Laser-cut Sunshades Encase Office Building

What looks like walls of frothy bubbles encase the Alexandria GradLabs office building in San Diego. Metal panels with custom cut holes of varying sizes and shapes completely cover the two long sides of the rectangular building, and give it a dramatic appearance that evokes something science-related.

A custom pattern of laser-cut metal panels evoke science and create dramatic appearances

By Christopher Brinckerhoff

Photo courtesy of 3A Composites USA

Indeed, life science and biotech companies and organizations occupy the building, and Justin Manor, partner, director of innovation at SOSO Ltd. in San Diego, developed the pattern for the exterior based on a human gene. Importantly, the gene, FOXP2, produces a protein essential to the development of speech and language.

Manor says, “We tried out several different patterns related to scientific imagery and research, but we liked the narrative of the FOXP2 language gene because it spoke to Alexandria’s desire to create collaborative working environments. GradLabs is a multi-tenant lab building that encourages the intermingling of people and ideas, and the story of FOXP2’s pivotal role in human communication was a natural fit.”

Photo courtesy of 3A Composites USA

On the outside of the five-floor, 98,000-square-foot building, the sunshade panels create a dramatic, scientific-related appearance. On the inside, the perforated exterior shields office windows from direct sunlight and balconies that continue across the entire length of the building. The sun-shading exterior creates dramatic appearances in the balconies as sunlight streams through and projects the perforated pattern across walls and floors.

“The balconies are used as a main artery to traverse the building, as well as having open stairwells and a great patio for dining and social events,” Manor says.

To develop the pattern, Manor completed numerous steps. “The physical manifestation of genes is the proteins that they encode,” Manor explains. “The FOXP2 gene encodes the FOXP2 protein, which is expressed in the fetal and adult brain as well as other organs. The protein is in the forkhead/winged-helix (FOX) family, and we took a model of its 3-D form and ran it through several image-processing steps to arrive at the final organic pattern. I applied color to grayscale, dithering, Voronoi tessellation, and then a custom corner-rounding algorithm to soften the look of the polygons.”

Photo courtesy of 3A Composites USA

El Cajon, Calif.-based California Sheet Metal Works Inc. fabricated and installed Davidson, N.C.-based 3A Composites USA Inc.’s 4-feet wide by 15 feet long, 4-mm-thick ALUCOBOND PLUS metal composite material (MCM) panels coated in Beige on both sides of the panels.

The panels have inconsistent perforation patterns; to maintain structural integrity, they have 3 1/2-inch-wide nonperforated perimeters on four sides.

The building is oriented northwest/southeast between two roadways: Genesee Avenue and Campus Point Drive. The long sides of the building face northeast and southwest. Intense sunlight hits the southwest side of the building. Vertical sunshades shield the northeast and southwest sides of the building from sunlight.

With respect to the amount of open area in the sunshade panels, Manor says, “We engineered the sunshade to be 50.1% open, to conform to California building codes for egress balconies, which require at least 50% openness to minimize the buildup of smoke or gases in an emergency event. The roughly half-open and half-closed design provides a good balance of aesthetics, shading and outdoor visibility for those working inside.”