Header image: © Richard Barnes
When Steven Holl Architects set out to design the The Glassell School of Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, there was a clear goal in mind – make the building as much a work of art as what is created inside of it. The result is a one-of-a-kind structure featuring 178 unique precast concrete panels wrapping around its precast concrete core.
In addition to the beauty of the exterior, precast played an extensive role in the overall structure and interior design. Due to a short construction schedule, precast was the right building material for the project since off-site casting of the school’s floors, roof and facade permitted each level of the building to be completed in about one week.
According to James Stini, vice president of operations at Gate Precast, Pearland, Texas, a combination of 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch and 16-inch precast concrete hollowcore plank systems are used for the second and third floors, as well as the roof. The longest spans, nearly 45 feet, are located in the exhibition hall and classrooms.
“This was actually our initial project casting 16-inch planks, so there was a learning curve involved with casting, cutting, shipping and erecting,” Stini said.
The finish of the planks was also critical as the architect and owner wanted a “raw, structural, yet clean concrete” appearance. This meant that overcuts, rough edges, blemishes, grind marks, patches, etc., were unacceptable. All pieces needed to come to the job site and be presented “like new,” Stini said.
For the school’s facade, Gate Precast used an architectural mix and a sandblast finish meant to seamlessly blend in with the existing Indiana limestone buildings. According to Todd Petty, vice president of operations at Gate Precast, Hillsboro, Texas, to increase the project’s complexity, each panel also had to be a true structural member cast 12 inches thick. Each panel was reinforced heavily with stirrups and couplers so each wall, as it was erected, was similar to a shear wall.
“None of the panels were erected actually touching each other as there was a pane of glass between the different shaped panels,” Petty said. “Once set, each panel also had to be braced until the general contractor formed and poured a ring beam on top of the precast panels. This was repeated throughout the three floors.”
“The project was very different than any project we have done in that it took elements of many different products and put them together into a single project,” Stini said.
The new facility is nearly double the size of the existing building that housed the school since 1979. It includes adult and junior art schools meant to not only serve nearly 7,000 students each year but inspire them as they create incredible art of their own.