The Many Faces of Precast

By Sue McCraven


Dreamscape: Louisiana State
Museum & Hall of Fame,

Architect: Trahan
Precaster: Advanced Architectural Stone
Engineer: LBYD
Completed: 2013
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 overlooking 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.

A slanted view: Bella Sky Hotel,
Copenhagen, Denmark

Architect: 3XN3XN-007-L1001813Engineer: Rambøll
Consulting Engineers (M&E): EKJ
Contractor: NCC
Precaster: Contiga Tinglev
Size: 452,000 sq ft, 23 floors
Completed: 2011

Scandinavia’s largest hotel, Bella Sky, adds modern elegance to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city, and 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, project architects. “Bella Sky is designed specifically to reflect the identity of Ørestad.”

3XN designed Bella Sky’s two towers to twist apart (the south tower twists at the top, while the north tower twists at the bottom), a daring architectural approach. “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!” said Nielsen. “It gives the illusion of floating above the view itself.”

In addition, one tower twists outward by 19.2 degrees, making the 250-ft structure appear to contort in the wind. Located near the Copenhagen Airport, the hotel could not be designed as one tall tower due to flight safety regulations. Aluminum and glass façade panels cover the precast concrete building, which includes hollow-core slabs, beams and internal columns.i

“Abroad, a building such as Bella Hotel would normally be built using in-situ concrete or steel,” said Kaare K.B. 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 (DPCA) is proud of the Bella Sky Hotel. “Bella Sky is not only an icon for precast,” said Poul Erik Hjorth, director of DPCA. “It also has moved the limits for precast. 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.

07_058_Bella_Sky_030_H_REVISED 07_058_Bella_Sky_027_H_REVISED



Linking history: Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, Texas

Contractor: Byrne Construction Services
Architect: ARCHITEXAS Inc.Grapevine
Precaster: Advanced Architectural Stone
Mason Contractor: Clay Hunt / J & E Masonry
Completion: 2012

The City of 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 visitor’s bureau has preserved the old railroad hotel façade architecture in its new building.

According to Advanced Architectural Stone (AAS), 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 tablesii all were formed using a grapevine motif that is similar to the original wooden façades.

With its detailing work, AAS’s achievement of exceptional architectural intricacy for the building won many industry accolades and more including the 2012 Architectural Precast Association Award of Excellence – Design & Manufacturing & Craftsmanship, and the Construction Specifications Institute Award for Manufacturing & Design Excellence.


Hitting Home: Garner Veterans Memorial,
North Carolina

Architecture: Clearscapes
Artist: Thomas Sayre
Precaster: Lucas Concrete Products Inc.
Completed: 2013

More boys and young men from North Carolina fought and died in the American Civil War than from 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 design 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 Caroline. 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 utilizing 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 with the names of the fallen from Garner.

Caribbean flavor: Port Ferdinand Luxury
Resort, Barbados, West Indies 

Precaster: Preconco LTDPort Ferdinand- insetGeneral Contractor: Jada Builders
Current Architect: Michael Gomes Architects
Completed: Phase I completed in 2013, Phase II currently under construction, 2014

Port Ferdinand Marina and Luxury Condominium Resort is an exclusive residential resort set on 16 acres of land 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 and a horseshoe-shaped marina.

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 core and shell. The “Cross Wall” construction method uses precision-engineered and factory precast concrete custom components for a more modern and effective building approach.

“After first getting our feet wet with the Port St. Charles Marina in Barbados (over 10 years ago) and again in St. Lucia with The Landings Resort & Residences, we were thrilled with the opportunity to be involved with the development of the Port Ferdinand Luxury Resort & Marina,” Mark Maloney, Preconco Limited CEO, said.

“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, Australia

Architect: Lyons Melbourne Campus
Builder: Watpak Construction
Engineer: Meinhardt
Precaster: Advanced Precast
Size: 118,000 sq ft
Completed: 2013

The design by Lyons, an architecture firm in Melbourne, Australia, for the new La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science in Victoria, Australia, is bursting the bonds of typical campus structure 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 Chapter

Architect: Lyons41X_Lyons Architects_Credit John Gollings - Exterior 5 (RGB)
Contractor: Hickory Group
Precaster: Euro Cast
Engineer: Winward Structures
Size: 307,000 sq ft, 22 floors
Completed: 2014

Developed by the Australian Institute of Architects, Institute 41X is a 22-level, Five Star Green Star strata-titled tower that sits on a small footprint of about 300 sq ft. 41X targets carbon neutrality over 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.”

1416_Interior_Core Collection_02

Intergalactic design: Proposed Guggenheim Hermitage Museum,
Vilnius, Lithuania

Architect: Zaha Hadid
Project Architects: Thomas Vietzke and Jens Borstelmann
Engineer: AKT
Size: 140,000 sq ft 

Zaha Hadid Architects used the latest digital and fabrication technology in its proposed design of the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. According to the architect, the structure “appears like a mystical floating object that seemingly defies gravity. Curvilinear lines echo the elongated contours of the building, offering an enigmatic presence that
contrasts with the vertical skyline of Vilnius’ business district.”

The interior design in particular is well suited for architectural precast concrete – a structural medium that possesses the fluidity required for seamless contoured designs. This futuristic architecture was chosen as the winner in a 2008 international design competition as judged by a panel that included the Guggenheim Hermitage director, Mikhail Piotrovsky and Guggenheim Foundation director, Thomas Krens. If built, the estimated cost of the structure is approximately $80 million.

Sue McCraven, freelance writer and NPCA technical consultant, is a construction engineer and environmental scientist.

Ready and Willing

By Mason Nichols

Reading Rock 2For some businesses, establishing a positive company culture can be a daunting task. While most owners recognize that promoting employee morale, fostering effective communication and efficiently meeting customer needs are all crucial to success, it can be difficult to implement a business plan that addresses these issues while simultaneously moving forward. But for Reading Rock Inc. (pronounced “Redding”), a precast concrete producer based in Cincinnati, a simple phrase serves as the foundation for a continuous dedication to excellence and progression: “Yes, we can!”

Read More »

Casting Call

By Kirk Stelsel

Schrott Center Exterior PrecastSince 1855, Butler University existed in relative obscurity as a small liberal arts school in Indianapolis. That all changed after its basketball team made recent back-to-back runs to the national championship game and put Butler on the national radar.

Despite the elevated profile, though, Butler remains rooted in its liberal arts background, and no liberal arts campus is complete without a home for the performing arts. The newly completed Howard L. Schrott Center for Arts is the pièce de résistance of Butler’s performing arts complex. And although it made ample use of many materials to achieve the right looks and acoustics, precast concrete took the leading role.

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How to Enhance Mechanical Connections

Choosing the right connection for your project hinges on many factors – from function and ease of production to constructability and surface aesthetics.

By Evan Gurley

The Baha’i Temple in Wilmette, Ill., took over three decades to build and was the first architectural precast structure built in the U.S.  The specified stainless steel connections were costly, but have proven their worth over time by protecting the temple’s magnificent surface aesthetics, as seen in this dramatic nighttime photo.  Photo courtesy Chris Smith Photography ( behavior of connections used in precast concrete products greatly influences the structural integrity of the entire structure. Whether analyzing large precast concrete wall and floor panel junctions or the load transfer mechanisms used in precast concrete pavement slabs, the design and construction of the joints and connections are crucial components that ensure the stability and robustness of the structure. The overall integrity of the precast concrete structure can be substantially enhanced by minor changes in the amount, location and detailing of connections and connection hardware.

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Perot Museum of Nature and Science: A Work of Art and Sustainability

By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP

Perot Museum of Art and Science. Photo courtesy of Gate Precast ( the sustainable building movement continues to evolve, so have its architectural design possibilities. Incredible edifices are being constructed all over the world that are environmentally conscious and resource-efficient throughout their life cycles. A shining example of this trend can be found in Victory Park near downtown Dallas. The large, striated cube made of precast concrete and glass that seems to float in mid air houses the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and it is a breathtaking sight to see.

Opened in December 2012, a month ahead of schedule, this $185-million project was designed by Thom Mayne, a Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate. The tower, the largest part of the museum, is made up of 70,000 sq ft of precast panels; a plinth section consisting of 220 panels, or 27,000 sq ft of curved panels; and the atrium inside the tower containing 100 panels.

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Breaking the Mold: Explorations Shaping Architectural Precast

Recent innovations in energy efficiencies and assembly techniques for precast concrete building envelopes open the door to unimagined architectural and sustainable designs.

By Matt Roper, M.Arch., LEED AP BD+C

Full-scale thin-shell wall panel made by spraying fiber-reinforced concrete on a hanging geotextile sheet at the Lafarge precast factory, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo courtesy of CAST, University of Manitoba

The influence of concrete on the modern world cannot be understated. It has formed, shaped and progressed our built environment. Its solidity, strength and durability have advanced its prevalence in the building sector.

Precast concrete in particular has advanced modern civil, structural and architectural design. It has been used in some of the world’s most iconic structures, borne of advancements and refinements in material properties and assembly techniques.

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It’s A Wash

How precast concrete buildings can clean themselves and our air.

By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP

No kidding. Self-cleaning buildings are a reality. Better yet, architectural precast concrete with new material technology can remove pollutants from the air while actually rinsing itself clean in the rain. Self-cleaning buildings may sound like a futuristic concept, but they do exist today, providing aesthetic, environmental and no-cost maintenance service.

BuildingCase in point: Jubilee Church in Rome, Italy

Like white sails in the wind, three large, curved walls of precast concrete adorn the south side of the Jubilee Church in Rome. One of the primary purposes of these walls is to minimize thermal peak loads inside. The large thermal mass of the concrete walls controls internal heat gain; the result is less inside temperature variation and a more efficient use of energy.

As an added benefit to the owners, these “billowing” precast concrete walls contain titanium dioxide (TiO2) to keep the appearance of the church clean, white and beautiful. The TiO2 incorporated in the concrete absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun and becomes powerfully reactive, breaking down pollutants that come in contact with the concrete surface. There you have it: a self-cleaning building!

New formulations of cement, introduced in Europe in the ’90s, can neutralize pollution. These altered cements are used in the same way as portland cement, and therefore any precast concrete structure can potentially function as a pollution fighter. But how does it work? Read More »

Spheres of Influence

A new hollow-core slab technology makes use of recycled plastic spheres to offer innovative design solutions for an open floor plan at a California college.

By Deborah R. Huso

Untitled-7When officials at Harvey Mudd College decided to build a new teaching and learning center, they wanted to update its 1950s look. The college leaders envisioned a sustainable structure with naturally lit open spaces that would preserve the predominant concrete architecture of the campus. The challenge was to create large open spaces in classrooms and lecture halls without the interruption of columns and beams. The project’s design-build team found the solution in BubbleDeck, a new hollow-core slab technology that allows for extensive spans of floor and ceiling without typical column supports.

Although it was the first in California and one of the first in the United States to make use of BubbleDeck technology, the product has been used successfully in Europe, Canada and Australia. The college selected the BubbleDeck technology mainly because it helped meet the school’s goals for open floor plans and sustainability with a reduced construction timeline. In addition, the BubbleDeck system offered easier construction within the tight parameters of the job site. (For a description of the technology, see the sidebar “What Is Bubbledeck?” Read More »

Liquid Walls

Computer to Construction: Technique enables mass production of custom concrete building components from digital designs.

Story by Rick Robinson, photos by Gary Meek

Untitled-4Like other professionals, architects have used computer-aided design (CAD) software in their work for decades. Typically, the resulting digital files are converted to hard-copy plans, which are then used to support traditional construction practices.

Researchers in the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology are now automating some of the processes by which computer-based designs are turned into real-world entities. They’re developing techniques that fabricate building elements directly from digital designs, allowing custom concrete components to be manufactured rapidly and at low cost.

“We’re developing the research and the protocols to manufacture high-end customized architectural products economically, safely and with environmental responsibility,” said Tristan Al-Haddad, an assistant professor in the College of Architecture who is a leader in this effort. “We think this work offers opportunities for architectural creativity at a new level and with tremendously increased efficiency.” Read More »

Meet a Precaster-StructureCast

Jul 16, 2012
One Comment

This month we are pleased to feature StructureCast as part of our Meet a Precaster blog series. The following answers have been provided by Brent Dezember, StructureCast President and NPCA Secretary/Treasurer.

Don’t forget to check out all of our Meet a Precaster blog posts and if you’re an NPCA producer member and would like to be featured in a future Meet a Precaster post, please send an email to NPCA’s assistant director of communication, Kirk Stelsel.

StructureCast Precast Concrete Logo

Q: Where are you located?
A: 8261 McCutchen Road, Bakersfield, California, 93311.  We are two hours north of Los Angeles in the beautiful Central Valley of California.

Q: How long have you been in business?
A: We have been StructureCast since January 1997. Prior to that time, we were Bakersfield Precast, founded in 1970.

Q: How long have you been a member of NPCA?
StructureCast Precast Concrete Panels and SignA: We have been a member of NPCA since 1990.

Q: Why did you join NPCA and what are the best benefits?
A: We joined NPCA to Read More »