buildings_vontz2One of the newest buildings to become part of the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, campus is the Vontz Center for Molecular Studies, a state-of-the-art disease research facility. Inside the $46 million, 150,000-square-foot facility, premier medical researchers recruited from around the country will study brain cancers and other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and epilepsy. They will be pursing medical breakthroughs for these and other cancer and blood diseases at the molecular level. Behind the center’s unusual exterior is a concrete frame that was designed and constructed from the architect's scale model, using three-dimensional computer modeling and design software.

Signature architect for the project, Frank Gehry of Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Santa Monica, California, described the building as "a box cracked open with offices running through," according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The first floor plan is roughly in the shape of a "plus sign," with two long laboratory wings (an office wing and an auditorium wing). The exterior walls have a sculpted rather than a constructed shape.

The structural engineering firm for this project, THP Limited, Inc., has designed and restored a wide range of concrete structures, including hi-rise buildings, stadiums, parking structures, water tanks, and bridges.

Jim Millar, a principal of THP Limited, and manager of the project's structural design, said  concrete was specifically chosen for the structural frame.

"Concrete was chosen for the primary framing system to limit vibrations (critical in laboratory buildings) and to provide a fluid system adaptable to the irregular shape of the exterior walls and roofs,” Millar said.

“To keep the perimeter columns vertical and within the building envelope, the columns were held toward the interior and back from the sloping exterior walls. The beams and girders, as well as the primary reinforcing of the spandrel members, were also held back from the exterior walls,” he said.

“Additional concrete with minor reinforcing was added to the spandrel members, or the slabs were slightly cantilevered,12 to 24 inches, beyond the spandrels in order to meet the exterior panels and curtain walls,’ Millar said. “These measures permitted fine-tuning of the slab edge to the exterior without significant impact to the primary structure. The slab edge was easily adjusted to accommodate various panel systems and to provide the tolerance and field adjustments critical to a building of this complexity. The final panel system for the building was not known until the bids were received”

Concrete was also an advantage in forming the curving hairpin-shaped monumental stairs in the atrium, and the sloping cantilevered sills that support the curtain wall of the large floor to floor windows, he said.

The building, which is supported on 108 concrete caissons that are 30- to 54-inches in diameter and drilled 50- to 80-feet to bedrock, has 14-inches thick basement and foundation walls for a one story below grade mechanical room and enclosed dock. Many of these walls curve horizontally to follow the curves of the exterior walls above.

There are two typical concrete floor systems utilized in the Vontz Center. In the lab wings, a pan joist banded beam system is used, which consists of 5-inch thick slabs on 30-inch wide by 20-inch deep pans, with 6-inch wide ribs spaced 36 inches on center. The office and atrium areas utilize a slab beam system consisting of 8-inch slabs on 25- to 40-inch deep beams that are supported on 24-inch square columns.

Concrete with a specified compressive strength of 5,000 psi  was utilized for the reinforced concrete frame construction.

Ground was broken in December, 1996, and the project topped out in December,1997. In spite of the intricate construction shape and the added complexity of accurately locating 3,000 embed plates in the concrete, the frame was completed ahead of schedule.

"This allowed the mechanical and electrical trades to begin their rough-in activities early and complete them ahead of schedule. It also allowed us to start the exterior envelope work, which was critical to the project's success. said Daniel Dugan, the general contractor's project manager."


University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio

Frank O. Gehry & Associates, Santa Monica, California

Associate Architect/Construction Administrator:
BHDP Architecture, Cincinnati, Ohio

Interior Laboratory Design:
Earl Walls Associates, Cincinnati, Ohio

Structural Engineer:
THP Limited, Cincinnati, Ohio

General Contractor:
Dugan & Meyers Construction Company, Columbus, Ohio

Concrete Forming Subcontractor:
Ceco Concrete Construction, Channahon, Illinois

Concrete Supplier:
Hilltop Basic Resources, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio