|Designers of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at University of Missouri–Kansas City wanted to create a contemporary structure that could also blend in with the university’s historic masonry vernacular. To do that, they chose a terra-cotta facade that delivered a dappled exterior, which mimics the earth tones of nearby architecture with a new material.
It is a modern take on a traditional color palette, but it was the unexpected use of CarbonCast high-performance insulated wall panels, placed behind the terra-cotta tiles, that makes this building facade truly innovative.
“The building is the first of its kind in the United States. In the past, terra-cotta had been clad into smaller, noninsulated, but not yet on large-scale 12 ft wide [3.7 m] fully insulated panels,” says Dirk McClure, regional director of business development at Enterprise Precast Concrete. Through an innovative collaboration among all of the teams involved in the project, they were able to combine the cost and time efficiencies and thermal attributes of precast concrete insulated panels with the beauty and elegance of terra-cotta tiles.
The solution gave the team a way to balance the aesthetic vision with a high-performance design that fit the budget and could be built on an incredibly tight schedule, says Greg Sheldon, associate principal at BNIM Architects. “Using a precast concrete wall system was the ideal way to address all of these issues.”
Precast concrete wasn’t his team’s first choice. The cladding was originally envisioned as a conventional rain screen system with a steel frame and an air barrier. Early in the design phase, a comprehensive cost analysis by the general contractor concluded that a traditional rain screen would cost considerably more than terra-cotta-clad insulated precast concrete sandwich panels. “The precast system delivered a similar appearance while yielding notable cost savings,” Sheldon says.
It also supported BNIM’s philosophy of creating designs that deliver the greatest cost and energy efficiencies over the life of the structure. A CarbonCast C-grid system was employed to connect the concrete wythes with minimal thermal transfer, and with precast concrete panels, the insulation was continuous from edge to edge and top to bottom. These features met strict ASHRAE requirements and helped the building achieve LEED gold certification, Sheldon says.
To ensure the terra-cotta panel design would work, Enterprise’s team did extensive research on everything from the amount of precast concrete bowing that could be tolerated before the terra-cotta tiles cracked to determining the optimum thickness of the tile to confirming adequate freeze-thaw resistance. “To the credit of the terra-cotta company, when the available data was deemed to be incomplete or insufficient, the tile company did additional testing, giving the full team that comfort level to move forward,” McClure says.
Full precast concrete mock-up panels were designed and fabricated. Then once the design was confirmed, the panels were fabricated at the precast concrete plant with a five-color, random-blend terra-cotta tile pattern. The panels were completed in three months, and the entire building envelope was erected in just 12 weeks.
The resulting facade looks and performs as expected, Sheldon says. “The precast concrete wall system supplied an outstanding rain barrier without the intricate fabrication of a rain screen system.”