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Cracking the Egg – Explorations in Ceiling Design

by Boyce Postma

The new 120,000 square-foot 21st Century Classroom Building at Texas A & M will house over 2200 seats for students and features a variety of unconventional teaching spaces. Among these are several arena style classrooms and a new, egg-shaped learning environment.

From the beginning, our design team knew the inside of this 100-seat classroom needed to be special in a way that matched its atypical geometry. Since the tiers and walls are largely dictated by the acoustic, visual, and accessibility requirements of the space, the ceiling represented the only surface on which to create something singular and dynamic.

Our first three concepts included: a perfectly smooth plaster ceiling; a plaster ceiling with some shadow relief mirroring the curve and position of the desks; and a more dramatic design that we called the Broken Shell.

Following positive reception from the client, we moved forward with the Broken Shell and began talking with several suppliers to figure out how this could be fabricated and what it would cost. We also explored four design permutations that would provide visual interest at different levels of complexity (and affordability).

THE SNOWFLAKE – This is the original concept and uses two unique component shapes, most likely metal, hung 2″-4″ apart with lighting and HVAC strung between.

THE HEX – This idea was based on the ceiling for a “Parliament Style” classroom at Oregon State University in which one asymmetrical panel unit is created and then rotated to make it appear unique. In this case, we also wanted to try and obfuscate the hexagon by making the polygons within the hex create patterns of their own. The hexagon itself is intended to disappear.

THE PILL BOX – This was another take on the OSU Parliament Classroom ceiling. We were working on ways to tweak it to make it unique – hexagons that add a 3D twist.

THE PANEL – This configuration uses 2×4 panels that fit on a common T-grid. They maintain some of the design qualities at the lowest price point.

The client ultimately selected The Snowflake, and our team is refining the design for cost and installation efficiency. We’re excited about the way it’s looking, and we’re glad the folks at TAMU feel the same!