Designers of the new, advanced care, full-service cancer center and hospital in Eau Claire, Wisc., wanted to create a facility that didn’t just meet patients’ medical needs. They wanted the structure to become an architectural centerpiece for the community. The 213,000 ft² center is a “micro tertiary hospital,” which means it provides specialty healthcare, including cardiovascular surgery, women’s and infant care, and inpatient and outpatient cancer care, in a small space.
Perched on a bend in the West Fork Chippewa River, the designers envisioned a facade inspired by nature that could give the monolithic structure a modern look, says Tom Kelley, president of Gage Brothers Concrete Products. “They wanted a geometry that matched the winding river and rolling hills.”
The architect decided early in the project design that precast concrete was the best building material to achieve this goal because it could deliver the artistic expression in a durable, cost-effective, and high-performance package.
To mimic the river’s flow, Gage came up with a panel design that features a horizontal ribbon rippling gently across the facade. Each panel is made up of a series of undulating planes cast in varying forms to achieve the natural effect.
“The trick was creating a random appearance while still controlling costs,” Kelley says. Rather than creating dozens of unique forms, his team crafted a master mold, which they then tweaked to generate the appearance of randomness. By flipping some molds and thoughtfully arranging panels of varying lengths, they created the desired random aesthetic with a limited number of molds. The forms were slightly modified to achieve the various bays sizes, and they were used for production of both the cancer center structure and the hospital. “We pulled it off with only a couple more molds than originally planned,” Kelley says.
The architect and precast concrete producer worked closely throughout the casting process to review variances in band widths and heights. This ensured a seamless transition between joints and corner conditions, and guaranteed anchoring points for vertical aluminum fins were carefully located on the exterior of building. All panels were cast using an off-white mix with a light-to-medium etch finish.
Standardizing the precast concrete panel sizes and structural connections helped ensure ease of field erection. This was critical because speed of construction was a primary project driver for this client, which wanted the entire facility to be operational in just 14 months, Kelley says. “Choosing an exterior precast concrete design was an important component to the success of the enclosing the building on time while maintaining the desired building design.”
The project met the client’s schedule, budget, and aesthetic goals. The undulating ribbon in the clean white facade casts deep shadows that are similar in shape and plane to the ground roll across the hills and winding river, Kelley says. “It’s a complex design that looks simple and elegant, and we are all tickled with the final product.”