Headquarters Is Timber Showcase

By Don Jaenicke. Edited by Christina Fisher | September 28, 2010

The dominant features of a unique structure being expanded in Newton Square, PA, are massive glue-laminated (glulam) timbers in an L-shaped configuration. The building, which is a 425,000-square-foot expansion of the headquarters of Systems Applications and Products Co. (SAP), is a four-story structure organized around a 400-foot-long atrium.

The horizontal dimension of the "L" component of the timbers is 28 feet, and the vertical dimension is 40 feet. Each timber is 8 inches wide and 24 inches deep. These dimensions provide a one-hour fire resistive rating to the structural members.

In addition to forming the atrium, the glulam timbers support the exterior curtain wall and a portion of the skylight roof. The timbers are interconnected to each other with a horizontal band of 4-inch by 6-inch steel tubes that support the glass curtain wall and act as horizontal bracing. The steel tubes are able to take a significant portion of the lateral loads, thus greatly reducing the need for the cross bracing comprised of 1.25-inch steel rods.

Contractor Berlin Steel Construction Co. used a unique rigging system to lower the beams into place during installation. Twelve-foot-long, 1-inch-thick steel plates were embedded as mortise into the glulam in order to make the connection between the horizontal and vertical components. Connection brackets for horizontal curtain wall supports were installed at the factory to ensure the 1/8-inch tolerance along the entire 400-foot length of the curtain wall.

The strong presence of the exposed glulam framing was specified by architect FXFOWLE in response to SAP's specific design challenge. SAP requested a new building that would complement their existing headquarters featuring a steel-framed circulation atrium, while reflecting their corporate commitment to sustainable design. The designers wanted the warm, timeless aesthetics of timber and the special benefits of a renewable resource, something central to the project's goal of attaining LEED Platinum certification.

Another aspect of LEED certification is sourcing local materials, which factored into the decision to select Unadilla Laminated Products, one of the nation's best-known laminated timber manufacturers located in nearby Unadilla, NY. Unadilla was also able to provide glulam timbers that were made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified Southern Yellow Pine, which accounts for most of the FSC value to pursue the LEED Materials and Resource credit.

During the manufacture of the glulam timbers, Unadilla provided a mock-up to the members of the design team, allowing them to make finish and lamination decisions before full production began. Veneers were attached to cover end-grains, and a water- and UV-resistant finish was applied to protect the beams while they were exposed to the elements.

According to the architects, FXFOWLE, the glulam timber framing lends the building a warm and natural quality that steel could not. In the words of the architect, "The wood glulams are a feature which integrates the natural elements with the interior of the building."