Press Release

Montessori Academy

An innovative "membrane" roof brings a unique solution to an architectural dilemma

July 2, 2018
Pembroke Pines, FL – Sometimes, when a project is initially conceived, its future may reveal unforeseen needs or even quirky reality checks.

Such was the case at Pembroke Pines' Montessori Academy, at 80,000 square feet, the largest privately owned Montessori-inspired educational institution in the nation to date.

Synalovski Romanik Saye designed the Academy, which was constructed in two phases. The first phase, the 35,000 SF Lower School, was completed in 2007, accommodating 20 classrooms for infants through kindergartners. The 45,000 SF Upper School was added in 2013, including elementary and middle school classrooms, science labs, arts and media centers, computer labs, gymnasium, and an open courtyard/play area.

Initially an open-air terrace was planned to top the Upper School. The area, exposed to the elements, was occasionally used for social events. With the passing of time and growing student enrolment, the owner desired to have the area enclosed as a weatherproof, climate-controlled environment to accommodate various learning activities, lunch area, and social uses.

Since the roof's retaining walls were of differing heights, the firm needed to find an alternative to a conventional horizontal enclosure.

"We explored various roof systems and methods," said Manuel Synalovski, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, SRS Founding Principal.

"We searched for a solution that would provide a dynamic, clear span of space, and chose a tensile fabric assembly that required only the existing perimeter walls without any intermediate supports while providing great height within the space." 

SRS explored a variety of modern options both in the United States and internationally and found a unique solution that combined the products and services of companies in Mexico and France.

"We looked at various projects around the globe that used new technology for complicated and unusual roof configurations," Synalovski said.

SRS' search revealed sources in Mexico and France that specialize in mesh fabric and tensile structures. The chosen material provides lightweight translucent architecture that allows in natural light, yet offers water resistance, insulation, strength, great building depth, while withstanding the force of heavy winds.

Made in France, the mesh fabric can withstand hurricane force winds of 170 miles per hour. With SRS' plan and specs in hand, a metal tubular and cable support system was designed and engineered by Mexico's Dünn company, over which the mesh membrane could be stretched.

Dünn's cutting-edge, lightweight achievements number more than 200 iconic structures worldwide, and include stadiums, fairground enclosures, shopping centers, residential areas, recreational centers, cathedrals, and sports complexes among others.

Before undertaking the Montessori project, virtual simulations of heavy rainfall and winds were made to ensure the design and materials could withstand South Florida's storm forces.

Once the fabrication of parts was complete, they were transported to Florida, and an SRS team and a Dünn crew from Mexico worked side by side to complete the complex installation.

"When the operation was completed, we could walk confidently on the fabric surface, feeling the flexible strength beneath our feet," Synalovski said.

Synalovski said he was awed by the depth of the space and the natural light, when looking up from the ground below.

"The roof appears frothy and bright, like the sails of a boat in the wind," he said.

The roof addition created a new dimension of programmatic possibilities for the school with its climate-controlled, wind-and-weather resistance, and light-filled space.

"It's amazing to expand architecture beyond its bricks-and-mortar tradition and bring a new mode of responding to clients' needs, while fusing function and beauty," Synalovski said.