American Canyon company's innovation makes waves at new SFMOMA

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[caption id="attachment_93136" align="alignnone" width="500"] An aerial architectural rendering of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art façade (credit: MIR and Snøhetta)[/caption]

AMERICAN CANYON -- In working on the $610 million renovation and expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, fiber-reinforced composites fabricator Kreysler & Associates is getting noticed throughout North America for allowing wider-ranging beauty on building exteriors via a lighter-weight, fire-resistant "skin" panel.

For most of its 25 years, Kreysler (707-552-3500, has been primarily employing its 3-D fabrication design and CNC milling capabilities to create large sculptures, interior enhancements such as large attractive acoustical panels for concert halls, and architectural reconstructions. Then the company was contacted about producing architectural  the inside of the museum, commonly known as SFMOMA. Kreysler suggested the exterior could get similar treatment, but not with five or six molds for panels as some contractors and fabricators had recommended but one for each of the proposed 700 panels that would cover 84,000 square feet of walls 10 stories high.

[caption id="attachment_93135" align="alignleft" width="280"] A sculpture terrace extending from Howard to Minna streets will be framed on one side by a vibrant vertical garden. (credit: MIR and Snøhetta)[/caption]

"This is the biggest job we've ever done," founder and President William Kreysler said.

Kreysler & Associates now has 38 employees, up 15 with the start of the SFMOMA project from the stable 25-person workforce for two decades. Sales volume has more than doubled to $5 million to $6 million in the past two years.

Five hundred of the uniquely rippling panels have been completed and moved to the plant's yard on the five-acre property to await transportation to the Mare Island industrial complex in Vallejo. Exterior cladding contractor Enclos opened a 50,000-square-foot assembly plant there nearly a year ago to handle the SFMOMA project and several others in the Bay Area and recently expanded it by 18,000 square feet.

The SFMOMA project will add about 70,000 square feet of exhibition and support space to the existing 225,000-square-foot building, which was erected in 1995. Construction began last summer and is scheduled for completion in early 2016.

Fiber-reinforced composite materials are best-known in the forms of fiberglass used in boat-building, Kevlar in bullet-catching vests and carbon-fiber bicycle frames. Kreysler works with fiberglass, which is strong, durable and lightweight while being more economically molded into complex shapes than with stone or metals.

Problem is, owners of commercial buildings are reluctant to clad them in panels made with fiber-reinforced polymers, or FRP, because of the International Building Code standard for fire susceptibility of facades on high-rise buildings, according to Enclos. Mr. Kreysler called on a university researcher he knew to develop a solution, and what came out of that is the Fireshield 285 panel system, made with a patent-pending blend of synthetic resins and natural aggregate and named after the number for the National Fire Protection Association standard facades.

Fireshield 285 is said to be the first FRP commercial building skin panel to pass the NFPA 285 full-scale flammability test. The SFMOMA project is the most recent example of large-scale use of FRP cladding since such testing, according to Enclos.

"In the last 10 to 20 years, there have been a number of building-materials advancements, and that is one of them," Enclos spokesman Matt Elder said about the Kreysler & Associates panel system.

The SFMOMA job is getting Kreysler & Associates consideration on cladding projects with Enclos in New York and Los Angeles. The project architecture firm, Snøhetta of Norway, is considering panels from American Canyon in library projects in Calgary and Philadelphia.

Using the Fireshield 285 system saved 1 million pounds of weight from the SFMOMA facade, compared with the weight of conventional architectural facades and related structural steel needed to support it. The ability to mount cladding to the building rainscreen allows building exteriors to be finished more quickly, according to Mr. Kreysler. The panels, which are as large as 5.5 feet wide and 30 feet tall, are only three-16ths of an inch thick and weigh just 5 pounds per square foot on average. The cost ranges from $50--$100 a square foot of wall surface. By comparison, sculpture projects can cost as much as $400 a square foot.

Though a college graduate in English and history with dreams to be a teacher, Mr. Kreysler instead became enamored with fiberglass fabrication while working at a family friend's Sausalito sailboat foundry for a decade. He started his own fabrication company in 1982 in San Rafael, built its first CNC milling machines with 3-D laser scanners three years later to make molds. At the time, the shop was picking up jobs from Industrial Light & Magic such as building "sails" for Jabba the Hutt's barge and "legs" for mechanical walkers in George Lucas' Star Wars movies.

The shop moved to a Petaluma dairy farm for 16 years, during which time projects such as the Davies Symphony Hall interior walls were completed. A dozen years ago, he bought the company's current location at 501 Green Island Rd. in American Canyon and relocated.

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