In May of 2011, JP Cullen broke ground for an 830,000 square foot underground auditorium. The structure, which came to be know as “Deep Space”, would be roughly the size of 6 football fields and demand more than 17,000 tons of structural steel.
It would contain an 11,400 seat auditorium intended to host Epic’s User Group Meetings, monthly staff meetings and other events. In addition, the building has a large pre-function space, support areas for culinary staff and a variety of meeting rooms.
Although the building technically stands 5 stories tall it is completely below ground on three sides. On the west side, where the main entrance is located, a glass curtainwall incorporates a rock façade that overlooks the surrounding Wisconsin landscape. Overall the structure looks like it was built into a natural cave.
The first challenge was to figure out how to integrate a large auditorium structure into the corporate grounds. Since Epic planned to use the auditorium for monthly staff meetings, logic seemed to dictate that it be situated in the heart of the campus. However the scale of the Learning Campus didn’t lend itself to an adjacent building and the beautiful landscape views to the west would be blocked if another large building was placed in that area. Thus, the “cave” theme evolved.
The next priority was timing. The building needed to be opened by September, 2013 for Epic’s annual User Group Meeting as their Epicenter auditorium was at capacity. The accelerated schedule for the facility presented formidable challenges.
The auditorium roof — which was constructed in a fashion unlike anything seen before in the region and unlike anything JP Cullen had ever constructed — presented its own unique set of design and construction challenges. The roof would ultimately be a free-spanning, fan-shaped structure measuring 110 feet wide at the front and more than 650 feet along the back radius with trusses spanning up to 280 feet.
JP Cullen was involved in the Deep Space design process from the very beginning. Through a collaborative process with Epic and their architect we helped to develop the concept of an underground structure that would be almost completely unobtrusive when viewed from the rest of the campus.
JP Cullen began working with the steel fabricator and engineer to develop a process for the design and detailing of the structural steel.
Excavation was the first step in the construction process. The entire area of the building was excavated down to 80 feet below grade. 309,000 cubic yards of overburden was excavated and 495,000 cubic yards of limestone rock was blasted, crushed, and reused on site. A permanent earth retention system with 2,840 soil nails was installed to retain the soil and protect the adjacent buildings’ foundations.
Once at the bottom, foundation work commenced with the installation of a system of micro piles on which the concrete foundations would be supported. Foundations for the structures surrounding the auditorium roof were poured including the 12’ thick concrete mat slab that supported the “king truss” for the auditorium portion of the structure (it would ultimately carry more than half the weight of the auditorium roof).
Construction proceeded with the erection of the 5-story, 280 foot clear-span auditorium roof structure surrounding the auditorium bowl after several erection methods were considered. Constructing the auditorium roof on the ground, rather than in the air, provided better and safer access to the work. This also allowed the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection races to install all of their systems within the roof before it went up, to say nothing of catwalks and audio-visual supports. With this non-traditional method the long-span roof would then be lifted from the ground with hydraulic jacks nearly 50 feet to its permanent location. Once attached to the surrounding building steel, the jacks would be removed and steel erection would proceed with the remainder of the building.
With the material procurement phase underway, the project team began to fast-track the design and detailing of the structural steel. We agreed that an integrated project delivery approach would be the best method for supplying the steel the fastest. Working cooperatively within a Tekla model, the team implemented the design and detailing processes in parallel. Not only did this model-based method streamline the detailing process, it simplified the submittal review process since the engineer could review drawings created directly from their own model.
Another benefit: coordination could be done within the model to resolve constructability issues, especially those that required changes to the structure. JP Cullen hosted a weekly meeting using an online conferencing system to allow all parties to view the Tekla model simultaneously. Each week, new issues could be brought to the table and be quickly resolved.
The 1,400 person team achieved what some might have thought impossible: the construction of an 830,000 square-foot building, nearly invisible from the outside and containing over 17,000 tons of steel, without any major safety incidents on an extremely tight timetable – all the while implementing new systems and continuously updating engineering and construction plans.
The speed and scale of the construction was unprecedented and required precise planning, clear communication, teamwork and creativity. The roof lift was completed on October 27, 2012. Topping out of structural steel occurred on May 6, 2013. Deep Space’s first “test run” was a staff meeting on August 19, 2013.
The building, as promised, was ready for the annual User Group Meeting on September 13, 2013. JP Cullen’s Division Manager, Jim Schumacher, spoke to UGM participants about the project, concluding his remarks with, “We delivered as promised and hope that Epic will enjoy its Deep Space experience.”
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