Magnusson Klemencic Associates has earned the top honor in the 46th Annual Engineering Excellence Awards, sponsored by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Washington, for bringing to fruition an iconic Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo at the threshold of the Panama Canal.
ACEC Washington honored 31 projects representing a wide range of engineering achievements and demonstrating the highest degree of skill and ingenuity. The top six awards (one platinum and five gold) will go on to compete in the ACEC national competition in Washington, D.C. in April 2014.
Fundacion Amador, a private non-profit foundation representing over 100 local companies, targeted Frank Gehry as its designer from the start of the project. The world-renowned architect delivered a technical marvel that MKA was charged with making a reality. A reflection of the Panamanian ecosystem, the museum features an open design with the roof echoing the majestic rainforests of Central America. The steel roofs, modeled after the rainforest canopy, are completely asymmetrical; no roofline is the same. This design feature requires that the supporting “trunks” would also be asymmetrical. Limitations prevented on-site welding, providing the opportunity for MKA to design the structure to be bolted together on-site, with welding performed at the fabrication site.
The project was the greatest undertaking of the Panamanian contractors as Gehry’s design required massive steel elements, and was the first 3D-designed project in Panama’s history. Steel construction is a rarity in Panama, and MKA went above the contract scope to provide as much technical knowledge transfer as possible. MKA hosted Panamanian structural engineer Oscar Ramirez in Seattle to work side-by-side, exploring and explaining the project’s sophisticated Catia Building Information Model and MKA’s analysis models.
As the country’s first 3D-designed project, the successful completion demonstrated to the local A/E/C industry the potential opportunities and benefits realized through 3D design. Local contractors had never worked with 3D modeling and MKA facilitated the training of Ingeneria R-M, the Panamanian General Contractor and Steel Contractor, in 3D Catia software at Gehry’s offices. This leapfrog in design advancement will transform the construction industry in Panama.
MKA and Gehry recommended US-based Columbia Wire & Iron to meet with local steel fabricator Grupo Nova to evaluate capabilities. CWI spent three months training the Panamanian firm, assisted by fabricating the difficult curved steel members (20% of total), procuring and training them on CNC machines. The relationships MKA fostered between project firms established the technical steel knowledge needed to launch future steel-based construction in Panama.
Tourism and education in Panama will also benefit from the BioMuseo, with projections of 1.89 million foreign visitors in five years. Over a quarter million visitors will come exclusively to the museum. Public education programs will see 40,000 school children tour the facility, gaining valuable knowledge on the diversity located in their backyard. To aid education, the BioMuseo features twin 40-foot tall aquariums- one featuring Atlantic sea life, the other Pacific sea life- to reflect Panama’s importance through the Panama Canal.
The economic boost to Panama from BioMuseo is no less significant than the projected attendance. The overall economic impact of $6.7 million per year, with the addition of over 10,000 jobs in tourism-related industries, will have a significant impact on lives in Panama. In the first five years of operation, Panama will receive $46 million in direct revenue. Located on the shores at the very entrance to the Panama Canal, the BioMuseo announces itself to all incoming ships as they enter Panama.
About the Engineering Excellence Awards
A distinguished panel of judges representing industry, government, academia and media assembled to critique and rank the submissions for engineering excellence. Projects were rated on the basis of uniqueness and innovative applications; future value to the engineering profession; perception by the public; social, economic, and sustainable development considerations; complexity; and successful fulfillment of client/owner’s needs, including schedule and budget.
The panel for 2014 consisted of “engineer emeritus” Jeff Daggett, P.E., FACEC, who served as the lead judge; Butch Brooks, President of AGC of Washington and Brooks Construction Management; Debbie Sullivan, Assistant Public Works Director, City of Olympia; Michael Terrell, Major Projects Director, Seattle Department of Transportation; Ben Minnick, A & E Editor, Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.