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American University/Washington College of Law

Washington, D.C.

General Contractor:  The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Architect/Engineer:  SmithGroup JJR Inc.
Contract Amount:  $18,200,000
Contract Start Date:  9/5/13
Contract Completion Date: 10/1/15

The Washington College of Law is American University’s new law school campus, located at the intersection of Wisconsin and Nebraska Avenues in Northwest Washington, D.C., this LEED Gold certified complex, including two new out-of-the ground buildings and one renovated structure, is considered the university’s “crown jewel.”  The latest technologies are integrated into these structures to ensure high energy performance and low operating costs.


On this traditional design-bid-build project, SmithGroup JJR Inc. did the mechanical design, our main challenge was learning the intricacies of installation and operation as a team of Zehnder Rittling’s radiant ceiling panels – a brand new technology. According to the manufacturer, this is the largest project to use their radiant ceiling panel technology to date. Panels come in many different types and sizes to fit in 2’ wide ceiling grid, in 2’ increments, from 2’ long to 8’ long, and panels can weigh up to 35 pounds each. To provide the hot and chilled water in a four pipe system for 4,180 panels, 12 miles of piping and more than 1,000 control valves were installed.

Logistically handling this huge quantity of radiant heating panels on site was a big part of the implementation challenge. The 4,180 panes were broken into 10 releases, each containing one to three tractor trailer loads full of panels. After offloading the panels, our team used heavy equipment to store them inside the designated building areas until they were ready to be installed.

Adding to the challenge was the need for up-front research to confirm the proper method of panel installation in the concrete deck ceiling. First, our team performed several mockups of the panels in our Landover training room to confirm the right installation configuration, which was then verified by the architect/engineer. Second, we researched and tested several different concrete anchoring products. After going through two different manufacturers of pneumatic actuated guns and pins, we identified the right installation toolset. At the same time, we researched several different pin lengths to determine what would work best with the concrete deck to support the weight of the panels.

Yet another challenge was organizing the three different panel types and 3 different panel sizes for installation. Different areas needed different types and sizes of panels due to varying load conditions and available ceiling space. While the technology used in the panels is identical, each type of panel is mounted differently depending on the specific heating and cooling application in each room.

Our final challenge was related to the manufacturer, who had never filled an order close to this size. Not only was it a tall order for the vendor to ensure that enough panels could be manufactured, shipped and delivered to meet our timeline, but they had to revise the product while in the middle of production due to a quality control issue which was discovered after they sent us the first three releases of the product.  The vendor had to take all of the panels back because they lacked expansion joints and would be subject to bending or malformation when mounted in the ceiling. Fortunately, this design revision was done quickly without causing any significant implementation delays.


On this job, as it does on so many of our projects, Shapiro & Duncan’s solution can be summed in one word:  Coordination.

Our building information modeling (BIM) team was responsible for coordinating the huge cobwebs of piping that were required for this radiant heating panel installation. Because of the sheer size of this project, the coordination process to identify and eliminate clashes with other trades took one full calendar year.

Our standard operating procedure (SOP) is to coordinate, spool and fabricate as much of every installation as possible to make it easier on our field teams. This is handled by our Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Department, which is located at our 51,000 square foot fabrication shop in Landover, MD. As we always do, we relied on our VDC department to come up with the finished piping solutions for the very congested ceiling spaces on this project. On any commercial project, you are guaranteed to find electrical, sprinkler, ductwork and insulation as well as mechanical piping. In these higher education buildings, there is also a large amount of audio-visual/communications cabling. In the final analysis, available ceiling space varied from one to two feet.

Spooling and prefabbing the piping by specific system helped to expedite installation in the field. On a job of this magnitude, success often depends on taking a massive amount of material and staging it properly for installation. We established a dedicated installation team for each of the three buildings in the complex: Nebraska Hall, Yuma Hall and Capital Hall. To ensure proper supervision and delegation of responsibilities, we assigned a team leader in each building to oversee construction.

Altogether, our team installed the following equipment on this project:

  • (4) Engineered Air dedicated outside air handler units;
  • (5) Daikin Applied Air Handling Units;
  • (1) Greenheck Make Up Air Unit;
  • (2) Daikin magnetic bearing centrifugal chillers;
  • (2) B.A.C. cooling towers;
  • 4,180 Zehnder Rittling radiant ceiling panels; and
  • A variety of additional mechanical components including pumps, variable frequency drives (VFDs), fan coils, variable air volume (VAV) terminals, unit heaters, gas-fired water heaters, electric water heaters, domestic booster pump, sheet metal, insulation, balancing, controls and water treatment equipment.


The Washington College of Law opened on time for the spring 2016 semester. Not only are the rooms in each of the three buildings extremely comfortable, but the high-efficiency radiant heating panel technology uses very little energy.

This project clearly demonstrated Shapiro & Duncan’s ability to take brand new proprietary technology, with a highly complex piping configuration and installation process, and implement this technology on a large scale to fit the client’s needs. In fact, according to the manufacturer, we are the first company to purchase, install, coordinate and prefabricate this many (almost 4,200) radiant heating panels. The largest installation previously had required only a few hundred panels. In the process, our team overcame numerous challenges ranging from logistically moving this large quantity of panels, to spending an entire year coordinating the project, to spooling and prefabricating 12 miles of pipe to support this system in a congested ceiling, to carefully staging and supervising onsite installation. In every respect, this project is a big win for Shapiro & Duncan and the client.