featured in Modern Steel Construction, February 2021 Issue
McLaren Engineering Group’s innovative engineering transformed an existing post-tensioned concrete parking deck into a 3-level, 75,000-square-foot, steel-framed, entertainment superstructure dubbed THE HALL at LIVE!. Having previously provided both structural and civil design and engineering services for the entire LIVE! Maryland development, this later addition of a world-class event space required the team to creatively solve challenges surrounding existing building constraints, strict time schedules, and limits to construction activity to avoid any disruptions to daily operations of the attached hotel and casino complex.
In 2018, The Cordish Companies, owners of the LIVE! Casino and Hotel resort in Hanover, Md., celebrated the grand opening of their newest 17-story luxury hotel tower and accompanying 12,000-sq.-ft ballroom space designed by architects Klai Juba Wald. Cordish soon realized the project’s success presented an opportunity to expand the development with an on-site, large-scale entertainment venue centered on attracting big-name national acts to the casino resort.
At that time, the northwest corner of the LIVE! development featured a post-tensioned concrete parking deck with open-air loading access to the ballroom. The team envisioned modifying the area, which was conveniently sandwiched between the existing event space and casino, into a permanent yet flexible high-end facility that could soon accommodate 4,500-plus patrons.
The undertaking was daunting. The project team was tasked with reusing the existing parking deck structure and repurposing it into the main event space floor, designing and constructing a brand new three-story event space with tiered seating and first-class back-of-house accommodations, and making use of the existing foundations by any means necessary to minimize disruptions to the site. Right-of-way to the network of access roads servicing the casino development always had to be maintained, including a major three-lane casino entrance routed directly below the middle of the proposed project. Lastly, the 24-hour casino and hotel operations could not be disrupted, further restricting the location of any new structural work.
With these constraints in mind, steel was selected as the project’s structural material of choice for its superior strength-to-weight ratio, its ability to minimize reinforcement to the existing construction, and aptness to achieve the long spans needed to maximize for a column-free performance space. The majority of the 890 tons of steel used was domestically sourced and fabricated locally for the project by fabricator Kinsley Construction, Inc.
McLaren designed the 75,000-sq.-ft facility using a strategic combination of composite steel framing for the floor spaces and long-span transfer trusses at the roof to create an economical and lightweight framing system. The facility features a 30,000-sq.-ft main orchestra level offering flexible seating configuration, a 12,000-sq.-ft “loge” mezzanine level with traditional fixed seating boxes, and a 15,000-sq.-ft VIP level with tiered stadium-style seating. Each tier of seating was designed to offer audiences unobstructed, column-free views of the built-in performance stage equipped with advanced sound, lighting, and theatrical rigging systems. Behind the stage, the grand entrance lobby features an open three-story atrium and steel-framed monumental stair.
At the onset of the expansion, reinforcement of the existing post-tensioned concrete-framed parking deck was needed to support the proposed superstructure. McLaren‘s innovative approach to the foundation system increased the capacity of the existing spread footings, which were originally designed for one level of structured parking, to adaptively accommodate the new three-level steel-framed performance venue. The existing construction was also stiffened laterally to withstand the wind and seismic forces from the new braced frame system in the superstructure.
The trusses clear span the entire 180-ft-wide performance space to create unimpeded views of the stage.
A key project goal was making the performance space column-free to eliminate visual obstructions and maximize flexibility. To accomplish this, McLaren devised a steel truss roof system to hang the tiered basin VIP level seating from above. The trusses clear span the entire 180-ft-wide performance space to create unimpeded views of the stage. As such, supporting columns extending to the roof level were located within the exterior of the structure. Careful to avoid any disruptions or closures to nearby business activity, McLaren teamed up with the general contractor and steel fabricator to limit the truss depths to 12 ft, 6 in. and accommodate bolted field splices to allow for shop assembly of the truss sections and practical delivery to the project site. The lavish VIP level expanse also supports a private bar, lounge, and balcony, all exclusively hung by the steel roof trusses above.
The lower “loge” mezzanine tier flanks the stage area on both sides of the performance space. To accommodate the column-free mandate, the loge level seating employs a clever framing arrangement of cascading cantilevers. The system works by arranging each successive cantilever and fulcrum bay to be framed off the adjacent cantilevered seating box to form the “saw tooth” geometry envisioned by the architect. Since deflections accumulate linearly through the cascading system, the team took great care during the design process to ensure that deflection behavior was tightly controlled.
Considering the known susceptibilities of long-spanning, lightweight structures to motion-induced vibration, McLaren performed a rigorous finite element-based vibration analysis of the seating tiers. The mathematical model-based approach to vibration response directly evaluated the theoretical acceleration response to concert-goer movements (such as dancing and jumping) based on the methodology published by AISC in the recently updated AISC Design Guide 11: Vibrations of Steel-Framed Structural Systems Due to Human Activity (aisc.org/dg). The analysis ensured the superstructure had adequate stiffness and damping in line with industry acceptable levels to mitigate any potential patron discomfort. In the end, McLaren’s innovative approach to this analysis permitted reduced truss depths and less steel tonnage in the seating bowl framing compared to vibration mitigation techniques using more common empirical approaches.
McLaren also drew upon extensive experience working with world-class performance venues and theaters around the world to provide design assistance to the state-of-the-art 7,000-sq.-ft flexible theater grid, catwalk, and rigging support system. Concealed within the depth of the roof truss framing above the main stage and extending over the audience, the advanced entertainment set up rivals some of the largest performance venues around the nation.
THE HALL at LIVE! officially opened in December 2019. Construction was completed on time and without disruption to daily business operations or traffic flow due in part to innovative engineering, thoughtful material selection, and cohesive teamwork. Today, the newly erected entertainment venue sits as one of the largest performance venues in the State of Maryland and is slated to feature marquee musical acts, comedians, championship boxing, and other events.