Fletcher Jones' Audi/Volkswagen Chicago dealership was a very old, multi-building complex with different floor heights that were structurally challenged. Thanks to the outstanding design and innovation efforts of some very talented architects, a complete renovation has transformed it into a dynamic component of Chicago's urban fabric.
Located on the near north side of Chicago, the Fletcher Jones building comprises three interconnected structures, the oldest of which was constructed in 1928. "The first floor showroom required the removal of substantial load-bearing walls to achieve the open plan as well as the addition of supplemental steel to support floors," says Angela Harper, local project architect at Gensler in Chicago. "The exterior was completely reconstructed and more than 60 percent of the exterior brick piers were removed."
The Audi brand architecture is based on a roadway concept of displaying cars reflected in elevations. The elevations are coordinated from the inside to the outside in terms of space and openings. The outside of the building has a perforated, corrugated aluminum honeycomb which frames those openings. The varied facades and floor levels are unified by the metal skin as one cohesive skin.
The aluminum corrugated perforated honeycomb gives a sense of depth and shadow to the facades. Together with a flat aluminum back panel, it hides dirt and stains accumulated over time. It also discourages graffiti. The aluminum honeycomb provides screening over individual in-swing windows, focusing attention on the open glass areas displaying the cars. At night, the honeycomb is a dynamic array of illumination both screened and open areas.
The renovation supplied by Holland, Mich.-based Dri-Design's new Texture Series panels provides a uniquely accented design element for the new envelope. The Texture Series is created by attaching a 2 3/4-inch-deep perforated corrugated grill to the surface of a traditional Dri-Design rainscreen wall panel. The grill is separated from the panel with a 2-inch airspace to provide dramatic shadowing and depth. The total system depth is 6 inches and was delivered to the job-site factory assembled and ready to install.
Approximately 11,500 square feet of Texture Series 0.080- and 0.063-aluminum panels finished in Clear Anodized were utilized on the exterior of the Audi portion of the 100,000-square-foot facility. Approximately 4,000 square feet of traditional Dri-Design panels finished in White and Gray Velvet were used in exterior and interior applications on the Volkswagen portion of the dealership.
"The panels are really well-received now," says Jonathan Dreyfous, AIA, LEED AP, partner-in-charge at CR Studio Architects PC, New York. "They are almost zero maintenance. Aluminum is definitely a premium and unique material, and an AUDI signature element. They differentiate Audi from the standard flat-panel dealerships or commercial architecture you see. Aluminum has a high energy associated with its fabrication, but its benefit is really its long-term durability."
But early in the design process, Dreyfous claims concern and skepticism were voiced that because it is an unconventional material design, it could be too aggressive looking. Would people try to climb the design? Would birds try to nest in there? An ornithologist was even hired to refute any worries about birds. Thus far, these issues are not a factor.
Another important concern was the showroom space and street presence. Most Audi dealerships have 20-foot-high ceilings, but the dealership only had a 9-foot-high ceiling to work with. "We used a transom, which is translucent glass, which gives the illusion of a better proportion in the façade," Dreyfous says. "The window openings actually seem bigger than they really are. We can keep the showroom at 9 feet, but actually make the building's frontage more dramatic and larger scale."
Initial skepticism has been silenced and Dreyfous claims everyone is happy. "For us the key to this project was using metal's flexibility and durability, but also being inventive with the material to give a new character and depth," he says. "We hope to experiment with it more on other projects."
Completed: September 2010
Total Square Footage: 100,000 square feet
Client: Fletcher Jones Management Group Inc.
Design Architect: CR Studio Architects, New York, www.crstudio.com
Executive Architect: Gensler, Chicago, www.gensler.com
Audi Architectural Consultan: Martin Schmid
Metal Wall Panels/Installer: Dri-Design Wall Panel System, Holland, Mich., www.dri-design.com