Designers of the Kinder Monte Sina
í School in Mexico City wanted a whimsical structure with playful features and bright colors that would complement the preschool classes inside, but in designing the building, they knew space would be a constraint.
The new preschool was an expansion of an existing elementary, middle, and high school, and construction would take place on top of the existing parking lot.
"The area where the preschool was being built was secluded from the rest of the buildings, but there was limited area for storage at the job site," says Alex Fastag of Pretecsa, the precaster for the project.
The design features a playground, main courtyard, library, and 18 classrooms that rise 36 ft (11 m) above the parking lot. Twelve of the classrooms are covered in whitewashed precast concrete panels with drippers, perfectly round windows cut at different heights. "That couldn't be achieved with traditional building systems," Fastag says. The panels help maintain cooler indoor temperatures on the south-facing structure.
The precasters had to take special care to achieve and maintain the smooth surface required by the designer. "This required extreme caution in forming, panel movement, transportation, and installation, with specially designed carts to roll the panels into the building without damage," Fastag says.
The other six classrooms are made of colored laminated glass. "The classrooms are placed perpendicular along the main axis, alluding to the concept of stacked toy blocks," says Benjamin Romano, an architect with LBR&A.
The lightness of the glass-reinforced precast concrete panels aided in achieving the stacked cubes appeal, reducing the facade weight by about one-third compared with competing materials. This reduced the structure requirements and allowed for more open spaces with fewer supporting columns.
The use of precast concrete also reduced the disruptive effect of construction on the other schools, which were in session throughout the project. "Construction hours and material deliveries had to be carefully balanced against school hours to interfere as little as possible with daily class activities," Fastag says. Using glass-fiber-reinforced precast concrete panels helped the team overcome these challenges. Through precise logistics and coordination with the general contractor, the team was able to deliver and install the panels in the required sequence, taking them almost directly from the truck to their final position. "The workers and material movements required at the job site were minimal, and construction of the new building did not affect the rest of the students taking classes next door."