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Museums, Libraries and Cultural Centers

First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center, Memphis, Tenn.

Photo: Tim Hursley

To revitalize its 4,500-acre urban park, Shelby Farms implemented a master plan developed by James Corner Field Operations, master planner and landscape architect for First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center. As part of the master plan, the $50 million, 180-acre Heart of the Park was completed in September 2016. It consists of a group of buildings and structures around an 80-acre lake named Hyde Lake.

Centrally located, the visitor center creates an icon for the reformed landscape and acts as the nerve center of the park, a hub and point of arrival for visitors. Designed by Marlon Blackwell Architects, the visitor center is an 8,000-square-foot building with a 7,560-square-foot covered porch. The porch is cooled by five, 14-foot high volume, low speed (HVLS) fans from MacroAir Technologies Inc. It provides shade from the Memphis sun and functions as a central meeting ground for the community.

The visitor center's role as a visual beacon for the park led to some of the building material choices. The designers drew upon Shelby Farms agricultural history as a penal farm for the city of Memphis.

The designers explored a variety of materials including perforated metal and expanded metal before settling on aluminum bar grating. Long used in agricultural construction, aluminum bar grating is a lightweight and durable product. It is also self-supporting, which is important for the project’s long spans.

The cantilevered form glistens during daytime from reflected sunlight and glows at night when illuminated with site lighting. The designers wanted a reflective, transparent material that would give the building visual impact.

The project features 16,151 square feet of aluminum bar grating with a 77 percent open area from P&R Metals Inc. It has 1/8-inch bearing bars locked to 1-inch cross bars every 4 inches by swaging. To attach the aluminum bar grate to the steel substructure, custom, stainless steel, J-hook clips were used to avoid a galvanic reaction and preserve the long life of the mill finish aluminum. The custom clips also allow for directional adjustments and keep tight alignment to preserve a taut appearance.