Located near the fabulous arts, entertainment and dining areas of downtown Raleigh, and wrapped within world-class architecture, the Raleigh Convention Center was designed to showcase the City of Oak’s innovation, technology and responsible development. Billed as “A Center That Defies Convention,” the crown jewel of the project is, of course, the magnificent Cree Shimmer Wall which adorns the outer facade of the building, welcoming the tens of thousands of commuters who pour into the downtown area every day. But while everyone from visitors to longtime residents can appreciate the wall’s glimmering beauty, few know that there’s an incredible story behind the wall – literally.
As one of the nation’s leading tech hubs committed to sustainability and energy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raleigh Convention Center would embody many of those ideals. The building is LEED Silver certified, built with many innovative recycled materials, and modeled to maximize energy efficiency with open space architecture. And the HVAC system is a world-class design, intended to minimize water waste and heating inefficiencies.
In fact, the Newcomb-installed HVAC system was tasked with heating, cooling and venting no less than half a million square feet of a $222 million dollar building with three different stories and plenty of unconventional architecture and open space. The main ballroom alone holds over 15,000 people theater-style, and the entire building requires no less than 6,800,000 BTUs of capacity per hour from the state-of-the-art HVAC system.
But with its prime location in the cultural and artistic heart of downtown Raleigh, the Convention Center needed more than just incredible function; what about the form? It’s true that Raleigh is famous for its technology and research innovation, but the city wanted to show off its artistic side, too.
Thomas Sayre of the Clearscapes architecture firm was brought in and quickly developed a brilliant idea to cover the building’s 10,000-square-foot wall with a beautiful work of art depicting the city of Raleigh’s symbol, the oak tree. Over 80,000 light and dark aluminum squares were connected and the mammoth flowing “wall” of technical creativity was hung over the facade of the Convention Center, facing most visitors as they enter the city’s downtown area and presenting a sparkling oak tree to everyone who passes by.
The brilliant display reflects sunlight and drifts in the wind magnificently, but the city didn’t stop there. Durham LED lighting company Cree added 56 LED diodes to create fabulous light shows once the sun goes down, giving the facade an incredible high-tech look and display that make it one of the hallmarks of Raleigh’s downtown. And with that, the Cree Shimmer Wall was complete. Not only was the building’s complex HVAC system now properly protected, but it was done so with a beautiful work of art that functionally allowed the wall to breath and contort with the elements.
The wall is so dazzling that many onlookers are sure it must have cost the city a fortune, or at least be extremely technologically advanced. But that’s where they would be wrong. “It’s a completely low-tech thing, it’s just the wind,” says Sayre.
“That is what makes the wall so uniquely, Raleigh,” says Laurie Okun, the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Raleigh Convention Center. Sure, they had the technological and engineering resources in the area, and of course there were plenty of artists happy to help, but what really set the project apart was how the creators meshed form with function and kept everything environmentally friendly and simple.
“We call it our ‘Smart Angle,’” says Okun. Now every visitor or new business owner who enters the downtown area will first be greeted with the beautiful Convention Center and symbol that is Raleigh, and it couldn’t have been done without the collaboration and innovation of Cree, Clearscapes, Newcomb, the Raleigh Convention Center and all of the great artists and public servants who were involved.