A gift of oil pioneer George P. Mitchell and designed by the renowned Michael Graves & Associates, this physics and astronomy think-tank contains 200,000 square feet of labs and classrooms for world-class scientists and undergrads. Inside, a large, steeply raked lecture hall for as many as 468 people offers good views of the day’s speaker or experiment. Two Skyfold Classic Acoustic Vertically Folding Retractable Walls glide down from the ceiling at the turn of a key, creating three rooms for 156 occupants each within a minute. “We had never used Skyfold before, but we were looking for a solution to the challenge of dividing a sloped, stepped space using the least amount of floor space necessary,” says Mark A. Sullivan, AIA, LEED AP, senior associate with Michael Graves. “Another factor was the STC rating of more than 50, which is excellent. Many accordion partitions tend to lose their STC rating over time as the sliding reduces the effectiveness of their gaskets. Skyfold walls maintain their acoustical performance over time, and that was a significant factor – you don’t want to hear the rock concert next door when you’re trying to give a test.”


Highly regarded for its prowess in the sciences, Texas A&M’s physics department has been quickly expanding. The new Mitchell physics complex links an elliptical, 45,000-square-foot institute for physics and astronomy by bridge to the main physics building, “the department’s workhorse,” Sullivan quips. The result is undergraduates rubbing elbows with senior researchers and faculty, which can cause friction. The large auditorium needed maximum flexibility for lectures, events and other programming.

According to John Collins of RSM Services, more education facilities now opt for stepped walls to resolve varied schedules within large, multiple-use learning spaces. “It does seem to be a popular trend, and the end users love Skyfold’s performance,” he says. Sophisticated engineering and tight tolerances allow the Skyfold walls to mate and seal with each riser independently and automatically correctly. The partition system’s weight is distributed along the entire span, eliminating high-concentration loads that increase structural steel costs for traditional systems. This meant flexibility and ease of use for the shared lecture hall, whether for physics club meetings or high-level science symposia. “We just hosted a large, international conference for 250 people,” says Melanie Becker, a Texas A&M professor. “It was very successful, thanks to this much nicer space.”



Collins notes that in the Texas A&M project design, the team toured a similar installation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey or UMDNJ. Two large Powerlift walls also divide a large auditorium into three lecture halls. “One of the best ways to understand the benefits of Skyfold is to come watch them work. Even if it’s just a video clip, they say, wow,” says Collins. “But seeing them in action at UMDNJ helped the architect decide to use Skyfold in the first place.”




Installation: 2 Skyfold Classic walls

College Station, Texas June 2009

Finish: Fabric and wood veneer

Education (new construction)


Challenge: Large auditorium with stepped and slopped floors


Team: Michael Graves & Associates (architect) and Vaughn Construction