By Mason Nichols
From drones to augmented reality and beyond, advancements in technology allow professionals in the architecture, engineering and construction fields to tackle projects with enhanced efficiency and offer exciting new ways to approach their work. Such is the case for global cruise company Royal Caribbean.
Technology is at the heart of the company’s new “Innovation Lab,” a LEED Silver certified facility that will be an extension of Royal Caribbean’s headquarters in Miami, Fla. The space will house a massive virtual reality simulator inside where employees can collaborate on ship designs. As workers walk into the space, they can view and test full-scale mockups of cruise ship features, including staterooms, suites and more.
Because the facility will be packed with impressive technology, building it with an equally impressive building material was a must. The logical choice for all parties involved was precast concrete.
If you design-build it …
In early 2016, Royal Caribbean partnered with Turner Construction to begin initial work on the Innovation Lab. Officials with the cruise company wanted the facility operational by January 2017, which meant the team had less than a year to progress from design to finalized construction. The team agreed that a design-build approach would offer the most realistic chance at meeting the project deadline, as it would allow all parties involved to stay closely connected throughout the process.
With little time to spare, Turner Construction needed an architect that it could rely on to move quickly. The company turned to LEO A DALY, a firm it had partnered with in the past. According to Rafael Sixto, AIA, LEED AP, managing principal with LEO A DALY, the short project timeline – coupled with the difficulty of obtaining building permits in south Florida – meant only one building material made sense for the job.
“One of the things that led us to select precast concrete was the speed of erection,” he said. “The site was also very tight, so there was no place to stage the panels. It was all scheduled in a quick, sequential manner so that as trucks arrived with the precast panels, they were erected.”
Brett Leven, project executive with Turner Construction, agreed, explaining that the design-build approach – when combined with the use of precast – played a major role in moving things along.
“We were designing the entire project together, which allowed us to speed things up,” he said. “While we were going through the permit process, we already had drawings for the precast and the steel, so we got those submitted early to have the product on site.”
A precast partner
Project precaster STABIL Concrete Products manufactured the 20-foot-tall architectural panels for the Innovation Lab. Each of the panels weighs anywhere from 10,000 to 27,000 pounds and contains a special white cement. The panels also feature a sandblasted exterior finish. Many of them are curvilinear, which creates a unique twist to the building that’s reminiscent of ocean waves.
STABIL was also involved in the design-build process, which ensured that all the precast designs supplied by LEO A DALY and the rest of the team were feasible. STABIL’s expertise offered particular value when it came to one component of the Innovation Lab, a “brow” piece that was designed to cantilever from the roof.
“With such mammoth pieces as these would be, the cantilever was too large to extend out that far,” said Del Hight, STABIL president. “So we designed the panels by making them hollow on the inside to reduce weight and then extending them back over the top of the roof to offset the cantilever.”
With the design-build approach, issues like this could be resolved quickly, allowing the work to proceed at a rapid pace. According to Sixto, without the close collaboration between parties, the project could have taken up to two years to complete.
STABIL manufactured a variety of other precast products for the Innovation Lab, including stairs and landings. Workers installed the project’s precast components in less than two weeks.
Sea the difference
Royal Caribbean’s original corporate headquarters facility was built with durable precast concrete, but lacked aesthetic appeal. As a result, the architects from LEO A DALY looked to develop a design for the Innovation Lab that would help add flavor to the original building. Royal Caribbean officials agreed and hope the structure will inspire the type of creativity they want workers to exhibit inside the Innovation Lab.
Ron Wiendl, AIA, director of design with LEO A DALY, explained that the solution was to add curvature to the design. The result is a building that differentiates itself from the existing architecture while still blending seamlessly with the original structure.
“From a designer’s standpoint, I wouldn’t have used anything but precast,” Wiendl said. “I love the consistency that you get out of it, especially when you start working with organic shapes. That’s where it really pays dividends.”
Wiendl added that because the project is located in a saltwater environment, precast panels were the ideal solution.
“At one time, there was talk about using metal panels,” he said. “Metal panels in a salty environment? We just didn’t feel really comfortable with that.
“Precast panels are so much nicer than metal panels could ever have been.”
Hight echoed Wiendl, focusing on precast’s durability.
“In this environment, the life cycle of precast makes it the premier product that they could have used,” he said. “A lot of the look could have been accomplished closely in some portions of the building by going with block or stucco, but the life cycle of those materials doesn’t compare with what precast will give them.”
The right approach
When construction windows are tight, developing an effective design approach and selecting optimal building materials are paramount to success. By working closely together, the Innovation Lab’s design-build team was able to meet the project’s tight timeline through the use of precast concrete products. As a result, Royal Caribbean employees will be able to collaborate closely in the design of major new cruise liners – using advanced technological systems – for years to come.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.