A dedicated team of students from Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in Old Town Alexandria designed, constructed, and recently installed the reception desk located inside the new, nearly completed Presidential helicopter support building at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland.

The conceptual design for the reception desk was done by Sebastian Gaiser, a graduate student from Germany who is attending Virginia Tech on a Fulbright Scholarship. His design was chosen by a jury of representatives from the national general contracting and construction firm of Hensel Phelps, the U.S. Navy, and the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies in the National Capital Region.

Hensel Phelps, contractor and builder for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station building, initiated the project among Virginia Tech’s students at the suggestion of a Virginia Tech alumnus.

According to Jaan Holt, professor and director of the Washington-Alexandria Center, who served on the jury, the winning desk design was distinctive because “it was inspired by the actual construction of a helicopter.”

Once the design was chosen, a team of 10 students from Virginia Tech’s architecture and landscape architecture programs took the project into design development, eventually preparing detailed drawings for construction, says adjunct professor Jonathan Foote, who worked with the students throughout the project. “To help judge scale and construction the entire desk was built full size in cardboard before going to the actual materials: horizontal plywood planes, vertical fin-like pieces, extensive metal work, and cast glass panels making the skirt of the desk,” says Foote.

Hensel Phelps provided a budget for materials and equipment to support the project. In addition to the materials used to construct the desk, the team was able to purchase new equipment for the university shop, including a large glass-fusing kiln used to make the signature glass panels. The entire desk was built in the shop at the Washington-Alexandria Center over a six-month period and took about eight hours to install in the facility at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

The completed desk, with glass panels, weighs more than 3,000 lbs. Resting on rollers, it easily separates into two sections so that it can be used as a tabletop for food and drinks during receptions held in the lobby of the building.

According to Foote, each one of the 16 conic glass panels took in excess of six days firing time in the glass kiln. The desk was constructed without the aid of digital fabrication technologies and it went together flawlessly without even the use of a rubber mallet. Most of the metal work, and all of the plywood and glass work were the result of the students working on the desk.

“This was a wonderful experience for our students,” said Foote. “They not only learned about design and development but also how to manage a job, work with clients, and stay within a budget. And in the end we have an excellent result to show for it.”

Virginia Tech has fostered a growing partnership with the greater metropolitan Washington D.C. community since 1969. Today, the university’s presence in the National Capital Region includes graduate programs and research centers in Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Leesburg, Manassas, and Middleburg. In addition to supporting the university’s teaching and research mission, Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region has established collaborations with local and federal agencies, businesses, and other institutions of higher education. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.