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Take One: New England Studios


By: Mitch Bloomquist | Tilt-Up Concrete Association

The film industry is no stranger to the word “tilt,” but for a major television and film studio in New England, tilt has taken on an entirely different meaning.

In cinematography, tilt refers to a technique in which a stationary camera rotates on a vertical, or tilting, plane. The motion is similar to a person nodding their head yes. The movement is a simple fundamental technique of filmmaking and used in almost every production. In construction, the word has a different meaning. Tilt-up refers to a building system where concrete panels are cast on site and lifted, or tilted, into position.

The reasons for utilizing tilt-up as the delivery method for New England Studios are numerous and start with one of the method’s most widely acclaimed advantages: speed. “The delivery deadlines for New England Studios, the first state-of-art sound stages in New England, presented a serious challenge to our project,” expressed Michael Meyers, Managing Director for MJM Development, LLC. “After extensive due diligence, our design and delivery team made a decision to run with Rykor Concrete for all our concrete needs. Their breadth of experience, on-site management team, aggressive pricing and unique approach saved us time and a boatload of dollars.” The project broke ground in June 2012 and will open this summer. It is being built on a fifteen-acre site in Devens, Massachusetts. Devens, a former site of a U.S. military base, is located just 29 miles from Boston.

According to New England Studios, “The film industry in Massachusetts has been on a steady growth trajectory developing every component necessary for a full service film environment contained within the state, except one: a state-of-the-art movie studio… that critical missing piece will now be filled.”

New England Studios: An Actor’s Perspective from MediaBoss Televison on Vimeo.

The project is being funded by a group of Massachusetts-based investors led by Chirs Byers. “These stages will be some of the best in the world,” Byers claimed. “The whole point behind the expansion in this project was to get them not good, not average, but the best.”

The state-of-the-art television and film studio will include four 18,000-square-foot Hollywood-style sound stages. In addition to the 72,000 square feet of stages, the development will include 4,000 square feet of sound stage support space; a 30,000-square-foot three-story production support building; a 20,000-square-foot mill building to house production construction facilities, mechanical effects, grip and lighting and set storage; and parking for 416 vehicles.

Anthony L. Cavossa, Senior Project Manager for Rykor Concrete and Civil Inc., said the project is broken into four components or building pads. BP1 consists of the four sound stages. BP2 refers to the three-story office area to the front of the sound stages and BP3 consists of two mechanical rooms to the back of the sound stages. BP4, detached from the main building, houses the mill or shop and is not constructed with tilt-up. The 120 panels for the sound stages average 56 feet tall, 20 feet wide, 10.5 inches thick and weigh 150,000 pounds each. In total, the project incorporates 10,000 cubic yards or 40 million pounds of concrete. That mass is critical to the facility’s ability to mask low frequency sound.

The stages have a NC (noise coefficient) rating of 25, which is an industry standard for film and TV presentations. To achieve this standard, the interiors of the massive concrete walls are covered in blankets of glass-wool faced with fiberglass cloth. A layer of flameproof foil encases the insulation. Three interior tilt-up concrete demising walls separate the four sound stages.

Obvious weak points in any wall assembly with regard to acoustic separation are the joints and the openings. With tilt-up, the team was able to limit the number of panel joints, which is a huge advantage. Plant-cast precast panels would have been limited in width – due to the fact that they are transported to the site by truck – resulting in approximately twice as many vertical panel joints. This is another very common benefit of tilt-up construction. In addition to the acoustic advantages, the minimization of panel joints reduces owner maintenance and improves the air-tightness of the building thereby increasing its energy efficiency. All three of these advantages save the owner money.

Closing a gap in the wall doesn’t accomplish much, though, if there is a door open. At New England Studios, large openings to the exterior, as well as between studios, were necessary to facilitate the movement of large equipment (including vehicles) and set construction. In the entertainment industry, these massive openings are referred to as “elephant doors.” They are charged with suppressing or blocking noise from machinery, background traffic or any other undesirable sounds. Six 20-foot by 20-foot exterior elephant doors and three 42-foot by 24-foot interior elephant doors at New England Studios allow for impressive flexibility and necessary accessibility.

The tilt-up concrete panels making up these openings created a challenge that Rykor answered with a unique solution. The elephant door panels measure over 55 feet tall and 45 feet wide. The structural design of the panels incorporates a 2-foot by 2-foot column and beam structure that extends up each side of the panel and across the panel just above the opening. As originally designed, these monster panels would have weighed over 360,000 pounds, which was beyond the capacity of the 250-ton crawler crane scheduled for the project. The solution was to cast two separate, interlocking panels. An H-shaped panel was set first, braced and plumbed, and then a T-shaped panel was lifted into place on top (see image).

A 12-inch-thick door will also be site cast. The door will be lifted into an 8-inch-deep track and a hydraulic arm will push and pull the massive panel to open and close the door.

After the redesign of the elephant door panels, the largest of the 120 panels on the project weighed in at 178,000 pounds. The shear and load-bearing tilt-up walls are supported on continuous spread footings.

Rykor began placing casting beds in October and had everything poured by mid December. The entire building was erected by the middle of January. A common myth surrounding tilt-up construction is that it is not suitable in cold weather. Not only is this not true –  as evidenced by the large number of projects built throughout each year in Canada and other northern regions – tilt-up proved beneficial on this project in inclement weather.

“These guys placed 120 panels from December 5th to January 16th. They just rocked,” said Meyers. Cavossa noted construction of any kind through a Massachusetts winter is tough. One day was lost to a quarter inch of ice, another to sub-zero temperatures shutting down equipment, and a couple to eight- and twelve-inch snowstorms. Following the storms, Cavossa and his team cleared the panels of snow and kept lifting. “The efficient schedule we were able to put out there allowed for a few snow days. Clean-up afterwards was quick and easy,” Cavossa said. Jim Kier of Bastien and Associates, design architect for the project suggested that the method was actually a plus through the winter because of the speed with which the project could be accomplished. “Early occupancy is real money,” said Kier, “especially in the entertainment business.”

New England Studios March Update from MediaBoss Televison on Vimeo.

Inside the stages, the height to the grid is 45 feet, unencumbered with no spans. The roof structure consists of 32,000-pound glulam trusses and purlins with plywood deck. Each stage has seven trusses measuring 16 feet high and 120 feet long. The Douglas Fir trusses were fabricated in Oregon. The use of wood in roof structures for tilt-up buildings is typical of many west coast designs. This application however, delivers a very specific set of advantages to the integrity of the sound stage.

According to Kier the wooden roof structure and catwalk are ideal because generally, wood is acoustically dead. Compared to other widely used roof and catwalk structures, wood reflects relatively little sound and does not expand and contract noisily as temperatures fluctuate. This is important because the amount of heat generated by the studio lighting is significant and even the slightest noise generated by the structure could be an issue.

The wooden structure has other benefits. In some cases, the structure doubles as armature for the lighting equipment. The ease with which cables and brackets can be fastened to the wood provides for added flexibility and efficiency. The fact that wood does not conduct electricity is an added bonus with the amount of cabling strung through the structure carrying 7,200 amps of power per stage.

However, the roof also needs mass to mask low frequency sound. To achieve the level of soundproofing required, 3 inches of shotcrete were applied to the wooden roof.

The three-story office area at the front of the facility, which does not have the same soundproofing demands, employs structural steel beams and joists with metal decking for the floors and roof. Cavossa noted that the massive office panels were relatively delicate due to the large window openings: “A lot of effort and care went into the erection of these panels to make sure everything was placed successfully.”

New England Studios April Update from MediaBoss Televison on Vimeo.

New England Studios is the first of its kind in New England and will rival those in Hollywood. The high-profile project has received a great deal of positive attention and should open a few doors for the tilt-up industry in the Northeast. “The construction activity is a huge win for the local economy,” Meyers said. “We have had 329 guys on site since we started with 600 projected construction jobs from over 124 different companies, including subcontractors and suppliers. 84 of those companies are Massachusetts based with headquarters in 46 different cities & towns here in Massachusetts.”

You can follow the rest of the construction process online by connecting with New England Studios on Facebook or by visiting their website at

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.