Cover of ISFA Countertops and Architectural Surfaces Magazine featuring ASST's thermoformed spiral staircase project
Photo of complex thermoformed spiral staircase fabricated by ASST

Photo by Chuck Choi Architectural Photography – click to enlarge

A Project WIth a Twist

Fabricator conquers complex commercial construction of KRION® solid surface stairway

By Andrew Dreves, ASID

Spiral staircases are certainly nothing new but fabricating an enormous one in solid surface with compound angles, well that is new. And that’s exactly the project that renowned architectural firm Payette had in mind for an atrium in the building that would connect both 75 and 125 Binney Street, in the heart of Boston, that when completed would be the home of Ariad Pharmaceuticals.

The design for the monumental stairs was inspired by the red spiraling spool of thread depicted in the Ariad Pharmaceuticals logo. However, the design was highly complex with two surface planes meeting along a rising curve (see Figure 1). The difficulty of fabricating the project was nearly as massive as the project itself, so much so that most fabricators wouldn’t even attempt it. However, Payette already knew a company that would be likely to take on the challenge.

Figure 1

Figure 1 – click to enlarge

The Architectural Firm

Payette was no stranger to complex projects. Although it is based in Boston, it has completed advanced architectural projects around the world.

The firm was originally most well known for the many hospital and healthcare facilities it designed centered on enhancing patient experiences. It created architecture with an intimate connection to the landscape coupled with an abundant use of color and natural light to help orient patients and visitors. Through the promotion of the same humanistic values and fundamental design approach, over time the firm broadened its focus to include high-technology buildings, bringing deep technical expertise, commitment to rigorous research and
dedication to beauty to a new class of projects. Today, the practice has advanced as an international architectural thought leader, providing planning and design services to leading institutions across the country and abroad.

And it is that reputation that led to Payette being selected to work on this project. Similarly, the high regard that fabrication company ASST, based in south central Pennsylvania, was held in based on the positive outcome of the previous work it had performed with Payette, was the motivating factor to bringing the fabricator onboard for this difficult project. ASST had previously worked with Payette on the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and so the architect was familiar with the well-developed thermoforming capabilities ASST possessed. While other fabricators were invited to bid on the project, ultimately it didn’t necessarily come down to price, but rather ASST was selected because of its thermoforming experience and clean safety record combined with its ability to provide an adequate bonding on a large complicated project such as this to reduce owner and general contractor risk.

The Fabricator

So who was this fabricator daring enough to take on such a difficult project? If you ask anyone familiar with ASST, they likely won’t be surprised that the company stepped up to the plate. ASST is an award-winning specialty surfaces fabricator and manufacturer. As an industry leader, it specializes in complex fabrications and complete Division 6 millwork and casework solutions for the healthcare industry.

However, its work spans a variety of markets beyond healthcare, such as the education, retail and corporate/public space arenas. Known for its innovative (and patented) thermoforming technologies and product designs, ASST takes on project challenges others avoid. It brings to the table a passion for excellence — to go beyond and to build what some initially thought was impossible. Since its founding in 1998, ASST has developed an impressive portfolio of successfully completed projects with high-profile contractors, architects, interior designers and end users.

The company’s headquarters encompass 52,000 sq. ft. and includes both offices and fabrication facilities, including a very large thermoforming workshop. Among the equipment at the disposal of the 31 employees of the company are three thermoforming ovens and two vacuum tables, as well as a 60-ton proprietary press and a vacuum press related to patented ASST technologies. It also has three CNC machines: one 5-axis KOMO CNC machine, one 3-axis KOMO CNC machine and one 3-axis Heian CNC machine. For cutting parts the company also has a Schelling panel saw. The shop is set up into typical “line work” areas for more common flat fabrication work, but also has various open workshop areas for custom projects.

It seems ASST was custom-made for this highly custom project. But once they had been selected for the work, the venture had to be realized.

The Process

The architectural team underwent many design variations, but the main design intent was for the stair to appear to be fabricated from continuous solid surface.

The Porcelanosa Group’s Krion solid surface material, a relative newcomer to the U.S. solid surface market, was chosen by the architects because of its excellent thermoforming capabilities. According to the manufacturer, Krion is a “new generation of solid surface” and has a unique proprietary blend of approximately 75 percent ATH to 25 percent resin. This makes the material easier to thermoform, according to the company, and also best ensures color consistency throughout each sheet. Of course, each manufacturer touts a variety of properties that make it stand out from the rest, but as we all know, beauty (or in this case thermoformability) is in the eye of the beholder.

One of the main complexities of the project, beyond its size, was a result of the stairs having two curved and rising surface planes with cut angles that, by nature, constantly changed as the material pieces were routed to the correct dimensions. So, before any actual fabrication work could be done, modeling was required. Once an initial design was put together, a mockup of one landing was built in the ASST shop to verify the geometry (see Figure 2). Once it was created, the design could then be tweaked according to the architects input, with regard to the lighting and tread termination locations, etc.

Figure 2

Figure 2 – click to enlarge


Figure 3

Figure 3 – click to enlarge

To improve the flow of information between the fabricators and architect, a co-location work arrangement was established on-site in Boston to speed up the final design process and to improve communication among team members. With everyone working in one location for two weeks, design revisions were realized faster and coordinated across disciplines (see Figure 3). The group utilized 3-D modeling extensively when it came to determining the aspects of the steel substructure, built by DeAngelis Iron Work, for the plywood support ribs (see Figure 4). When all was said and done, 80 hours of design work were required.


Figure 4

Figure 4 – click to enlarge


Then came the 2,000 hours of fabrication, which included 196 hours of CNC programming and run-time on the 5-axis KOMO machine. And once all of the parts were fabricated, glued up and sanded, the panels were numbered, labeled and prepared for shipping to the site in Boston for assembly. Unfortunately, though, this wasn’t the end of the challenges involved in the project. As is the case with Northeastern winters, Boston was hit by weekly blizzards during installation. The extreme cold temperatures delayed the schedule by four weeks, and Boston officials even declared a state of emergency at one point with mandatory traffic shutdowns preventing deliveries to the site.

In spite of the challenges and compressed schedule, in the end 215 sheets of ½-in.-thick Krion solid surface in “Fire Red” and “Snow White” were installed using z-clips and the project was completed (see Figure 5). The final result is nothing short of an amazing accomplishment for all involved, and is another spectacular project for Payette and ASST to proudly hang their hats on. The author would like to offer special thanks to Payette’s Gordon Grisinger and Hillary Barlow for their design vision, steel fabricator DeAngelis Iron Work and ASST’s team (in no particular order): Nick Buckley, Josh Cowden, Brian Magness, Bob Hannigan, Mike Henry, Jared Shearer, John Sulc and the entire ASST production team.

Figure 5

Figure 5 – click to enlarge

About the Author

Andrew Dreves, ASID, is the director of marketing and Products Workshop for ASST, 350 South St., McSherrystown, PA 17344; He is responsible for strategic business development, marketing, branding and product design initiatives for the company and can be reached by email at or by phone at (717) 630-1251 ext. 305.

We are pleased to announce that A.S.S.T. has been named the 2014 Fabricator of the Year by the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA) in Atlanta yesterday.  Every year ISFA recognizes a fabricator for outstanding contributions made to the surfacing industry and having an in-depth work portfolio.

It takes a talented team to be recognized for an award like this and we have a terrific team here at A.S.S.T. that is Going Beyond™ every day and making great things happen!

A.S.S.T. President Russ Berry accepts ISFA's Innovator award.

A.S.S.T. President Russ Berry accepts ISFA’s Innovator award.

ASST President Russ Berry (pictured on right) accepting the Innovator Award at the 2013 International Solid Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA) Conference in Orlando, Florida. The Innovator Award is presented to the fabricator member firm or individual who goes outside the box and creates a product or system that enhances the life of the decorative surface fabricator.

Reception desk design trends

Reception desks are a hub of activity for most businesses. This is often the first interaction a current or potential customer has with a company and will likely contribute to his or her first impression of the organization. As a result, it is crucial that the front desk demonstrate the organizational skills and dedication to great customer service found at a business. To do this, the right combination of materials and design trends can be used. 

Hidden workspaces create streamlined reception desks
Too often, stacks of paper, appointment books, technology and coffee cups can stack up on a reception desk. Therefore, it's important to create a workspace that hides these typical workspace attributes without blocking an administrator or secretary's face from a customer's view. This means that the partition or scale of the desk should be high enough to create a barrier so all of these items are hidden from view, but not so high that the reception desk creates an impersonal space. According to the front desk trend's page, creating a shelf that overhangs the desk will block most people from looking directly at a potential eye sore, while providing them somewhere to use as a flat surface to write appointments down or use as a ledge to dig through a purse. 

Create an engaging space
What type of office is this reception desk serving? The interior design of a front desk can provide a potential or current customer with a more concrete opinion about the brand of a company. For example, a pediatrician's office may want to use bright primary colors to accent key features and attract the attention of children. In contrast, a law firm may find it better to use more modern earth tones and textured materials that give off a more serious vibe. 

Using strong, versatile materials
By using the right combination of materials, a reception desk can better demonstrate the personality of a brand and allow a company to artfully handle clients as they walk through the front door. At ASST, we understand the reception desk needs of a company. What may seem like a trivial detail in the greater scheme of an office design is actually a crucial component for ensuring customers are treated well and business is handled in a productive manner. 

SCULPTCOR® by ASST is a thermoformed architectural wall panel system that has already proven successful in a number of corporate environments. The wall panels are available in three standards patterns: Twist, wave and smooth, and in five standard colors, including: Pure white, cream, warm white, frozen white and white lotus. It is the ideal solution for crafting the ideal reception desk workspace. 

The development of patient room design is demonstrating the power of the creative process and how contractors and medical professionals are trying to make an adaptive space that will serve future needs. Building Design + Construction reported that the boom in outpatient facility construction is not slowing down any time soon and the spaces are becoming increasingly complex.

"In the early 1990s, outpatient care accounted for only 10 to 15 percent of hospital revenue; today, it's closer to 60 percent," said Patrick Duke, Senior Vice President with KLMK Group, Richmond, Va. "It's a shift that's been happening across the board, sweeping along academic medical centers, community hospitals, for-profit chains, and not-for-profit providers alike. And it's showing no sign of slowing, especially with advancements in care and changing reimbursement patterns." 

Medical groups and hospitals are demanding spaces that are adaptive with changing needs in the healthcare field. 

Inclusion of family accommodations
Hospitals are beginning to create family accommodation spaces so that patients may have the people that really matter near them. Many hospitals are beginning to look at family as a crucial part of the healing process, which is why family accommodations are necessary. This means that features like family sleeping areas, built-in entertainment features and work stations with internet access. A family accommodation area is not possible for every suite, but for extensive hospital stays, medical practices may want to consider this as an option. 

Quality materials adapt to changing healthcare needs
ASST offers quality material solutions that are designed to meet the needs of a healthcare facility. Adaptive, functional and durable solutions are crucial to fit the needs of a medical practice. From the restrooms to the lobbies, ASST offers comprehensive material solutions that meet federal and state regulations, as well as industry standards. Listed below are a few of the design solutions ASST offers to  healthcare clients:

• Full package Division 6 casework (available in a variety of materials)
• OR paneling
• Trespa™ wall panels
• Toilet partitions
• SCULPTCOR®  wall panel system (with hard seam joints)
• Modular Vanity™ System
• MatchLine™ Stainless Sinks
• Cradle™ Baby Bowl

ASST offers a comprehensive listing of quality solutions for healthcare facilities. If you're looking for more information, visit or contact ASST architectural support 717.630.1251 x305.

Restaurant owners looking to capitalize on the latest design trends may want to consider paring down the number of accessories and features in a dining space. According to The Independent, many restaurant owners who won this year’s Restaurant and Bar Design Awards used sleek design features and made the visual impact of a space rest more on the industrial design of the structure than using accessories.

“Good design is all about creating something that is going to last,” said Marco Rebora, the RBDA founder, according to the news source. “It’s not about spending millions of pounds on creating a huge statement. If you fail to consider how your guests are actually going to feel within that space, you will go bust within a year.”

Simplistic design grows in popularity
The Independent reported that the restaurants that have been gaining popularity and recognition for their design are incorporating simple aesthetic elements. The ornate design aesthetic that was so popular in previous decades is now out of style.

“The ostentatiousness of the pre-recession era has gone. Unrefined finishes and lots of stone and wood are key at the moment. Foster + Partner’s Atrium Champagne Bar is all about simple stone. Host, in Denmark by Norm Architects, is all very down-to-earth raw wood,” said Rebora.

Rustic designs feature shabby chic interiors
While some design professionals working on restaurants are creating spaces that remove the ornate look of decades gone past, others are trying to recreate a more lived-in look as if this design aesthetic has faded.

“It’s almost anti-design in that they are not slick but distressed and rustic, influenced by the rough-and-ready sensibility of pop-ups and the farm-to-table food trend,” said Bethan Ryder, author of two books on the subject – Restaurant Design and New Restaurant Design.

This means that designers are using reclaimed wood, different types of patterned metals and textured fabrics.

“I wanted to create the kind of place that I feel comfortable in but couldn’t afford a designer or expensive fixtures and fittings. The whole stripping back thing is something that is very important to me in terms of decor as well as the food that we serve – our dishes are very simple with very few ingredients,” Ben McCormack, editor of, told the news source.

Using quality simple materials
SCULPTCOR® by ASST is a patented thermoformed architectural wall panel system that is built with beauty and function in mind. SCULPTCOR can be used in a wide range of applications in a restaurant from wall panels, column covers, exterior facades, elevator cladding, casework, ceiling panels and furniture.

The system is fabricated from a non-porous, stain-resistant and easy-to-clean surface that is ideal for a restaurant to use and offers the right blend of flexibility and statement for a restaurant looking to create an impression on diners.

Please contact ASST at 717.630.1251 x305 for architectural support or x307 for specific project estimating assistance.

Malls represent different things to different generations. As teens hang out at the food court, mothers are trying to get all of their shopping done for the day in one convenient stop. However, with the advancement and growing popularity of online shopping takes off, malls are seeing the number of visitors walking through their doors slightly decrease.

Importance of creating a memorable shopping experience
Despite this, sales are holding strong because those that are heading to the mall have a shopping plan of action in mind typically. Businesses are creating retail spaces that attract buyers who are looking for a particular experience that is not possible to attain online, reported QSR Magazine. However, that's not the case for smaller retail chains that are adapting to changing consumer trends.

Restaurants and other mall dining establishments that are doing well often create a unique experience for diners to appreciate. According to International Council of Shopping Centers spokesman Jesse Tron the focus is creating restaurants that feature entertainment as part of their integral offerings.

Malls attract people to spend considerable time in one place. As a result, people get hungry and start to looking for a place to eat. The restaurants that are doing better in malls and other large shopping venues are those that encourage people to spend time off their feet and enjoy a unique experience.

Creating mall dining establishments
Malls Owners and management companies are beginning to turn traditional food courts into more centralized, eye-catching spaces. Tron told QSR Magazine that malls are beginning to create more comfortable food courts that encourage people to spend more time. Personal spaces with greater privacy, comfortable seating and beautiful works of art are being included in the design concept. A focus on creating visually stimulating spaces will encourage visitors to spend a more time shopping.

Please contact ASST at 717.630.1251 x305 for architectural support or x307 for specific project estimating assistance.

Interior designers and contractors who specialize in restaurant spaces are looking to the future for the latest trends. Like something out of a science fiction novel, restaurants are incorporating technology in new ways in dining spaces. Bold colors, expressive designs and the use of technology is being demonstrated in many different styles of restaurants. 

Tablet technology in restaurants
Both independent and chain restaurants are making use of tablet technology in dining areas. Restaurant Development and Design Magazine reported that dining establishments are integrating a number of different technologies in their stores, both from the ground up and in retrofit designs. 

"Technology can be used as a point of differentiation within the restaurant industry and especially with millennials," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based research firm Technomic, according to the news source. "Operators who want to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive market will need to evaluate the best use for the latest tech trends and decide how to integrate them into their operations. This may mean having a printed menu available, as well as an iPad/tablet computer." 

Some may believe that restaurant owners are jumping the gun by adding tablets to dining areas, but a new survey has found that many consumers enjoy this feature. Technomic reported that 51 percent of consumers surveyed feel it's important for restaurants to integrate technology into ordering, particularly through tableside touch-screen devices. 

Integrating video monitors into atrium architectural spaces
Monitors are a common sight in many different types of spaces.  However, they should be used sparingly or placed in areas that will get the most notice. Instead of placing televisions just in the bar areas, some restaurant owners are looking to use this technology as a visual feature wall or piece of modern art. By placing video monitors along one wall that is built to visually capture the interest of visitors, a restaurant can make a unique impression on customers.

The newly renovated Chevy Chase Pavilion Atrium located in Washington DC is anything but your typical suburban shopping mall. ASST was retained by Hitt Contracting and worked closely with the creative design agency streetsense to create an amazing design experience for the atrium lounge spaces. The three story interactive lighted media wall was fabricated with 3form resin panels. ASST provided design assistance for the technical aspects of the wall while lighting designers iDesign based in Miami provided the interactive lighting solution and installation.

ASST SCOPE OF WORK: Design assist, fabrication & installation of the 3 form translucent resin light wall, escalators, stair risers, walnut wood casework & upholstered seating and Starbucks Coffee kiosk.

KUDOS: ASST was awarded the Craftsmanship Excellence Award from the Washington Building Congress.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:   Hours are Mon-Sat 7 am-11 pm; Sun 7 am-9 pm. Address: 5335 Wisconsin Ave NW; Washington DC 20015

SUGGESTIONS: Get a latte at the new Starbucks, enjoy the comfortable lounge seating and surf the web on your iPad or just people watch.

Please contact ASST at 717.630.1251 x305 for architectural support or x307 for specific project estimating assistance.

More and more retail brands are trying to create a unique experience for customers who walk into their brick-and-mortar locations. Instead of competing with big box brands that promise low prices, but a generic experience, higher-end retailers are going in the opposite direction by commanding market strength by offering a unique atmosphere and experience when shopping in their locations. 

Item value tied to retail interior design
The value of an item is not just inherently tied to what it can accomplish and what materials went into making it, but also whether it was purchased in a store that promises sustainability or humanitarian efforts as well. Consumers are making active decisions to support lifestyles and causes with their purchase, but in return, are asking businesses to create an overall experience for when they walk in the front doors. 

High-end retailers have known this secret for years. Many fashion brands have specialized in giving customers a unique, brand-specific atmosphere that made shopping more like an event than simply wandering through racks of clothes. A business owner can create a space that invites customers take in the entire sense of a brand with the right interior design elements in a store.

Industrial design grows in popularity
Many interior designers are finding that industrial-themed creations are growing in popularity. The lines and mix of both modern and older materials are visually stimulating and, as a result, customers enjoy perusing the retail space and the products or services available for sale. To accomplish this look, many retail interior designers are working to implement the use of versatile, durable materials that are modern, in conjunction with less elegant and rougher textured options. Smooth materials, polished steel and statement walls made of brick or wood are making a huge comeback in terms of trendy styles. 

Incorporate modern with traditional materials
By combining modern, innovative materials with more traditional options, an interior designer is able to create visual interest in a space. Developing an industrial space takes patience and the understanding that every piece included in the design must be multi-purpose. SCULPTCOR® by ASST is a thermoformed wall panel system that can offer a wide range of solutions to a retail store. The architectural wall panels have already proven successful in a wide range of retail spaces as wall panels, column covers, retail facades, elevator cladding, casework, ceiling panels and furniture.