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University to Revamp Roof of Gehry Building

Thursday, January 19, 2017

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After nearly 20 years of service, the iconic Albert H. Vontz Center for Molecular Studies on the University of Cincinnati campus will undergo a $17 million facelift, which will include building envelope upgrades.

The building, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry as part of the UC’s Signature Architects program, has recently been subjected to “recurrent and systematic water infiltration issues” with projecting curtainwalls, sky-sloping masonry panels and a roofing system nearing the end of its service life, thus making the renovation project necessary, according to the university.

Vontz Center
Photo courtesy of University of Cincinnati

Frank Gehry's Albert H. Vontz Center for Molecular Studies, which opened in 1999, will undergo upgrades over the next two years.

“It’s such a valuable building, and such valuable research goes on inside of it, we cannot wait for people to call up and say, ‘The roof’s leaking,’ Dale Beeler, UC’s director of project management told

About the Building

The 150,000-square-foot building features three-dimensional curved, prefabricated brick masonry walls, skewed windows, and sloping roofs instead of the polished metal facades the California-based architect employed extensively on other projects. The university identifies the structure as Gehry’s “first all-brick building” on its website.

Gehry, who won the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 1989, is well-known for his adventurous, irregular and unusual designs. His body of work includes the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

curved facade
Richie Diesterheft / CC By 2.0 via Flickr

Reminiscent of a sculpture, the building features curved masonry walls and skewed windows.

The Vontz Center, named after a Cincinnati businessman and UC alumnus, was completed in 1999 at a cost of $46 million. Local firm Baxter Hodell Donnelly Preston Inc. also played a role in the design of the building. The facility houses the university’s cancer biology research labs, offices and lecture spaces.

Project Details

Before embarking on the extensive project, the university said it commissioned an in-depth investigation to analyze "all known and suspected issues with the building’s intricate facade and roof system." This report, completed last year, will be made available to shortlisted architect/engineer finalists for the project, the UC noted in its request for qualifications issued in December.

Submissions were due this week.

The scope of the project includes the major renovation of all of the building envelope systems while the building remains in use, according to the project details.

Those systems include roofing, skylights, exterior window walls and unit masonry. The UC wants to install a new high-performance roof system to replace the current single-ply, paver-ballasted system. The replacement will include reconfiguring the skylight perimeter gutter, flashing and drains, the request noted.

For the exterior walls, the installation of temporary wet sealing and system preparation for replacement will be a part of the project. All existing curtainwall systems are to be replaced, as repeated attempts to seal the original systems have provided temporary relief and ineffectual results, UC said. Glazing, flashings and weather-tight components will also be redesigned and replaced during the project.

As for the masonry, miscellaneous tuck pointing throughout and the application of a masonry water repellent system will be required. The project will also include minor masonry remediation to maintain continuity of exterior air/water barrier. Sealants will be renewed as required, the details noted.

Further, galvanized corner angles are to be refinished and staining and efflorescence are to be removed from all masonry components, the project details indicated.

University officials expect the project will be complete by October 2018.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Building Envelope; Building envelope; flashing; Frank Gehry; Masonry stains; Public Buildings; Renovation; Roofing materials; Waterproofing

Comment from Sheldon Wolfe, (1/19/2017, 9:04 AM)

Why the complaints? The design is audacious, it's disruptive, it's innovative! As Frank Lloyd Wright is reported to have said, "If the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough."

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/27/2017, 8:53 AM)

Aren't all brick constructions 3-dimensional?

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