The Cortex Innovation Community is home to a vibrant 200-acre innovation hub and technology district in the historic Central West End of St. Louis, Mo. When the owners decided to build an additional mixed-use structure that could act as a gateway to the hub, they turned to CannonDesign in St. Louis to create a building that would measure up to the nationally ranked universities and medical centers in the surrounding neighborhood, while achieving pedestrian scale to invigorate a walkable community. “CannonDesign had a very specific idea of what they were looking to achieve aesthetically very early on in this process,” says Dirk McClure regional director of business development for Enterprise Precast in Overland, Kans.
However, they faced challenges in how to construct the building in the busy urban environment. The project site was flanked on three sides by heavily trafficked streets, says Craig Norman, vice president at CannonDesign. The construction schedule was also aggressive, set to meet tenant move-in date commitments, which put added emphasis on enclosing the building quickly. “Precast was selected as an enclosure material as it could be fabricated remotely under quality conditions and installed quickly to expedite construction, while minimizing impact to surrounding site and roadways,” Norman says.
The architect’s design consists of two stacked box forms, with the upper projecting out beyond the lower. The first floor uses charcoal-colored precast concrete with a horizontally striated formliner, while the upper volume is clad in white acid-etched precast concrete panels that contrast with the dark precast concrete and glass base. The upper floor features window openings that are varied in size and staggered. “This reinforces the idea of motion and resembles large-scale cast stonework between openings,” says Andrew Gilles, former senior associate with CannonDesign, now at Mackey Mitchell Architects.
One notable aspect of this project was that the linear formliner pattern, which ran vertically, was turned 90 degrees so that the fine, textured lines ran horizontally, McClure says. “This occurs at eye level on the first floor, so great care was taken in making the pattern line up perfectly from panel to panel.”
The use of curtainwall glazing on the north and south elevations and the first level volume frames impressive views, but more importantly acts as billboards to showcase the creative activities taking place within and enliven a once-vacant streetscape.
Along with providing a visually appealing structure, the precast concrete design also offers a low-maintenance, cost-efficient solution. “Panels are integrally colored to avoid long-term repainting costs, and double sealant joints and polyurethane foam insulation create a highly energy-efficient envelope,” Gordon says. Fly ash was also cast into the concrete mixture to help meet sustainability goals.
The precast concrete façade complements buildings of similar scale and material located within the district, which was a key goal of the owner, adds James Gordon, senior vice president at CannonDesign. “As the architect, what I love most about this project is seeing how it brought the district to life and created a real sense of community.”