Zinc Metal Design Gives Cornell Lab of Ornithology Flowing Grace of a Bird

May 15, 2005

The Cornell University
Lab of Ornithology is
located at the Johnson
Center for Birds and
Biodiversity, nestled in
the beautiful Sapsucker
Woods Sanctuary in Ithaca, New
York. Each year nearly 100,000 visitors
come to this new facility to
birdwatch and to support the survival
of near extinct species of
The design challenge for this
new building was to create an
aerodynamic flowing shape to the
roof, simulating the wings of a
bird in flight. Lead architects
Alan Chimacoff and Charles Maira of
the Hillier Group managed to blend the
building into its surroundings by using
natural materials such as wood, stone,
and zinc metal. This is a “Bird Mecca,”
according to Chimacoff. The goal was to
provide a welcoming
environment for students and the
general public to learn about birds.
“The roof is an instrumental part of
the concept,” said Chimacoff. “Metal is the
sleekest cladding
material there is.” RHEINZINK America
zinc was fabricated to cover approximately
30,000 square feet of the 50,000 square
foot roof and soffit. RHEINZINK 20-gauge
zinc was used for the wall panels. Metal
was formed in the shop and panels were
roll-formed at the site on a Schlebach
30/80 machine by sheet metal craftsmen
from the Charles F. Evans Company, Inc.
of Elmira, New York. There was also
19,000 square feet of EPDM in the adjacent
flat area.
“The roof slope was about 1-3/4″ in
12″, says Chris Smith, project manager
for Evans. “The roof system is vented at
the eaves, wall, and ridge, so a lot of
communication was required to get it
all to work correctly.” There were many
challenges to customize the zinc flash-
26 • I N T E R FA C E A P R I L 2005
ing used in the wall cladding, soffits, window
flashing, louvers, and interior ceiling
panels. The flat lock wall panels were fabricated
using one-millimeter zinc, and
longer roof panels with transverse seams
were used to help manage the thermal
On-site roll-forming machines were
used to create the longer roof panels. Wall
panels were custom fabricated. Instead of
using sealants, the flat lock seams were
folded by the craftsmen to make the panels
watertight. Extensive planning and
layout were required to achieve the
desired continuous visual alignment of
the panels.
Smith commented that the temperature
sensitivity of zinc requires planning
during the installation. “When the temperature
gets below 50 degrees, as it often
happens up here in western New York,
you have to pre-heat the material to do
any hand forming,” Smith says. “Laying
the panels did not create any problems
when this was done in the spring.”
“The architects wanted to break up
the appearance of the building to make it
appear as small as possible,” says George
Koslowski of RHEINZINK. “They wanted it
to appear as if it were gingerly touching
down on the ground.” The architects set
out to give the facility a birdlike
character to appear like a
wing or a shadow, according
to Koslowski.
“The material is environmentally
friendly and that
was a big part of this,”
Koslowski says. “The bluegray
color helped. It defines
the edges but reflects
the sky. It provides
an airiness you would not get with
other materials, so it assisted in the
architectural goals.”
Garey Stout, president of the
Charles F. Evans Company, Inc.
commented, “This project was exciting
from the very beginning. Even
during the estimating phase, communication
between our team
members was critical to address
and properly price the installation
of the difficult panel configurations
and flashings. Before the drawings
were formally submitted, we had a
workshop meeting with the architect
to review our shop drawings.
That way everyone was on the
same page right from the beginning,
and a sense of cooperation
was shared among all team members.
When I see this building, I feel a
great sense of pride in our associates and
how they performed on this challenging
Note: The author would like to
acknowledge the assistance and
information provided by George Koslowski
A P R I L 2005 I N T E R FA C E • 2 7
Kevin Kennedy joined the Charles
F. Evans Company in 1980 as a
project manager and is currently
executive vice president of the
Evans Service Company, Inc., the
holding company for Charles F.
Evans Co. Inc. and its six roofing
operations. Kennedy has authored
two Interface articles and was a
presenter at the North American Conference on Roofing Technology
and the 2000 RCI 15th International Convention.
Kevin Kennedy