Rogers' U.S. Debut

Rogers' U.S. Debut

from Progressive Architecture, August 1985

The PA Technology Facility in Hightstown, N.J. is the first work in the U.S. by British architect Richard Rogers, with Kelbaugh & Lee of Princeton, N.J.

Eight years after the opening of his first major work, British architect and 1985 RIBA Gold Medalist Richard Rogers is still best known in this country as the architect, with Renzo Piano, of the celebrated--and excoriated--Pompidou Center in Paris. In the post-Pompidou era, few Americans have closely followed the careers of Rogers, or for that matter his contemporary (and one-time partner) Norman Foster, with whom he shares the British throne as high-tech stylist list extraordinaire. Word of Rogers' commission to design a new headquarters for insurance underwriters Lloyd's of London, a true coup, had reached these shores; yet, other key (albeit unbuilt) projects for the redevelopment of Coin Street on the South Bank and for the National Gallery extension-works that have kept Rogers constantly and controversially in the British limelight-are virtually unknown to American audiences.

All that may now change. Rogers' spring stint as visiting professor at Yale coincided with the opening of his first building in this country-the PA Technology Laboratory and Corporate Facility in Princeton, N.J., designed in collaboration with the local firm Kelbaugh & Lee. Rogers clearly hopes that this American project is the first of many. He has already won a limited competition in Seattle, in joint venture with Broome Oringdulph O'Toole Rudolf Boles of Portland, Oreg., for a mixed-use development whose program he likens to Citicorp, in New York .

PA Technology Center is more properly viewed not as a first, but the latest in a line of successive commissions executed by Rogers & Partners over the past decade. As such, it owes much to the Fleetguard factory in Quimper, France; the Napp factory in Cambridge, England; and the lnmos factory in Gwent, South Wales. The Princeton project is also the second commission completed for PA Technology, Britain-based international management and technology consultants. (The first for PA, in Cambridge, U.K., is now undergoing expansion.)

PA's program dovetails nicely with Rogers' own interests in technical innovation. Although the 42-year-old company engages in traditional management consulting and personnel services, its newest and fastest growing branch is involved in product and process development, ranging from designing a domestic telephone-and the machine to make it-for the German market to reorganizing the classified ads section of the French magazine L'Express. Rogers' concept of the flexible "well-serviced shed," as Reyner Banham has called it, seems ideally suited to just this type of client whose spatial and mechanical requirements are entirely unpredictable. (The architect has also collaborated with PA Technology on several applied research projects related to building technology and construction.)

PA's closest antecedent, both chronologically and typologically, is the Inmos factory in South Wales. The use of a lightweight roof structure suspended from a central mast to permit maximum column-free space; the concentration of mechanical services in a cradle suspended from the mast to permit relatively easy access for repairs and replacement; the creation of a social "condenser" where employees can interact while en route to the labs-all are ideas carried over from the Inmos building.

Although the glass vestibule (above) appears open and inviting, few visitors to the PA Technology Facilityt are permitted past the reception and conference areas. The spine is no rigid walled enclosure but a more fluid sp ace, enclosed as a library, or opening out into adjacent office areas Daralice D. Boles

The kit of parts

The basic premise for PA Technology-to maximize column-free space-is accomplished by means of a tubular steel tension structure. As explained by engineer Peter Rice of Ove Arup & Partners, the structural system (see axonometric, facing page) has at its base a portal frame that supports in piggyback fashion an A-frame, from which are suspended standard section steel beams spanning 75 feet to either side of the central spine. Tie-down columns at the outer ends of these beams act in both tension and compression. Platforms suspended between the A-frames, which are set 30 feet on center, support al1 exposed mechanical equipment and provide longitudinal bracing. The structure has been pared down to a bare minimum; only the cross-bracing between A-frames seems slightly fussy.

Virtually all elements are off-the-shelf, the primary exception being the pin-ended columns. Field welding was kept to a minimum, and pin connections were used wherever possible. Given their reputation as "high profile" (read expensive) architects, Rogers and his associates are understandably anxious to emphasize this aspect of PA Technology as proof that high tech can be competitive even by American standards. A second low-cost industrial project at Maidenhead, completed at approximately the same time as PA Technology, is also considered crucial to the firm's portfolio.

The shift from one-off to off the shelf may, however, exact a price. The heavy reliance on standard elements produces some inelegant connections, as, for example, where tieiown column, outrigger beam, and suspenion rod converge. Still, the overall silhouette of PA Technology is simple and powerful.

Mechanical pipes puncture the roof plane only at the spine, feeding a secondary, internal system suspended in metal troughs on either side of the central spine.

Project: PA Technology Laboratory and Corporate Facility, Hightstown, near Princeton, N.J.

Architect: Richard Rogers & Partners Ltd., London (Ram Ahronov, Gennaro Picardi, John McAslan); Kelbaugh & Lee, Princeton, N.J. (Sang Lee, with Doug Kelbaugh, Ron Ellis, William Noval, and Vichi Myers); Pierre Botschi, consultant architect.

Client: PA Technology (Max McGregor).

Site: 12.5 acres of flat land approximately 8 miles east of Princeton, the first parcel of a larger office/research delvelopment.

Program: office space and common facilities; laboratories; conference rooms, totaling 42,600 sq ft.

Structural system: nine 60-ft-high tubular steel masts, from which are suspended 80-ft-long steel beams to either side; stainless steel pin connections.

Major materials: tubular steel;translucent fiberglass sandwich panels; demountable partitions; open office furniture (see Building Materials, p. 138).

Mechanical system: gas-fired steam boiler; roof-top unit air conditioner and gas heater; exposed and color-coded HVAC, plumbing, and electrical-elements.

Consultants: Zion and Breen, landscape; Ove Arup & Partners, U.K., and Robert Silman Associates, U.S.A., structural; Ove Arup & Partners, U.K., and Syska & Hennessy, U.S.A., mechanical.

General Contractor: John W. Ryan Construction Co.

Costs: $4,704,000 completed ($110 per sq ft).

Drawings: Richard Rogers & Partners.

Photos: Otto Baitz.

Recommended reading

Stanley Abercrombie, "Evaluation: Beaubourg Already Shows its Years." Architecture, Sept. 1983, pp. 62-70.

Reyner Banham, "Inmos and the persistence of Functionalism." The Architectural Review Dec. 1982, pp. 26-41

Peter Buchanan, "Foster/Rogers High Tech: Classical/Gothic" and following articles on Hong Kong Bank, Coin St., and Lloyds. The Architectural Review, May 1981, pp. 265-282.

Peter Buchanan, "High tech: another British thoroughbred," "Patscenter, Princeton." AR, July 1983, pp. 15-29 and 43-47 respectively.

Drawing notes: PA Technolog) was the first building completed in a larger office park, and it seems destined to remain oneof-a-kind. Although Rogers did devise his own site plan (left) using the PA Technology parti as the basic building module, the site's developer has opted for a more conventional plan and the second building, now rising, is an utterly ordinary glass-walled box. Mechanical platform truss supports provide longitudinal stability for the A-frames (top left), as do a single pair of diagonal struts (top right). Cross-bracing occurs intermittently (above left). The suspension geometry, originally designed with equally spaced supports along the outngger beams, was subsequently modified to ensure more perfect tension in all members (above right).

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