When the team at Architekton was selected to design the new Church of Latter-day Saints in Gilbert, Ariz., they wanted to create a structure that would stand out, with a soaring façade, detailed patterns, and arched window openings to support crafted art glass. They knew the intricate design would be challenging to achieve, particularly on a fast-track schedule and limited budget, which is why they chose precast concrete.
“You can do anything with precast,” says Dane Astle, senior associate architect with Architekton. “We had very minor limitations in the level of detail we could achieve, which allowed us to create a very ornate building.”
The design of the church features nearly 1000 precast concrete panels made with 73 forms. The sizes range from a single square foot to 262 ft², with the heaviest piece weighing more than 25,000 lb. The Architekton team, which was led by principal Greg Lambright, used three-dimensional (3-D) modeling to design the intricate patterns into each panel. “The ability to view the drawings in 3-D was beneficial on this complex project,” Lambright says. The precaster used the 3-D drawings to cast full-scale master molds and custom formliners.
“Special attention was also paid to the mix design and finishes,” Lambright says. The owner wanted the temple to look and feel like natural stone, which they achieved by choosing a light buff color with a medium sandblast and including a white aggregate in the mixture that sparkles when the sun hits it.
The designers met weekly with the contractor and the precaster’s engineering department to ensure the panels could be replicated in the forms, and to determine the best size and shape of each panel. “We spent an incredible amount of time with Gate discussing how to break the panels into management pieces, and how they would be attached once they were at the site,” Astle says. This was critical, as the project site was more than 1000 miles away from the plant, so everything had to be done right the first time.
The long distance also added shipping challenges, as the precaster had to ensure the ornate precast concrete panels were protected during the long haul. “It was very complicated, and we were always nervous until they actually arrived on site,” Astle says. Thanks to precise calculations on weight distribution, all of the panels arrived safely with only minor damage to a few, despite the very long journey.
The project was completed in January 2014, and the owners love the way it looks like intricately carved stone, Astle says. “We gave them the look and feel that they wanted without having to go through the difficulty and expense of using stone.”
Astle notes that not enough architects are aware of the versatility and cost-effectiveness of precast concrete. “You can achieve so many aesthetics with precast that are similar to other materials, but at a much lower cost,” he says. “Architects should spend more time understanding how this material can be used.”