The FLOOD project in Omaha, Neb., is a novel example of how precast concrete can be used to transform a community space. The developers took an empty, early-20th-century building and transformed it with an architectural and art installation using precast concrete to educate the community about design, art, architecture, and manufacturing.
Unlike permanent museum buildings, which can require massive budgets to build and maintain, this project used the existing urban infrastructure to create a temporary exhibition space. Then, the designers brought in innovative ultra-thin precast concrete panels to serves as the canvas for urban industrial art.
Precast concrete as art
Six ultra-thin, 12-ft-wide precast concrete panels were custom designed to meet the needs of this project. Each panels is just 1½ in. thick and weighs approximately 2000 pounds—which is roughly one-third lighter than traditional architectural precast concrete panels. However, the precaster was able to deliver comparable levels of strength, durability, and crack resistance through the use of a 5000-psi concrete mix and prestressed, corrosion-resistant stainless steel wire cables spaced 4 in. apart throughout the panel interiors.
A steel erector on a boom was used to load the main-level panels through a storefront window and into the upper level via a fire escape exit door. Once the panels were in the building, the design team established a ½-in.-thick steel plate frame around the border of each panel and applied black waterproofing by hand as the art to the canvas. After applying the waterproofing, the team dragged a 10-ft-wide steel plate along the top of the frame on each panel in one move, creating a unique finished texture for each panel.
When the waterproofing had cured, the erection team used simple rigging equipment to hoist the panels into position and supported them from 3/8-in.-diameter cable loops attached to steel beams between the existing cast-in-place concrete columns. The result is a remarkable and sublime installation that appears to float in air within the original, raw cast-in place concrete structure of this historic building.