Great Lakes


Indoor Exhibit


Chicago Architecture Foundation


Chicago Architecture

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Innovative Solutions

This exhibit serves as a great example of achieving results through superior project management, innovation and close attention to detail.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious architecture firms, recently partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation to create an exhibit featuring the Great Lakes. Located in the atrium of the Motorola Building in downtown Chicago, “Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin” presented to the public SOM’s ongoing initiative to develop a hundred-year vision for the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River region.

For the exhibit, SOM and the CAF were looking to wrap an existing truss structure in the atrium of the building. The truss structure surrounds a scale model of the City of Chicago and serves as a lighting grid for the exhibit.

The concept was to cover the truss with graphics that explain the Great Lakes initiative. Tectonics was brought in to consult on how this could be achieved. The initial thought was to have the truss wrapped in fabric alone, without any framing, but after discussion with the Tectonics team, it became clear that merely stretching fabric over the pre-existing truss would not produce the desired effect. Tectonics team suggested making walls out of tensioned fabric.

The most challenging aspect of the project was that the tensioned fabric walls could not attach to the truss. Given this dilemma, the Tectonics team of engineers came up with a simple, effective solution: making the walls in sections, so that one side of the wall could be on the outside of the truss, and one side of the wall could be on the inside. By attaching the front walls to the back walls via short metal connectors, the panels did not need to attach to the truss; instead, the structure would simply surround it and sit on the ground as a custom dimensional wall.

After sending a team to get on-site measurements of the truss, a frame detail was generated that showed the truss and the surrounding walls. Tectonics then provided art templates for artwork for each of the walls to SOM and Thirst, a communications design firm.

Once all frame details and print layouts were approved, Tectonics went to work manufacturing the walls and fabric covers. Upon their completion, the Tectonics team installed both sets of walls, working over two nights.

The result: C-shaped walls that are over 30’ long and 15’ tall, wrapped handsomely and bearing no load around the existing truss. This exhibit and installation proved to be a perfect model of collaboration between Tectonics, SOM, CAF and Thirst. It also serves as a great example of achieving results through superior project management, innovation and close attention to detail.

Photo Credit: Hedrich Blessing

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