By Sue McCraven
Seen or unseen, precast concrete is everywhere. Underground products such as manholes, utility vaults and pipe serve as the backbone of global infrastructure systems, often out of plain sight. Above ground, precast concrete functions as the centerpiece of some of the most awe-inspiring projects. As the following examples from across the world illustrate, precast concrete is just as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional.
Dreamscape: Louisiana State Museum & Sports Hall of Fame, Natchitoches
Precaster: Advanced Architectural Stone
The fluid, soothing design found at Louisiana’s State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame may place a visitor into a dreamlike state as they walk the winding halls and corridors. The museum, which overlooks the historic Cane River Lake, captures shapes and textures that emulate Natchitoches’ local terrain and winding rivers, fusing two seemingly incompatible venues – sports and history – with exceptional design. According to Trahan Architects, the site greatly influenced the interior design. The “fluid shapes” of the corridors, or “river channels,” are separated by structures, or “masses of land.”
Advanced Architectural Stone created more than 1,150 precast concrete panels that are supported by a custom structural steel frame beneath.
Hitting Home: Garner Veterans Memorial, North Carolina
Precaster: Lucas Concrete Products Inc.
Artist: Thomas Sayre
More boys and young men from North Carolina fought and died in the American Civil War than any other state in the Confederacy. The local veterans association in Garner, North Carolina, wanted to honor the ultimate sacrifice of all local soldiers lost in conflicts in a memorial that would give visitors an emotional connection with the fallen warriors. Garner Veterans Memorial’s architecture achieves the shared objective.
The Architectural Precast Association awarded the memorial the APA Design & Manufacturing Excellence Award in 2013. “This really wowed us,” jury members said.
The following is Clearscapes artist Thomas Sayre’s detailed explanation of the design process.
The Garner Veterans Memorial is the result of a competition to create a place of both education and remembrance to honor the veterans of Garner, North Carolina. Individual bands of precast concrete and stone establish walls representing conflict, while benches offer peace, marking 24 decades of our nation’s past and the series of conflicts that have brought us to today.
Each of the 37 precast concrete wall panels was individually molded and poured using an “earthcasting” technique. Clay is broken into clods and the soil is packed into molds to create the texture of broken ground, the soil of the plowed field or the exploded surface of warfare. The concrete was then pigmented with iron oxide to match the red clay soil. The surface of the earthcast panels protects the memorial’s smooth inner granite panels, where each conflict is described and the names of the fallen from Garner are remembered.
A Slanted View: Bella Sky Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark
Precaster: Contiga Tinglev
Consulting Engineers (M&E): EKJ
Size: 452,000 sq ft, 23 floors
Scandinavia’s largest hotel, Bella Sky, adds modern elegance to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city. It was designed as the perfect world-class structure for the trending neighborhood of Ørestad. “We have knowingly worked towards designing a building unlike anything else in Copenhagen – and we did that because Ørestad, which is a new city neighborhood, is also unlike any other place in Copenhagen,” said Kim Herforth Nielson, principal and founder of 3XN, the project architects.
3XN designed Bella Sky’s two towers to lean apart at 15 degrees, a daring architectural approach. Tilting 65 ft more at the top than at the bottom, the towers are the first tilted precast concrete construction in the world.
“The effect of the leaning towers has also resulted in corner rooms where the building angles create a view which is actually underneath the room,” Nielsen said. “It gives the illusion of floating above the view itself.”
In addition, one tower bends outward by 12 degrees, making the 250-ft structure appear to twist in the wind. Located near the Copenhagen Airport, the hotel could not be designed vertical due to flight safety regulations. Aluminum and glass façade panels cover the precast concrete building, which includes hollow-core slabs, beams and internal columns (1).
“Abroad, a building such as Bella Hotel would normally be built using in-situ concrete or steel,” said Kaare Dahl, project engineer at Rambøll. “But in Denmark we have a tradition of using precast concrete units. It is cost-effective, results in fewer flaws in the individual units and is far more comfortable to work with.”
The Danish Precast Concrete Association is proud of the Bella Sky Hotel. “Bella Sky in not only an icon for precast, it also has moved the limits for precast,” said Poul Erik Hjorth, director of DPCA. “When you can design and construct such a building with concrete elements; you can use precast solutions everywhere.”
Bella Sky Hotel recently received the 2014 fib Award for Outstanding Concrete Structure from the International Federation for Structural Concrete.
Linking History: Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, Texas
Precaster: Advanced Architectural Stone
Contractor: Byrne Construction Services
Architect: ARCHITEXAS Inc.
Mason Contractor: Clay Hunt / J & E Masonry
Grapevine, Texas, a community just northwest of Dallas, grew in prosperity when the railroad linked the city with Dallas. To maintain the rich and deep history of the town as a transportation hub, the convention and visitors bureau has preserved the old railroad hotel façade architecture in its newest building.
According to Advanced Architectural Stone, the specs for the center called for a series of storefronts that would mimic the rustic style of the Old West found in the 1800s. Cast stone copings, pier caps and water tables all were formed using a grapevine motif similar to the original wooden façades (2).
With its detailing work, AAS’s achievement of exceptional architectural intricacy for the building won many accolades, including the 2012 Architectural Precast Association Award of Excellence – Design & Manufacturing & Craftsmanship, and the Construction Specifications Institute Award for Manufacturing & Design Excellence.
Caribbean Flavor: Port Ferdinand Luxury Resort, Barbados, West Indies
Precaster: Preconco Limited
General Contractor: Jada Builders
Architect: Michael Gomes Architects
Completed: Phase I completed in 2013, Phase II in 2014
Port Ferdinand Marina and Luxury Condominium Resort is an exclusive residential resort set on 16 acres just north of historic Speightstown, Barbados. The resort marina features 120 yacht berths and 83 luxury homes, each with captivating views of the breathtaking Caribbean Sea.
Preconco Limited, an NPCA member located in Lears Quarry, Lears, St. Michael, manufactured and installed all the precast and prestressed concrete components for the resort’s all-precast concrete superstructure shell. The “cross wall” construction method uses precision-engineered and factory precast concrete custom components for a more modern and effective building approach.
“We were thrilled with the opportunity to be involved with the development of the Port Ferdinand Luxury Resort & Marina,” said Mark Maloney, Preconco CEO. “Given the design and architectural flair of this luxury property, precast was the obvious choice for this project. Precast concrete is an efficient, cost-effective product, which allows for flexibility in design, speedy installations and high quality structures.
“We are proud to have had the opportunity to highlight precast concrete through the construction of this world-class project.”
Cellular Architecture: La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, AustraliaPrecaster: Advanced Precast
Contractor: Watpak Construction
Size: 118,000 sq ft
The design for the new La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science in Victoria, Australia, is bursting the bonds of typical campus geometry.
According to architect Carey Lyon, “The campus master plan dates back to 1968 and the objective was clear – the design of this new building is to break the mold belonging to the decades of the 60s and 70s. Obviously, we gave the façade a visual metaphor for cell research.”
From the 200-mm thick precast external wall, hexagonal precast concrete cells blast out of the structure’s façade to starkly symbolize cell research. And the façade is made all the more dramatic and daring with the use of vibrant colors and wood finishes. Notice that the hexagons are positioned randomly and even offer spaces for students and classes to meet.
41X: Australian Institute of Architecture Victoria ChapterPrecaster: Euro Cast
Contractor: Hickory Group
Engineer: Winward Structures
Size: 307,000 sq ft, 22 floors
Developed by the Australian Institute of Architects, 41X is a 22-level, Five Star Green Star tower that sits on a small footprint of about 300 sq ft (3). 41X targets carbon neutrality throughout its 30-year lifespan – accounting for embodied energy, base building operational energy, transport and waste.
Besides the Institute, 41X offers a rooftop terrace and is home to retail operations, including a café and bookstore. A striking sculptural precast concrete exterior forms a stairway design that, according to Adrian Stanic, director of Lyons Architects, “explores the idea of joining together a public and commercial building by connecting the city street space with the Institute’s occupied levels.”
Sue McCraven, freelance writer and NPCA technical consultant, is a construction engineer and environmental scientist.
- More than 7,000 precast elements were used in the main structural system.
- In masonry architecture, a water table deflects water from running down the building’s face or to the foundation.
- Developed by Green Building Council Australia, Green Star is a comprehensive rating system assessing the sustainability of buildings constructed in Australia. For more information, visit gbca.org.au/green-star/green-star-overview/.