Power plant transforms into sleek entertaining space

With use of PTFE fiberglass membrane, Birdair revolutionized this very visible pavilion.

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Transforming a nondescript power plant at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., into a sleek, chic entertaining space was a challenging yet rewarding commission for Birdair of Amherst, N.Y.

Century Center asked Birdair to create a fabric structure that provided shade and water protection for outdoor exhibits and gatherings. The client also requested that the structure act as an iconic feature to the 25,000 square foot (7,620 square meter) convention hall and museum.

Birdair worked with the client and decided to use the Quasar modular structure, which is part of Birdair’s standard product line. The modular structure would ensure that guests enjoy shade and protection during outdoor events, such as lunches, wedding ceremonies and receptions. Anchored on the 11-acre Island Park, Birdair used approximately 7,900 square feet of PTFE fiberglass membrane to create the tensile membrane pavilion. These structures feature a center column and a hyperbolic paraboloid profile that resembles a saddle.

Island Park is situated on the St. Joseph River, which provided some unique accessibility challenges for Birdair to overcome. The company staged from a parking lot and accessed the jobsite via an eight-foot-wide pedestrian bridge with loading constraints.

"We had to move the steel piece by piece down an inclined and narrow access road, take an extreme tight turn and then cross the eight-foot-wide bridge," says Brian Dentinger, quality director at Birdair. "Also, we needed to get cranes large enough to lift the steel across the narrow bridge." Overcoming this challenge proved to be difficult, but certainly not impossible.

"We had special carts fabricated to support the large pieces of steel to gently move across the bridge," says Dentinger. "Our project manager, Tamara Mosier, sourced spider cranes that were able to squeeze across the bridge, were under the weight limit of the bridge, and could still lift the larger pieces of steel." As a result, the end product was well worth the trouble.

"Knowing that this is being used on a regular basis for events—such as proms, weddings, wedding receptions, art festivals, and music events—is great," Dentinger says. "It’s nice to have worked on a project that enhances the city skyline with both form and function." Birdair was pleased with the end product.

The client was pleased with the end product as well. "Feedback from the owner and architect has been very positive," Dentinger reports.

The pavilion and the tensile structures have transformed the riverfront, and it has quickly become a popular location for hosting formal events and ceremonies.

Kelly Frush is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, Minn.

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