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May 31, 2018

Public Building
$5 million-$20 million

Photo provided by Absher Construction Co.
The roof of the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center was built without straight lines or right angles.

Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center

Location: Pullman

General contractor: Absher Construction Co.

Owner/developer: Washington State University

Primary designer: GGLO

This 16,000-square-foot facility was designed to celebrate the cultural diversity of the Washington State University campus and heritage of the land. The building not only celebrates diversity, but also honors the site as the native land of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Indoor and outdoor spaces blend seamlessly through transparent operable walls. The interior was designed similar to Native American pit houses sunk into the earth. The sunken living room serves as a central common gathering area, surrounded by four “knowledge rooms” above it that act as “cliffs” and open to each other and into the living room.

To create the organic shape of the cultural center, the team took inspiration from the longhouses and pit houses of the Nez Perce.

The roof was designed to mirror the rolling hills of the Palouse, which resulted in a completely radiused structural system — with no straight lines nor right angles. The curved roof utilized 32 glulam grids (84 curved beams) with zero repetition — every structural connection was different. Each beam had an average of three connections to a combination of structural steel, concrete walls or walls with blockouts.

The 7,000-pound curved glulam beams were created from a Port Orford cedar that was harvested in Oregon. Absher met with APA to validate that the glulam beams would not deteriorate.

Two-dimensional drawings could not detail the complexity of the compound curving beams. The entire project was designed and built through a 3-D model to ensure accuracy of fit before on-site construction.

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