Church Doors Challenged by Unusual Proportions

Nov. 1, 2008

Church construction has changed dramatically in the past decade. Today, places of worship of every size and denomination are challenging traditional building ideas and seeking creative ways to conduct ministry to reach out to the community. Gone are the days when attendance was solely at Sunday service. Instead, today's religious buildings are used throughout the week for various meetings, education, dining, and recreational activities that reflect the growing needs of the congregation.

In meeting these challenges, churches have become conscious of the need to create flexible spaces that keep building costs down while providing a suitable environment for a variety of activities. Churches anticipating construction today include multipurpose rooms in their blueprints, while existing structures have the option to draw on simple conversion plans. Creative thought and a capable contractor are often all that is necessary to create flexible space without undertaking massive remodeling. A good example of this is the Aish Ha Torah Synagogue in West Los Angeles, CA.

Miguel Escobar, architect with Angelworks Architecture, designed the Aish Ha Torah Synagogue to serve a congregation of 2,000. It was decided that one of the large rooms should have doors capable of transforming it into two smaller rooms. When not in use, the doors were to be flush with the walls to conserve space and blend in with the overall architecture of the room. When the room needed to be divided, ease of operation was a necessary feature, according to the owner.

Drawing on past experience in designing custom and oversized acoustical doors for such installations as the Lied Center in Lincoln, NE, Krieger Specialty Products was selected to design and manufacture the doors in order to meet acoustical, aesthetic, and engineering demands. The design was limited to mechanical operation only, without the use of any electrical or pneumatic power assistance or sealing devices.

The architectural design and sheer size of the 44-foot-wide, 14-foot-high room presented many challenges. Divider doors would have to span the entire width of the room, which meant they had to be engineered to avoid sag or deflection. Windows that lined both walls would have to provide natural light for both rooms. Door faces had to be flat with no ripples or indentations in order to accommodate a wood veneer finish. And, since it was expected that both rooms would be used simultaneously, acoustical control was also an issue to be addressed.

The acoustical requirement was to maintain an overall NRC 30 value for both rooms, so the design criteria established a required STC rating of 45 or higher.

After some initial design experimentation, the Krieger team decided to construct two swinging doors, each 22 feet wide, 14 feet high, and 4 inches thick. To accommodate shipping and passage into the room for actual assembly, the doors were split into three panels: 7 feet by 14 feet per door. To provide good acoustical design and strength, each panel was fabricated with a tubular "skeleton" made of 4-inch tube steel and 14-gauge cold rolled steel skins. Additionally, double-glazed windows on the doors were positioned to match the position of the windows on the outer walls, allowing natural light to pass through the doors whether they were flush with the wall or dividing the room.

Since the walls, ceilings, and floors were already in place, installation became the final challenge. Using specially equipped forklifts; one outside the room and one inside the room, Krieger was able to safely maneuver the six massive panels, each weighing over 1,500 pounds, through a standard 3 foot by 8 foot door, the only usable access into the room.

Once inside, each panel was raised and aligned onto a pair of large, 40-pound hinges specially made to support the 6,000 pounds of each assembled door. Each panel was attached to steel beams built into the walls specifically for this purpose. After the first panel was lined up and installed, the other panels were installed using a "tongue and groove" joint that made each panel fit together. The panels were secured together using a heavy-duty drill and special hardened steel bolts, and sound gasketing was mounted at the perimeter of both doors.

A room of this size usually has some small degree of unleveling, but the painstaking work and determination of the installation crew met the 7/8-inch clearance of both the floors and ceilings.

The result is a unique and functional door solution that impresses with its size, beauty, and mechanics and is perfectly suited for a structure dedicated to inspiring infinite human potential.

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