The U.S. Freedom Pavilion/Boeing Center at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is a destination for visitors from around the world, who come to learn about American soldiers who fought in World War II. The breathtaking precast concrete, glass, and steel museum, which features slanted walls of windows showcasing a collection of iconic aircraft from that time, was designed to convey the strength and fortitude of those soldiers, says Bartholomew Voorsanger, principal in charge of design at Voorsanger Mathes LLC in New York.
"Precast was an excellent architectural material to showcase the strength of the mission of the museum and the purpose for this building," says Martin Stigsgaard, lead designer at Voorsanger Mathes.
The Freedom Pavilion is part of an ongoing 240,000 ft
) expansion of the entire museum campus in New Orleans and is the tallest building on the site, so making a dramatic statement with a bold structural design was critical, Voorsanger says. "The precast concrete panels are what mostly signify the power within the material palette, but it also gave the opportunity to weave interlocking angular geometries in a very precise manner."
Ensuring that the design has the presence to anchor the campus was particularly important because the site is bypassed by a highway off-ramp. "The challenging context of the siting is dramatically resolved by the 98 ft. [30 m] high slanting walls," says Stigsgaard.
The sloping facades consist of a series of horizontal precast concrete panels that are 8 ft (2.4 m) high with a 19,000 ft 2 (1800 m 2 ) footprint. Trapezoids and parallelograms are the two repetitive shapes of the individual precast concrete panels on the building elevations. The use of massive interlocking precast concrete elements allowed the team to create a large-scale surface for the exterior, weaving interlocking angular geometries.
Choosing precast concrete for the base design also provided the building with the durability to withstand hurricanes and allowed for rapid construction, says Stigsgaard. "We consider both of these features large advantages."
From a construction standpoint, one of the biggest challenges on the project was designing long-span trusses that would be strong enough to sustain the weight of the largest and heaviest airplanes while also having heavy tanks and other equipment displayed on the floor below. The B-17 Flying Fortress is currently the largest display aircraft hung from a structure anywhere in the country, and it is just one of six planes hanging from trusses inside the pavilion. The others include a B-25J Mitchell bomber, a TBM Avenger, a P-51, a Corsair F4U, and a SBD Dauntless. "Precast was an excellent architectural material to address this challenge," Stigsgaard says.
Adding complexity to the design was the fact that there are no 90-degree angles in the precast concrete panels, says Mark Ledkins, vice president of operations for Gate Precast Co., the precaster for the project. "The horizontal joints align, but they are tapered, and all of the vertical joints are offset," he says.
The use of high-performance precast concrete also provided versatility in meeting the project's aesthetic requirements and allowed for increased open space inside the building, eliminating the need for columns and obstructions, Ledkins says. "Precast's ability to be formed in different shapes, angles, and sizes made it the perfect choice for this museum."