panels using their own crews. MUN manager for the project was Judy Power of the Department of Facilities Management. According to Jim Case, “Vision for the project was amply supplied by an enthusiastic Dr. Lilly Walker, Dean of Student Affairs and Services.”