A few years ago, Apple built a new office building and auditorium on its California campus featuring a carbon fiber roof. They followed up with a couple of new retail stores also featuring heavy doses of carbon fiber. We say all that to introduce the fact that composites in architecture are more common than you might think. The latest project on the radar is the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles.
The building that will house the museum is truly impressive from both an architectural and aesthetic standpoint. One look at the design and you will understand how well it fits legendary filmmaker George Lucas and his reputation for all things space-age. From our perspective, the most important aspect of the project is its glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) facade.
Glass fiber, like carbon fiber, can be combined with a variety of thermoplastic resins to create fiber reinforced plastics (FRPs). Such plastics are rigid, strong, and highly flexible in terms of their geometric possibilities. You can do things with them that cannot be done with steel, aluminum, brick, and concrete. Enter the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
Nothing Square About It
Composites Manufacturing magazine published a piece about the museum's design in early January (2020). That piece included an artist's rendition of the completed building. The first thing you notice upon seeing the rendition is that there is nothing square about the structure.
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Image Source: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
Take a look at the Guggenheim in New York or the Louvre in Paris. The two feature traditional geometric shapes our eyes and brains are accustomed to. The Lucas museum in Los Angeles offers no such familiarity. Renderings of the building make it look more like a spaceship from a Lucas film rather than a building on planet Earth. That was the point.
It is All in the Facade
Peel away the museum's facade and you discover something fascinating: the interior structure is very traditional in its design. Architects have utilized steel beams and columns to create the shell of the building in accordance with structural needs and local zoning laws. They could not use that same steel to create the facade they wanted. Instead, they turned to glass fiber.
The chosen GFRP material makes it possible for designers to create 15,500 elegantly shaped panels that will be fastened together on the outside of the main structure to create a smooth and seamless shape that discreetly hides the skeleton within. More impressive is the fact that the facade is really just a skin.
Between the skeleton and the skin is a water barrier and an insulating material. Both are added for energy efficiency and protection. Neither one adds significant structural integrity to the building. Most of that integrity lies in the internal skeleton. And yet, the skeleton is not what everyone will remember about this structure. What they will remember is the facade.
A Truly Customized Building
Composites Manufacturing says that the museum building is a truly customized building. The GFRP itself is a custom material developed specifically for this project. Many of the fabricating methods used to create the facade panels were also developed just for the museum. Even the architectural plans are unique in many aspects.
We suspect a lot of people are going to be blown away by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Thanks to the architectural interest in composite materials, what they see will be a feast for the eyes and a testament to the creative genius of the man behind the Star Wars franchise. We cannot wait to see the building once it is complete.