Karpinski Engineering makes CMA and its atrium comfortable — and receives kudos

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Rocco Gallo is OK if visitors to the Cleveland Museum of Art don’t notice his company’s award-winning work at the galleries — it’s when they do notice it that causes a stir.

When it’s not a constant comfortable temperature and humidity in the museum, somebody is bound to speak up.

“If you walk into the building and feel very comfortable, then we go unnoticed — but we did our job,” says Gallo, principal and vice president of Karpinski Engineering Inc., designer of the advanced mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for the recent $350 million addition and renovation.

The American Council of Engineering Companies, however, is very aware of Karpinski’s contribution. It recently gave a National Recognition Award for exemplary engineering achievement to Karpinski.

The ACEC’s Engineering Excellence Awards are known as the “Academy Awards of the engineering industry” and were judged by a panel of more than 25 engineers, architects, government officials, media members and academics.

Karpinski received a Grand Award, which was given to eight outstanding projects in the country during 2013.

The aesthetics reign supreme

The eight-year construction project, not including four years for fundraising and design, not only added new gallery spaces and restored the integrity of the 1916 building, it included a new 39,000-square-foot glass enclosed atrium, Cleveland’s largest free public space.

Gallo says while the scope of the project was large, the real challenge was the complicated phasing of the construction.

“During all the phasing of the work, it was very critical to maintain the mechanical and electrical systems during that time,” he said. “It was not necessarily an attempt to salvage any of those systems, but more with the intent to figure out how to phase the upcoming work and keep those systems active until they could be removed.”

Collections in permanent galleries had to be removed; staff had to be relocated; mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems installed; and then artwork reinstalled.

Gallo says the success of the project can be credited to the great leadership of three people as work got underway.

“In a project of this magnitude, you have to have a construction manager early on,” Gallo says. “The construction manager starts to develop a program of who needs what and who’s going to do what and when.

“That is closely intertwined with the architect project manager, who binds the design with the construction. Then the third and most important person in this trio is whoever’s representing the owner.

“The owners’ rep consults with the museum staff members, and was a really, really strong leader in this case.”

A large part of this component was getting the construction crews to truly understand the importance of the building aesthetics and working Karpinski’s way into that hidden component of it, Gallo says.

He says what tied the project all together was the owner representative’s mission to uphold the vision of the original 1916 vision.

“Some of the visions of the later additions didn’t have a sense of eternity; you fast-forward a few dozen decades and those buildings are now gone,” Gallo says, referring to the 1958 and 1983 additions, which were torn down for this project.

“I can see that what we have built is sort of that the message of eternity,” he says. “It’s certainly not the pyramid of Giza, but close.”

Atrium a challenge

Two new wings on the east and west were constructed as part of the project. Connecting the wings is the glass-ceiling atrium — which Gallo says was by far the most technical component of the project. It’s really an outdoor environment under glass, complete with landscaping.

“To make sure that you were properly conditioning a space, with both heating and cooling, that’s almost the size of a football field and has a glass roof in Northeast Ohio — you lump all those into one sentence, and you’ve got yourself a tough nut to crack,” he says.

“Complicating the matter is that the atrium is open to the galleries that maintain 50 percent relative humidity, so it’s very easy for that glass in the atrium to turn into a sweating glass of water,” Gallo says.

The atrium’s sophisticated design, however, keeps it from doing that.

“It’s 70 degrees and 50 percent relative humidity,” he says.

The museum’s artwork, however, favors a constant, but not a similar mandatory environment.

“The biggest thing that we learned was that the artwork is most susceptible to drastic variations in temperature and humidity,” he says. “So it wasn’t that it needed to be one temperature or one set humidity level; it’s that it should never change, or never change quickly.”

Galleries that displayed tapestries had some additional humidity requirements to make sure that the humidity didn’t “hide” behind the tapestries hanging on the walls.

What about the popular armor court — how do you keep the armor from rusting?

“We just have to maintain its temperature and humidity,” Gallo says.

“It’s funny though, you know that armor was sitting in some old rusty old castle for years!”

How to reach: Karpinski Engineering Inc., (216) 391-3700 or www.karpinskieng.com