High Tech Masonry

Elizabeth Young

Home Town of Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters Welcomes Rebirth of Rail

Designing the new John D Dingell Transit Center, an Intermodal Passenger Rail Station in Dearborn MI, was an interesting juxtaposition of past and future, historic reflection in aesthetics and pushing the envelope forward with new technology in masonry. As part of the Federal Government’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, this stop is one on Amtrak’s Detroit to Chicago route, but also serves rail commuters to and from Ann Arbor as well as acts as a hub for local and charter bus travel and airport shuttles; a link to pedestrian and bike paths; and gateway to Dearborn’s west side business district and the National Historic Landmark The Henry Ford (Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village), a major tourist attraction.

Located in the home town of Ford Motor Company and its founder Henry Ford, the station is adjacent to The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, which celebrate the imagination and innovation of Americans from the past, and the currently operating Ford Rouge Factory, where the new aluminum F150 is assembled. The station had to fit the surroundings. This would also be the first impression that arriving passengers would see, so it had to be welcoming and inviting.

Design Influence A decade of federally-funded planning studies for the station mandated community input relative to the building program, functions and visual aspects, including exterior design concepts. Six to eight workshops with the public were held over two years, during which attendees were presented many options and provided valuable feedback, helping to determine what the station would look like and how it would affect the community. As diverse as the travelers coming through the station, Dearborn, a city of about 100,000 is a melting pot of cultures. A mix of blue- and white-collar, jobs in the auto industry have long been the attraction to the area from places as far away as Germany, Poland, Italy, Malta, Yemen and Lebanon. More than a quarter of the population is foreign-born.

Among the types of decisions for which input was sought were materials and architectural style. Overall, those present responded more favorably to traditional masonry materials than to a more contemporary palette of materials. Of three general design concepts, brick and stone masonry with Romanesque arches was the preferred style. Neumann/Smith Architecture Principal-in-Charge Mike Kirk, AIA, a certified historic architect, noted that historically, the home countries of many Dearborn residents had been occupied and influenced by Romans, making the Romanesque arch a familiar architectural element of many cultures.

In addition to gaining public support and because federal funding was involved, the architect was charged with creating a design that would preserve the historic integrity of the neighboring National Historic Landmark. These guidelines extended the area of influence of Greenfield Village’s historic status over any federally-funded newly constructed building within a specifically determined site boundary.

“On one hand, we wanted a contemporary building that was forward-looking,” explained Kirk. “At the same time it need ed to blend well with Greenfield Village structures including 1920s industrial buildings, housing such activities as glassblowing and machine shops, and the 1880s Firestone family farmhouse.”

Bringing it to Life Aesthetics In selecting masonry materials, designers also looked to the dark brown and red brick of the original Ford Waterworks Building; the Henry Ford Museum building, a replica of Philadelphia’s red brick and stone Independence Hall; and buff brick and lime stone of the Ford Engineering Center Power Station for inspiration.

The exterior palette for most elevations includes a custom red brick blend laid in running bond with light and dark stone accents. Computer blending by experts from The Belden Brick Company ensured a true blend avoiding color concentrations in any one area. Gable and peaked metal roofs, arched windows and subtle masonry detailing complete the historic elements. Large areas of glass and metal accent panels on the front elevation and on the pedestrian bridge over the tracks and over black granite at ground are a nod to materials of the transportation (rail and auto) industries.

Durability By its nature as a station, it is expected to have periods of heavy foot traffic from a transient clientele, making durable, long-lasting and abuse-resistant materials a must. Dolomitic limestone was selected for the base course below the 3′ water table because it is more dense than the more familiar Indiana limestone as a result of its natural mineral composition and, therefore, more resistant to the elements and ice-melting salts.

It was also treated with a graffiti-resistant coating to proactively eliminate a potential future defacing. Indiana Limestone was used on the clock tower and as finial accents at the roof and clerestory windows. Brick, too, is a durable product and this brick, produced by The Belden Brick Company in nearby Sugarcreek Ohio where weather conditions are similar to those in Michigan, is made to stand up to severe weather exposure by not freezing when it becomes cold and wet.

Exterior materials of the south elevation are carried inside and replicated on the north wall for a sense of continuity. Elsewhere inside, however, the casual elegance of pale coral burnished and rock face architectural block walls and matching terrazzo floors and stair treads lighten the space, making the relatively small, 16,000 sf, two room facility seem open and spacious, while maintaining pleasant acoustics. Passages between spaces are framed in arches of red brick soldier coursing consistent with the window arches.

Sustainability When the project was origin – ally conceived in the early 2000s, there was no sustainability goal. However, when design began under the federal grant in 2010, the City asked that the architect try to achieve a LEED certification. Designers now believe the project should easily achieve a LEED Silver rating earning at least 33 points of the 69 possible under LEED for New Construction v2.2 for which it is registered.

Masonry materials contribute to LEED Materials & Resources credits 4 (Recycled Content) and 5 (Regional Materials). Architectural block contains 54% pre-consumer content. Mortar and grout both also have a percentage of recycled content as an industry standard. More than 52,000 grey and architectural block, 133,000 brick, 5100 sf of Indiana limestone were produced, harvested, extracted and/or recovered within 500 miles of the building site.

While uncoated and unsealed brick and mortar products emit no volatile organic compounds (VOC), the factory-applied acrylic coating and field coat water-based acrylic coating used on the burnished block emit a low level of VOC, mini mizing the quantity of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of occupants, contributing to Indoor Environmental Quality credit 4 (Low Emitting Materials).

Other sustainable design decisions were also made. Originally, the front was to be all glass, but was changed to incorporate more insulated masonry cavity wall. Insulated glass was used with ceramic frit to provide shading and reduce solar heat gain. The vertical envelope, as built, is approximately 60% insulated masonry cavity wall with 3” of insulation, creating an opaque wall R-value of about 23 and optimizing energy performance of the building and its geothermal heating.

Exacting Design Kirk says that this project was many years in development and planning. Five locations around Dearborn were explored as possible sites for the project before this one behind The Henry Ford was chosen. Bordered by a retention pond, a pole barn used by the Museum for restoring and repairing antique Ford automobiles and Michigan Avenue, and requiring 500′ train platforms and room for tracks, with the towers at least clear of the tracks by 25′, every inch of building space had to be carefully and efficiently planned. Working through federal funding requirements, National Historic Landmark guide lines, public workshops and being the test case for a new national standard for barrier-free access during trainboarding under the American with Disabilities Act took a lot of research, planning and revision. The building plan was affected at each stage. Kirk’s original design was translated accordingly by Project Designer Matt Stowe. Though it remained similar, the building standing today is 30% smaller than originally planned, with two stories instead of three including mezzanine, allowing significant air circulation on the first level and elevator and stair access to bridge over tracks on upper level.

It was decided that insulated masonry cavity wall would be used for structure as well as finish for efficiency. Structural Engineer Ben Penhale of Penhale & Yates explains, “We were motivated to design the north and south towers (main station and stairway/elevator enclosure) as loadbearing masonry because, as a system, it lent itself to simpler detailing and a more uniform installation of several sub-systems such as insulation and flashing as well as the uniformity of movement joints.” Although the pedestrian bridge between the two towers is framed with structural steel, it intersects the towers on each side at an angle, and the use of loadbearing masonry at the towers made detailing their intersection with the bridge fairly simple.

The bridge is fabricated from two 60′ box lengths connected on site and angled 10′-12′ to align with the Museum’s clock tower for a clear view. Besides the roof, the bridge is the only part of the structure made of steel. Though they intersect – even spanning 15′ into the tower closest to The Henry Ford – the bridge structure had to be kept isolated from the masonry because of bridge movement.

Efficiencies After initial delays around soil conditions and changing a material supplier, Baker Construction’s masonry crews, totaling 16 bricklayers and 8-10 laborers on a typical day, were able to begin work quickly. Masons were responsible for installation of most components within the vertical envelope, making scheduling and sequencing more efficient. Because the two towers were separated by active train tracks, prohibiting transport of equipment across them, construction was treated as two jobs with separate job sites. Each side had its own crane, supply of materials, crew and foreman. Mast-climbing scaffold systems were erected for each tower and meticulously placed as the 10′ platform was only feet from the tracks. Workers were allowed to walk over the tracks, if they had proper badging and preapproval from the Amtrak flagman who was on site at all work times. In order to receive proper badging, all of Baker’s employees on site were required to complete an Amtrak safety training program.

Once the CMU walls were built, closed cell spray polyurethane foam insulation was applied to the north tower. The single, continuous application of thermal insulation also acts as a water, vapor and air control layer, eliminating the need for additional product applications. On the south tower, however, spray foam insulation scheduling conflicts and extremely close proximity to the historical auto storage facility resulted in a material change to extruded polystyrene (XPS) rigid board with sealed joints to achieve the continuous insulation requirement and provide similarly efficient thermal and air barrier control. Because the XPS could be installed while the brick veneer was also being laid, it was a time-saver and eliminated the possibility of foam over spray reaching the classic cars next door.

With insulation 3” thick, plus 2” of air space, brick eye and pintleties securing the veneer to the CMU backup had to be special ordered for extra length, but Baker Construction Project Manager TC Baker explains that this is common practice as cavity walls can be designed to hold more insulation today than in the past to optimize thermal performance.

Construction Innovation Brick clad, precast arches were utilized. The design was developed between Neumann/Smith and Penhale & Yates, in consultation with the Masonry Institute of Michigan and Leidal & Hart Mason Contractor. This design was used to save significant time and, therefore, money. Other options would have been field built over false work which would have been more time consuming. The arches are actually suspended from steel above.

Internal Wall Bracing To meet required design parameters, the building was heavily reinforced. Baker Construction chose to capitalize on this and had their consulting wall bracing engineer Dailey Engineering verify that the design was sufficient to also serve as internal bracing for the walls under construction. Early and thorough coordination with the concrete crew ensured footing connections were exact as wall reinforcing was drilled and epoxied into place, rather than connected by dowels. OSHA regulations stipulate that any wall over 8′ be braced against winds up to 40 mph before final building structure (roof trusses, etc.) are placed to provide bracing to prevent collapse and/or endangering worker safety.

“These towers were 50′ tall, so it would have been almost impossible to externally brace them because of the proximity to the train tracks and Greenfield Village’s boundary wall,” explains Baker. “We find it increases our productivity and that of other trades if we don’t have to set external pipe bracing. We rarely use external bracing anymore, as long as conditions comply.” Compliance relies on the coordination of adjacent walls being built concurrently to support each other, among other details. (For more information, read Practical Design of Temporary Masonry Wall Bracing, p 18 in this issue.)

Shelf Angle Support Technology Another innovation of which the mason contractor took advantage was the shelf angle installation system. The Fero Angle Support Technology (FAST) system was used at low roofs, under arches with no windows, and over the bridge and canopy in the south tower. It is designed to create a flush shelf support for a clean reveal. It installs quickly and easily and kept productivity high, even in this situation where tolerances were tight.

Operation and Maintenance Advantages Though construction was federally-funded, operation and maintenance of the station falls to the City of Dearborn. In addition to a sustainable design, they wanted a beautiful building that would retain its aesthetic appeal for generations and a low maintenance facility that could handle the volume of people without showing wear or requiring frequent cleaning, repair or restorative services. Masonry’s natural materials do not provide food for mold or pests and its resilience following storms, high winds, fire and other natural and manmade hazards make it a desirable choice for public buildings.

This mass transit station revitalizes a portion of the City. It opens borders and makes connections in a way that is enticing to retail and hospitality businesses – positive for the future of Dearborn.

At the grand opening in December, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said, “Rail is the mode of opportunity – the past has become the future.” In this case it is true for the mode of transportation, but also for the City of Dearborn and the John D Dingell Transit Center.

What an experience to arrive at a historic tourist attraction using a historic mode of transportation to take a stroll back in time to study leading innovations of this country. Yet, the rail station uses the most current technology and most resilient materials. The tracks use technology to allow 110 mph, nearly twice the speed of autos which were most innovative technology 100 years ago. Henry Ford invented the assembly line to keep speed up and price down so all could benefit from his invention.

Likewise, the masonry industry invests in innovative technology to remain competitive, provide outstanding performance and to withstand the tests of time, weather and all that they bring.

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