Project Spotlight: The Strong National Museum of Play

Project Spotlight: The Strong National Museum of Play

The expansion of The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, is a landmark case study of modern architectural innovation showcasing the versatile application of Fundermax phenolic panels. This project, a part of Rochester's revitalization effort, highlights the functional and aesthetic appeal of Fundermax's phenolic wall panel system in creating a dynamic, interactive space that resonates with the museum's playful spirit.


Nestled in the heart of Rochester, New York, The Strong National Museum of Play is the world’s only collections-based museum devoted solely to play. It is a vibrant symbol of imagination and creativity, and its expansion is not merely an addition of space but a significant chapter in the city's regeneration story. The client was renovating and expanding to help match the updates happening in the community.

The expansion, skillfully managed by Project Architect Craig Jensen and Project Manager Michael Ellison of CJS Architects and executed by LeChase Construction, adds square footage to the museum in a style that complements the developing "Neighborhood of Play." This new, walkable neighborhood aims to revitalize the downtown area, embedding The Strong Museum as a central, vibrant hub in the community.

However, the expansion faced significant material selection and design complexity challenges, especially in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions.

Material Selection and Optimization

The pandemic posed significant hurdles, leading to budget cuts and furloughs. Despite these setbacks, the museum's key measures are on an upward trend, signaling a resilient comeback. However, the GC was initially concerned about the installation and costs of the architects’ design plan. Thankfully, Fundermax panel installation is very easy, and the team prioritized educating and training the subcontractors and installers to ensure they would be comfortable installing the panels. This effort significantly reduced pushback, and Fundermax exterior phenolic wall panels emerged as the ideal solution, balancing budget constraints with creative design needs.

Design Complexity

The expansion sits at a pivotal location in Rochester's urban landscape where a sunken, six-lane freeway once cut through. However, the museum’s new wing is only one part of a larger project that includes market-rent housing units, mixed retail space, a hotel, a parking garage, and a new two-way street linking significant roadways. As noted on the museum's expansion campaign page, this project is crucial in creating a lively, engaging atmosphere that resonates with the museum's core mission.

As part of this bigger picture, the soffits and rainscreen facade materials must work well with other project elements and materials. While the contrast would be intentional, it had to be done right. The project's success lies in its thoughtful integration and its ability to capture the attention of passersby with contrasting designs and interactive spaces.


The team chose Fundermax Max Compact Exterior phenolic panels for a couple of key reasons:

Design Options

The choice of Fundermax panels for The Strong Museum's feature rainscreen facade and soffit was more than a mere architectural decision; it was a strategic move aligning with the project's design continuity. Fundermax offered durable, versatile panels with lots of decor options that could fit their budget.

Material Performance

Additionally, since the design team was familiar with the benefits and capabilities of exterior phenolic wall panels, they recognized Fundermax as a versatile solution. Fundermax’s wide range of panel sizes facilitated material optimization and fit seamlessly into the museum's budget constraints.

When considering alternatives like metal, the team quickly realized the limitations they would face, such as increased workload, risk of human error, and wider joints. In contrast, Fundermax panels allowed for complex designs with a superior finish without these complications. The museum's expansion not only revitalized the neighborhood but also set a new standard in architectural design, thanks to what they accomplished with the phenolic exterior wall panels.

“This is so good for the area,” emphasizes Scott. “It’s jobs like this that elevate the use of rainscreen claddings. And the ingenuity & creativity of that panel. We’re just taking a flat panel, and look what they were able to do with that.”


The project's outcome is a testament to the successful integration of Fundermax panels with the existing design. The museum now boasts an eye-catching, 3D aesthetic rainscreen facade that draws the attention of visitors and passersby alike. The local representative from Fundermax played a pivotal role in optimizing the layout of the panels, ensuring a high yield and fulfilling the architects’ design intent. The reliability and consistency of Fundermax's panels ensured a smooth installation process and a stunning result.

The Fundermax Difference

Fundermax's involvement, though initially viewed as a potential challenge due to misconceptions about cost and complexity, proved to be a pivotal factor in achieving design and performance goals. The ease of installation and the versatility of their panels played a crucial role in material optimization, addressing both aesthetic aspirations and practical concerns.

Ellison noted that he believes Fundermax stands out in the market for its manufacturing longevity, superior panel durability compared to other phenolic panel manufacturers, and comprehensive warranties that encourage trust in the product.

The expansion of The Strong National Museum of Play is a story of resilience, innovation, and community engagement. Though a smaller part of the larger narrative, the exterior Fundermax project was pivotal in realizing the vision of an innovative, engaging space. Fundermax's commitment to quality, versatility, and customer satisfaction aligns perfectly with the project's ethos, reinforcing the company’s status not just as a phenolic panel manufacturer but as a partner in architectural innovation.

Download the full exterior phenolic panel case study for the rest of the story, including many more project details.