If a picture is worth a thousand words, then photo-engraved precast concrete speaks volumes.
By Greg Snapper
Before the Irvine family owned the Irvine Ranch region in Orange County, the Gabrielino Indians, Spain and Mexico each ruled what is now one of the largest properties remaining from California’s Rancho Era. The city of Irvine, Calif., was looking for a high-visibility way to illustrate the Irvine Ranch’s proud past, and with a new multi-use public trail in Irvine, the city chose a unique picture storyboard to chronicle the rich history of the Irvine family and others who influenced the region’s development.
What is unique about this particular storyboard is that the photos are engraved on precast concrete.
Photo-engraved precast concrete seat backs designed with monotone historic photos line a 40-foot-long semicircular seat wall on the Jeffrey Open Space Trail (JOST) in Irvine. The wall is composed of concrete masonry units faced with stone veneer, and fitted with precast concrete radius seats, and topped off with stone caps.
“The key was to get all the components working together,” says Scott Jones of ValleyCrest Landscape Development, general contractor. “That was the challenge.”
After building the wall components, the panels were installed on pins affixed to the seat wall. The photo-engraved panels were attached using threaded stainless steel pins.
“I thought it was a unique product and added to the project’s theme by depicting some of the City of Irvine’s history,” Jones says. This precast timeline is a pride and joy for Robert Beverly, photo-engraved precast concrete designer and owner of Intaglio Composites in Arlington, Texas.
“Imagine any image, be it a line drawing, photo, signature or a child’s drawing,” Beverly says. These precast panels turned imagination into reality for the City of Irvine. The panels tell the story of the Irvine Ranch, illustrate the chain of events and bring to life the founders through aggregate sketching, an intricate mechanical and chemical method in which the image is created from the exposure of aggregate at the surface level where the image lies. “The size of the aggregate used is determined by the image size,” he says. “There is no boundary to what can be replicated when applying our process in a flat surface.”
Contrast, clarity and quality dictate the outcome of any work
“The quality of the final photo-engraved composite image is directly dependent upon the quality of the original image,” Beverly says. The imagery selected is the most important aspect of this process. Intaglio Composites uses digital technology to enhance its design process and to perform unique tasks in digital transformation of the imagery submitted. But time is of the essence when considering the quality of the end result. Time saved by providing high-resolution images with clear contrast and clarity greatly enhances the outcome of the final product.
Careful image selection for a project like the JOST seat wall was necessary to achieve a high-quality end product. Proposed images were carefully reviewed and designers and landscape architects took into account the contrast between the focal subject matter and the backdrop because both dictate the quality of the end product.
There are currently two ways to obtain color in the final precast photo-engraved image. The preferred method is to add colored aggregate. The colors that provide the best results are black,
brown, green and red, according to Beverly. An alternative method is to apply a broad spectrum of currently available dye directly into the cement paste, which creates the tint.
The contrast between both the aggregate and the cement tint will deliver the best monotone image. Black aggregate with a white-tinted cement paste achieves the greatest contrast, while a brown tint mixed with brown aggregate would produce a low contrast final product. Once the background image is set using aggregate and tinted cement, the final product can be highlighted with colors, acids or stains, which are applied to the surface.
Testing remains underway to introduce multiple aggregate and cement coloring to the image area. This development would allow a variety of new possibilities for full color photographic imaging for photo-engraved products.
While Intaglio Composites owns the process that creates photo-engraved precast, manufacturers can purchase limited licensing to create their own photo-engraved products.
“The applications that are being presented are so diverse that the specifications are continually being redefined,” Beverly says. “While there is no limitation in thickness or size of the reproduced work, general rules of thumb determine how the work is created. We use traditional forms of reinforcing the concrete to create the panels, but the final application of the design dictates how large the panel sizes and appropriate thickness will be.”
The second of many to come
The seat wall is located just off the new three-mile-long multi-use JOST trail. Bisected by open meadows and surrounded by dense woods and rolling foothills, the expansive trail and seat wall opened to the public in July, according to Jim Maloney, architectural landscaper with SWA in Laguna Beach, Calif.
“The idea for the park is a rolling topography,” Maloney says. “The trail extends from the Irvine foothills to Newport Beach, passing through a series of meadows on its several-mile-long stretch.” SWA developed the precast timeline with the City of Irvine and Persimmon Design, a design firm in San Diego. “We established which images would appear on the seat wall panels and worked back and forth with the city as to which told the Irvine story best,” Maloney says.
“And the city couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” says Patricia Fierro, City of Irvine community services superintendent. Now when JOST users pass by the seat wall, they can take a breather and soak in the rich history of the Irvine Ranch – and perhaps leave with a deeper appreciation of Irvine’s past.
“The City is extremely pleased with this first segment of the JOST. It has exceeded all of our expectations,” Fierro says. “I would definitely use the photo-engraved concrete in the future, maybe on the other segments or another project.”
The seat wall was the second project to specify photo-engraved precast panels by Intaglio Composites, but Beverly says proposed design concepts are in the works for an infinite palette of new opportunities. “Since the unveiling of this technology in 2003, every day holds a new and exciting possibility.”
Project Name: Jeffrey Open Space Trail seat wall, Irvine, Calif.
Owner: City of Irvine, Calif.
Landscape Architects: SWA, Laguna Beach, Calif.
Contractor: ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Calabasass, Calif.
Precast Manufacturer: Intaglio Composites, Arlington, Texas