Most innovative interior glass project, commercial

Constantine N. Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building self-supporting, helical stair, Anvil Craft Corp.

The $69 million Constantine N. Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building serves as the new home of Drexel University’s biology department and features a four-story, self-supporting helical stair with glass guardrails and stainless steel handrails that was designed, engineered, fabricated and erected by Anvil Craft Corp. One of the most challenging projects ever undertaken by the firm, as well as the second largest ever, the stair and railing system at the Papadakis building is meant to evoke the structure of DNA, according to Anvil officials.

“The Anvil Craft/Drexel University project displays both project expertise and relevant whimsy given the DNA structure of the staircase,” says Glass Magazine Award Judge Earnest Thompson, director of corporate marketing and brand management, Guardian Industries.

Diamond Schmitt Architects was the architect for the project. The helical stair incorporates 68,000 pounds of 2-inch-thick by 16-inch-deep solid plate stringers; 5/16-inch tapered and radius stair sub treads for the 2-inch-thick terrazzo treads; 1,574 square feet of ¾-inch clear, bent tempered glass rolled to a 53-inch radius on a 32.47 degree incline; plus 400 lineal feet of aluminum glass shoe molding and polished stainless steel handrail rolled to the same radius and incline. All handrail joints on the stair were seal welded and polished in the field to create a seamless continuous inside handrail. There is no top rail, so all tops of glass edges had to align perfectly, Anvil officials say. Precision Glass Bending fabricated the glass for the project.

Each section of the stair was fabricated complete in the shop and shipped as an oversize load to the jobsite, where they were repositioned on a trailer by a crane outside the building. The trailer was backed into the almost fully completed atrium, where another 50-ton crane was positioned inside the building to lift the completed unit into position, where it was connected with the four hardened steel pins. Each 17,000-pound section of stair took 12 hours to pick, land in place and weld to the point where the crane could be cut loose.

“The Drexel University staircase is stunning,” says Glass Magazine Award Judge Gary Boyajian, vice president of Universal Glass and Metals. “A true engineering feat combined with the ‘double helix’ appearance of the structure make it completely appropriate for the biology department in which it sits. Form and function: perfect!”