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Uptown Upturn

Metal revives Cleveland's rundown uptown with mixed-use residential buildings

Since 1950, areas of Cleveland had degentrifed due to job losses, population declines and social disruption. However, an emerging and vibrant uptown arts and entertainment district has reversed this downward spiral. At the center of this $300 million-plus redevelopment are two buildings comprised of both residential and retail space that sit across from each other. The project replaced a dusty parking lot and an old shopping strip.

Metal was chosen as a major component for these buildings because of its modern appearance and durability. Judges were so impressed with their unique application of frameless windows and extruded metal panels that this urban rebirth project was awarded the 2013 Metal Construction News Overall Winner award.

Extruded aluminum

Maplewood, Minn.-based MG McGrath Inc. provided and installed 110,000 square feet of extruded 6061-T6 aluminum wall panels with a PPG powder coat in a high-gloss custom color white from PPG Industries, Pittsburgh. MG McGrath also furnished and installed the air and vapor barriers from El Segundo, Calif.-based Henry Co., 16-gauge hat channels with the extruded metal panels and the curtainwall. Oslo, Norway-based Sapa supplied and extruded the panels; Youngstown, Ohio-based Spectrum Metal Finishing powder coated the panels; and Maplewood-based AMG Architectural Glass and Glazing, a division of MG McGrath, provided and installed the frameless curtainwall, storefront framing and windows.

"The use of aluminum panels allowed for great flexibility in the overall finish and texture of the metal," says Mike McGrath, president of MG McGrath. "Metal provided a versatile façade that was able to be textured and sized according to the project's design drivers like window size and reveals. It also permitted for the luxury living allure provided by the Uptown Condos. This area of Cleveland is a thriving arts and entertainment district located at the center of Cleveland's University Circle."

A seamless look

Both buildings have a curved area on them. But MG McGrath found a way to give the exteriors a seamless look without pronounced seams, even though the panels are 11 1/2 inches wide. "The curved areas were very challenging to get the extrusion to roll around the radius of the wall," McGrath says. "Also, with the alternating orientation of the metal panels, horizontal/vertical, at ever other 'bay,' alignment of all the panel elevations and relative window elevations was extremely critical. Metal helped do this because the extrusion tolerance is so tight you can count on that not being an issue. It helped the façades look and work like one big mass instead of a bunch of separate pieces."

MG McGrath worked very closely with the project's architect, San Francisco-based Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects Inc. for approximately 18 months on the design of the custom metal panel system and integral window system. "The most exciting aspect of the project was the urban scale and the opportunity to build a piece of the city by threading and weaving existing and new buildings into a neighborhood," says Stanley Saitowitz, design principal at Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma. "We have been working with metal skins on our buildings for more than 25 years. We use aluminum because of its lightness and durability. We wanted to create a language with enough variety and uniformity to build a district, like the historic fabric of cities like London and Paris, where similar elements are repeated and varied for many blocks. Because of the scale of the project here, we had the opportunity to use a custom extrusion."

Frameless windows

Frameless windows made with custom window die allowed them to be set at the correct distance away from the exterior sheathing and allowed the metal panels to just clear the window mullion face resulting in a frameless appearance. All of the glass is set from inside to ease replacement. The design motivation for the frameless windows was Cleveland's building pattern of large masonry surfaces perforated by repetitive windows.

"Our building is a contemporary interpretation of this tradition," Saitowitz says. "We used the frameless windows to emphasize and make more abstract the perforated quality in the skin, either ribbed metal or glass." In addition to these frameless windows, metal sunshades are on the façades that receive the most daylighting. McGrath says they were envisioned to appear very sleek and essential to the design, as well as providing some thermal relief.

Aluminum has been such a success for these two buildings, it will be used again in Phase II of the redevelopment, currently under construction, which will involve a substantial rainscreen installation.


Cleveland Uptown Condos, Cleveland

Completed: March 2012
Total square footage: 120,000 square feet
Building owner/general contractor: MRN Ltd., Cleveland
Architect: Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects Inc., San Francisco
Metal installer: MG McGrath, Maplewood, Minn.
Air and vapor barriers: Henry Co., El Segundo, Calif.,
Frameless curtainwall, storefront framing and windows fabricator and installer: AMG
Architectural Glass and Glazing, Maplewood,
Metal panel extruder and supplier: Sapa, Oslo, Norway,
Panel powder coater: Spectrum Metal Finishing, Youngstown, Ohio
Powder coat: PPG Industries, Pittsburgh,
Windows: EFCO, Monett, Mo.,