Smart Technologies in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, designs interactive whiteboard systems for educational and business environments, relying on collaborative research by staff to spark new innovations. As the company grew and employees became split between seven different leased spaces, face-to-face teamwork became increasingly difficult, so Smart consolidated into one headquarters facility at University Research Park adjacent to the University of Calgary. This optimal location steeps the creative minds at Smart in a climate of learning and new advances.

Smart Technologies owns its building and has a 99-year lease of the land from the university and the Province of Alberta. Instead of creating one large structure, Ken Cartier, partner-in-charge and project architect at Calgary-based GEC Architecture, reduced the 211,000-square-foot building’s scale by breaking it into three wings connected by a common spine. The wings are stepped into five stories, four stories, and two stories, offering variety in the types and heights of the facility to further reduce its massive presence and better fit into the campus setting.

Erica Lowe, a design architect at GEC says that the wings create an open entry for the facility between the east and center towers. Throughout the facility, the ratio of office to meeting space heavily favors meeting space, Lowe says that the cafeteria just inside the entry doors has become the focal point: “This space is constantly occupied. People come from all over the facility with their laptops to meet with each other here. It’s really become the heart of the building.”

Coursing through this heart is a flat metallic “cable,” whose form begins and ends on the building exterior. Crafted from zinc panels, the cable is only one of several metal accents on the facility. Smart’s technological side is demonstrated with state-of-the-art interactive whiteboards that replace traditional switches to give occupants control over temperature and lighting levels. Solar sensors tell roller shades on the windows when to rise or descend according to natural light levels. An underfloor air-displacement ventilation system improves occupant comfort with fresh air, and exposed concrete ceilings and columns show employees how the building works. Smart Technologies used these features to produce a more holistic and sustainable workplace for employees, which also helped earn the building a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Behind the Curtainwall

Reflecting the objectives for a modern yet natural-looking facility, GEC combined shingle-style zinc panels with glazing above a base of Tyndall stone, a native Canadian dolomite limestone, on the three towers’ west exterior façades to reduce glare. Initially, the design attached the panels to a metal stud assembly, but a fairly aggressive schedule required a quicker solution. The cast-in-place concrete structure’s entire exterior envelope, including roofing, had to be completed within 12 months, so the team integrated the panels with the glazing system.

GEC worked with Calgary-based CANA Construction and Skyline Roofing Limited in Rocky View, Alberta, to change its architectural details and fit the zinc panels into the curtainwall framing.

Most of the building is framed with an aluminum curtainwall system. Typical curtainwalls are framed with extruded aluminum mullions and galvanized-steel back pans with insulation followed by glazing. In this instance, subgirts and acoustic metal deck were installed over the top of the curtainwall framing, followed by zinc paneling. The thin 0.32-inch-thick Quartz Gray zinc panels required adequate backing, so Skyline added the acoustic metal decking vertically over the top of the galvanized steel subgirt system. Metal decking is usually used as part of the roof structure, but the acoustic metal decking’s prepunched holes provided for air movement and venting, while the surface of the deck provided the needed support for the zinc panels.

“It saved time and money since the curtainwall framer was already performing this work, so it made it easier and extremely quick,” Lowe says. “You wouldn’t know that it was curtainwall framed.”

The three towers are connected together by a diamond pattern of Anthra Black zinc that surrounds a strip of windows, intended to run like a cable through the building. Outside, the 10-foot-wide cable stretches approximately 200 feet in each direction on the north sides of the east and west sections and wraps around the east and west façades. The small black diamonds are about 24-by-12 inches in size and the exterior wall area that that each diamond covers is approximately 1.1 square feet.

Zinc is a nonferrous metal that expands and contracts with hot and cold temperatures. Southern Alberta’s extreme climate means that the cable had to be engineered for an 80-degree temperature swing, so gluing the panels to the wall was not an option. In addition, the cable had to withstand 22 to 25 pounds of wind load on the wall.

Diamonds Are Forever

Jason Taylor was the manager of commercial metal operations for Skyline at the time of the Smart facility’s construction. Now Skyline’s director of business development, Taylor recalls the intricacy of the cable’s installation. “Screwing each panel to the wall would create weak links in the cable, so they needed to be interlocked to form one system. We made slotted holes in the panels and fastened each one to the wall with stainless steel screws and hooked every panel to the others around it.”

Skyline cut 5,000 diamond pieces on a CNC router and brake-formed all of the edges. The edges on both diagonals of each diamond are hemmed so they interlock in an S-lock: the top two edges have a flange that is folded to the front of the panel. On the bottom, the two edges are folded back to hook together.

The black cable is set onto a rectangular form that protrudes from the building and bends in underneath the soffit. The building steps back on the four-story wing so the curtainwall is recessed. On the two-story tower, the top of the cable area meets the roofline. The black panels take on a different appearance where they wrap around the east and west ends of the facility as gray zinc panels surround the window. Most of these areas don’t have curtainwall framing, so the panels were installed over steel-stud framing with fiberglass reinforced drywall, vapor barrier, insulation, subgirts, and acoustic metal deck.

Inside, the zinc shingles shrink to a 48-inch-tall cable that runs across the bulkhead below the railing of a second floor balcony overlooking the cafeteria. Each panel is a 24-by-24-inch square angled to look like a diamond. The panels interlock and are installed over plywood sheathing. Although the form is created differently outside and inside, the diamond pattern is the unifying element.

Another interesting element is found on the mechanical penthouses of each building wing. The design called for the large louvers through the walls to match the profile of the metal cladding on the penthouses.

“We custom made the louver blades by taking a cross section of the siding,” Taylor says. “We designed the blades in the same shape and location as the ribs so they line up perfectly and blend into the wall.” Smart’s new building was designed for 700 employees with room to grow, but the company has filled the towers with a total of 900 employees.

KJ Fields writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.