Visionary Design Puts Tech in the Spotlight: Bell Textron Advanced Vertical Lift Center and Workspace

Futuristic high-shine floors and walls. Sleek, aerodynamic shapes. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls. A row of actual helicopter propellers behind the silver reception desk.  Of course, you’d expect nothing less from Bell, an industry-leading producer of commercial and military, manned and unmanned vertical-lift aircraft.

Bell Textron Advanced Vertical Lift Center and Workspace
Photo: studiothomas / Evan Thomas ©2019

In 2018, Bell Textron spearheaded a total corporate rebranding that’s reflected in its Arlington, VA-based Advanced Vertical Lift Center (AVLC) and workspace, which allows visiting employees, customers and military officials to take part in the re-imagining of the flight experience. Headed up by interdisciplinary global firm HKS, the design concept echoes Bell’s history of innovative technology with virtual reality exhibits, video walls that show choppers in the air, and flight simulators – all within a sea of aircraft sculptures.

Located adjacent to Bell Helicopter’s new business center and the Washington National Airport for prime runway views, the AVLC is also proximate to Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon. The clean, modern space — wrapped in white glass — is dedicated to the ultimate visitor experience.

“We have a long-standing history of forward thinking, and we’re committed to delivering overmatch capabilities to our military,” said Mitch Snyder, Bell’s CEO. “The AVLC was designed so we can demonstrate innovative and breakthrough technologies to those involved with national security interests.”

As a nod to BELL’s cutting-edge contributions to the vertical lift industry for more than 80 years, HKS worked with a large number of vendors and creative teams to turn out an awe-inspiring center in less than six months.

“The design intent for the AVLC was to allow technology to shine in order to showcase Bell’s cutting edge products,” says Nathan Ferrance, Senior Interior Designer and Associate at HKS. “The architecture provides a beautiful but neutral backdrop that leaves the focus on Bell.  Bold, straight lines contrast with gentle corners to reinforce the idea of aerodynamics and flight.  McGrory Glass was able to complement the design by providing several different kinds of glass that transition seamlessly from one type to another, accomplishing the clean, sleek lines demanded.”

Photo of Bell Textron AVLC & Workspace by studiothomas / Evan Thomas ©2019.
Photo: studiothomas / Evan Thomas ©2019

When a visitor enters the center, they’re greeted by 17 replicas of the V280 Valor’s rotor blades, along with a dazzling starry night light field in the ceiling. Half of the 25,000-square-foot space includes a demo center with a large vision wall, flight simulator, augmented and virtual reality experiences, scale models, and event space. Another portion of the facility is dedicated to office workstations for visitors.

“To spotlight Bell’s inventive-tech identity, HKS used an assortment of streamlined glass, both clear and back painted, as a main design element that flows throughout the whole space,” says Pete Scheneman, Regional Sales Manager at McGrory Glass. “The glass’ sculptural quality echoes portions of the vertical lift aircraft, along with being a creative use of material.”

McGrory Glass provided white back-painted glass paired with laminated glass panels accented with a custom-matched white film interlayer.

“Since we were providing two different types of ‘colored’ glass, the tricky part was getting the same white hues in each glass product for that cohesive feel,” Pete says.  “Our in-house print division created a custom film interlayer that matched the shade of the back painted glass.”

Bell Textron Advanced Vertical Lift Center and Workspace
Photo: studiothomas / Evan Thomas ©2019

For the back-painted glass, McGrory helped HKS integrate color-matched panels with the design’s other architectural elements.

“Back-painted glass is a great way to suffuse an interior with brand colors and iconography,” Pete explains. “We helped Bell create a one-of-a-kind, streamlined environment where they defined exactly how they wanted the panels cut, shaped and painted. For other branding projects, we can even add a graphic, or paint just a section of a panel to leave room for a view.”

The McGrory team also fabricated precisely-aligned panels with custom interlayers.

“The white interlayer creates a continuous feel with the back-painted, cutout glass, except it’s all-glass panels so we can combine beauty with functionality and achieve custom privacy and opacity,” Pete notes. “It was important to HKS that all of the interior elements blended seamlessly, and we were able to provide performance products that also offered decorative flexibility. It was a pleasure to work with them on this exciting project.”

Despite the fact that the building project was on an aggressive time schedule of six months, McGrory delivered over 300 glass panels within four weeks.

“We’ve had a lot of experience delivering custom glass products and hitting tight schedules,” says Joe Brooks, Senior Project Manager at McGrory Glass. “Our ability to handle multiple components in-house allowed us to deliver on time.”

HKS earned recognition for its cohesively modern design, including the 2019 IIDA Mid-Atlantic Pinnacle Award and the 2018 NAIOP Northern Virginia Award of Excellence.

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