The facade of the new Science Classroom Complex at Florida International University features stacks of precast concrete tilting window openings that climb up the side of the building like a giant glistening white game of Tetris. The unique windows provide practical cooling solutions for the building with an elegant design that draws the attention of passersby.
Before choosing the unique facade design, the university did a thorough sun study to determine how they could best shade the structure—and the important research conducted within—based on the azimuth of the sun traveling across the elevation. Precast concrete was the only enclosure option that offered the design flexibility to yield so many different shade patterns. This was achieved through the integration of protruding sunshade boxes around the window openings that have angles varying from 0 to 15 degrees horizontally and pitched down as well. Architects developed the design using building information modeling (BIM) software, and the precast concrete producer used that model to produce the panels.
The major production challenge was how to construct a window blockout with such an extreme negative draft that could be disassembled and removed for stripping and then reused. Several mock-up openings were built and tested, including a computer numerical control (CNC)–machined high-strength foam blockout, a multiple piece fiberglass box, and a multiple piece wood blockout. Foam proved to be too difficult to hold in place and created a lot of waste, and the fiberglass mold proved to be inflexible and difficult to remove for stripping without damaging. Ultimately, the wood mold was determined to be the best option.
Each wood box was constructed from as many as 12 separate pieces that were numbered and color-coded by degree of angle for ease in reassembling after disassembly for stripping. For the final structure, seven different types of windows were produced with varying angles, including panels, which had multiple degree openings. A total of 148 panels and over 1,000 openings were cast.