The leaders of Highland Park High School outside of Chicago, Ill., knew they needed to replace the aging gymnasium and pool building, but the school had a limited budget and tight schedule to get the job done. The designers considered multiple design options for the exterior enclosure and load-bearing structure, including load-bearing masonry and structural steel, but they chose precast concrete after extensive cost-benefit and schedule analyses.
“The need for an integrated structural and architectural system that was quick to erect and sensitive to the existing buildings and surrounding area led us to precast concrete,” says Michael Dolter, senior project architect for Perkins+Will. “It simplified the construction process, allowing construction to meet the delivery goals and the project budget.”
Sun and shadow
The original 1914 gymnasiums and the existing pool were demolished, with the new structures built toward the back of the existing lot, adjacent to other physical education facilities. “Using precast concrete, we created a direct connection with other buildings on campus, both through formal design and material choice,” Dolter says. The resulting design helps “a disparate campus to knit together in a more cohesive manner,” he adds
The project was erected in two phases, with the gymnasium and pool separately erected and opened for operation. Both buildings were erected over the winter in a matter of weeks, ensuring minimal disruption for the operating campus. “The speed of construction and the ability to simplify the construction process were important,” Dolter explains.
To ensure that the building designs fit within the campus and neighborhood, the designers created a sculptural facade that engages light and shadow through simple manipulation of the surfaces. To add depth to the relatively flat panels, a variety of textures were used, including ribbing and faceting that lend drama to the appearance of the walls. The subtle, 3-in. faceting causes shifts in light and shadow throughout the day, an attractive effect that required minimal investment. “The detailing and finish of the precast concrete helped lower the scale of the building and added detail to what might otherwise have been an ordinary shell,” Dolter says.
He notes that the owner and the community were adamant that the project meet budget and schedule goals—and precast concrete made it happen. “The design and construction team were able to use precast concrete and other construction methods to turn around a large-scale construction project ahead of time and under budget.”