Since its inception in 1895, the Big Ten Conference has pioneered standards of excellence for intercollegiate sports. It should be no surprise then that the design of its headquarters building in Rosemont, Illinois features the construction industry’s highest performing products. In the Midwest, where temperatures can swing 100 degrees between winter and summer, the effectiveness of a building’s envelope, in particular, is a major factor on interior comfort, energy efficiency, and building durability.
Echoing the red brick buildings on the college campuses the Big Ten represents, designers chose a terra cotta rainscreen wall system that creates a striking façade for the 50,000-square-foot building. The tiles themselves are 12 x 48-inch panels with a bright red-orange color and a smooth finish. Their distinctive color is created using a single-clay composition, but there is a range of natural variations that enhance visual interest. The panels weren’t chosen just for their looks though. Each piece incorporates self-supporting extruded clay cleats that eliminate the need for metal support clips during the installation process—reducing costs and install time.
The terra cotta tiles are only the most exterior of the layers that wrap the Big Ten headquarters’ building envelope. These layers, called an open-joint rainscreen system, allow pressure to be equalized in the space between two exterior wall components so weather elements don’t reach the inner wall (rainscreen), which contains the moisture barrier and other critical components. This makes the building mold and mildew resistant—a huge bonus in an area known for its summer humidity. The panels are attached to exterior cold-formed metal framing, which supports the rainscreen system to resist the wind and snow loads for the Chicago area.
Behind the framing is the workhorse of the wall assembly, a commercial-grade insulation from Portland, ME-based Hunter Panels. The continuous insulation system used was manufactured at the local Hunter plant in Chicago. Continuous insulation, as its name suggests, covers the entire wall surface, with the obvious exception of windows, doors, and fasteners, minimizing heat loss and thermal bridging that is inevitable in systems that only insulate between the studs. Hunter’s Polyiso foam-board insulation with foil facers on both sides offers R-values from 6.3 to 19.5 in a single layer—a marked improvement over other insulation options. Since the insulation panels incorporate the moisture barrier required to protect the building, they also eliminate a step from the installation process.
Even though the construction team was unfamiliar with some of the wall system’s elements before this job, they were able to quickly master the installation techniques. The entire exterior took only six months to install and the Big Ten will be reaping benefits of such a maintenance-free and energy-efficient system for decades to come.