The Millwright Building in Minneapolis, Minn., harkens back to an architectural era when authentic brick structures defined cityscapes.
From the beginning, designers knew they wanted to create something that seemed like it had always been a part of the landscape, but the project had to be quick and cost-effective. They achieved that vision using precast concrete.
“The main challenge that first steered the project into using precast concrete was the construction schedule limitations,” says Ayman Arafa, director of architecture for Ryan Companies.
The initial concept was to build the envelope with hand-laid brickwork; however, schedule challenges made it more advantageous to use precast concrete with thin brick. That decision cut two months from the original construction schedule, which allowed early occupancy and additional income to help support the budget. Precast concrete also brought a flexibility to the design, which helped Arafa’s team create a structure that looks like it was built 100 years ago.
Still, the project wasn’t an easy one. “The brick not only needed to look hand-laid, it also needed to have that weathered look,” says Tom Kelley, CEO of Gage Brothers.
Chipped, tilted, and embedded
Kelley’s team provided three sample panels with several brick and brick-liner options to create the weathered, authentic warehouse vibe. “Having Gage involved early in the design phase greatly helped finalizing details early and further saved on schedule duration,” Arafa says.
His team ultimately chose a tumbled, rough-edged thin-brick facade that was detailed to hide control joints and to define precast concrete panel and window sizing. To achieve the weathered appearance, the precast concrete producer did not consolidate or fully fill all the brick joints, and intentionally left an occasional “slightly tipped” brick. “It gave them a more field laid look,” Kelley says.
Multiple options for mortar color, texture, and mix were considered to achieve the weathered aesthetic. The team also experimented with different liner options and levels of brick wash for the building facade. Varying the depth of the acid etched finish on the integrally cast precast concrete trim pieces completed the aged appearance.
All original cornices and moldings were detailed and incorporated within the precast concrete panels, with arched and steel-divided windows reinforcing the perception that the building was an old structure. The combination helped the building blend seamlessly with the historic Mill district, while providing all of the modern amenities of a conventional structure, Kelley says.
Arafa emphasizes the durability and high performance that precast concrete brought to this project. “Using concrete on the building skin has the added value of a thermal mass envelope and a durable and stable substrate,” he says.
The finished product exceeded the architect’s expectations. “Even though we thought there would be limitations in design when we considered thin brick on precast concrete, we were happy to find ways to add brick patterns and brick protrusions on the facade as we would on a traditional brick building,” Arafa says.
Kelley is equally pleased. “We met the entire team’s expectations and had fun doing it. That’s always a win. It is why we are in this business.”