Facade Innovation, Sunlight and Shadows

Our design teams at Steinberg Hart are continuously looking to design solutions that create the greatest impact through modest, cost-effective, means. Whether it is the re-use of wooden chair legs to create eye-catching chandeliers like at the University of Southern Indian’s Performance Center in Evansville, Indiana, or the use of actual whole tree trunks as our Mass Timber structural system at the Children’s Museum in Eau Claire, Wisconsin our team looks to innovative solutions that bring joy and wonder to those who experience our projects.


At Harvey Mudd College our design team was looking for a cost-effective gladding system for their Scott A McGregor Computer Science Center in Claremont California. As the new home for Computer Science, a campus Makerspace, the project also wanted a building skin that reflected the nature of the activities within it. It was also important to the design team to acknowledge the architectural history of innovation on campus as well. The original campus plan, and the majority of the current buildings, were designed by Edward Durell Stone between 1956 and 1972. These existing buildings, constructed of simple Concrete Masonry Units, use an additional square of concrete added to each primary block pilaster. These simple added ‘Warts’, as they are affectionately known, provide a level of elevated detail and articulation to the campus buildings.

Working with then College President Maria Klawe and the contractor, DPR Construction, the design team embarked on the pursuit of a metal panel system that through a single finish would provide a variety and richness of detail to the dynamic building form. Working with the idea of using sunlight, and shadows, as the primary activator of the façade the design team developed a series of simple folded panel shapes, aggregated together in an infinite variety of combinations, to create the appearance of a complex, colorful, and dynamic façade system.

The façade uses a single color within a system of multiple profiled panels, resulting in the reading of a multicolor, striated façade that changes dynamically as sunlight tracks across its surface.

The Champagne Metallic coated panels achieve a dramatic color shift throughout the day, and seasonally, as the sun tracks across the sky. The cool, indirect, morning light reflects the blue hues of the sky while the more direct afternoon light increases in warmth shifting the champagne color towards more gold and bronze tones. This eye-catching shift in color coupled with the torqued building form evokes the dynamic creativity of the work happening within the computer science and makerspace facility.

Dynamic Color Shift

3 Shapes, Unlimited Configurations

With this concept in hand, the team then engaged GES Sheet Metal of Fontana California to refine the folded panels into simple sheet metal brake shapes that could be easily repeated and combined within a panelized rain screen façade system. Ultimately 3, asymmetric, break shapes were developed which when flipped 180 degrees provided 3 additional panels that could be intermixed randomly into every façade panel. The finish of the coil-coated metal provided the uniformity of a singular color while also leveraging the reflectivity of the metallic finish to create the perception that multiple colored panels were used. Ultimately, it was determined by DPR Construction, that this approach was more cost-effective than using your typical premanufactured metal panel system.

In an attempt to highlight the panels and their play with daylight the remainder of the building enclosure details recede, treated as thinly as possible. The project’s glazing is subordinate to the panels, recessed from the outer plane of the metal panel. The trims, copings, and soffits are treated as infinitely thin aluminum blades, limiting the ‘framing’ of the panels while still providing the necessary means to provide weather tightness. All of the enclosure panels are also painted in a contrasting, nonreflective, color allowing them to even further recede to the background, letting the panels shine.

“Simple things like the envelope truly have a significant impact and provide a different overall view. From an innovation standpoint, I really appreciate the work they put into it…”