Nordstrom, the iconic American retail brand, has been building retail stores for decades. Its newest building in The Woodlands, Texas, represents a completely evolved approach to structure design, says Michael Lee principal of Callison, the architect for the project. The owner wanted the facade of its latest addition to convey a sense of lightness, warmth and elegance, using multiple shades and detailing—all within a relatively tight budget. “One of the biggest challenges in designing this building, was finding a cost-effective material that could truly express the detail and articulation of the new Nordstrom facade design,” Lee says.
Precast concrete was the solution. “Precast was a natural choice,” Lee says. “The wide variety of textures and finishes allowed the design team the freedom to develop a complex design pattern weaving several finishes within individual panels.”
The facade was developed through design-assisted collaboration between the architect and the precast concrete producer, Gate Precast Co. The projecting feature design incorporates horizontal bands with four finishes: polished, burnished, acid-etched, and sandblasted. The strategically placed finishes were designed to break down the building mass and to create an inviting scale for the customer.
Initially, Lee’s team wanted a super-white base color, but the first panels were so intensely white that it was difficult to distinguish the different finishes. Gate solved the problem by using a special mixture proportioning that features limestone with a small amount of sand to provide a sparkle effect, which caused the various shades to stand out. Lee says. “The burnished, honed, acid-etched, and polished portions of the panels each reflect light differently when seen from different angles, thus taking on a light and airy quality throughout the day.”
At the entry of the store are 1 in. (25 mm) thick reveals that feature a ribbed pattern that provides color contrast and dimension. Polished outer projections add further character, simulating natural stones.
To take full advantage of the high-performance aspects of precast concrete, the designer chose oversized panels with continuous insulation, which reduced the number of panel joints. This resulted in a seamless facade design, that was quick to erect and provided excellent R-values helping the overall energy efficiency of the building, Lee says. “It also allowed the building enclosure to be completed very quickly which in turn enabled to contractor to meet the overall construction schedule.”
The final design was such a success that it has become the design of choice for Nordstrom’s new stores. “Only through great partnership were we able to create unique mixes, finishes, and designs that surpassed all preconceived notions of concrete and supported the store brand elements,” Lee says. “The combination of horizontal reveals, layers of multiple finishes, and the building’s proportions formed a natural warmth from a modern mass. Artistry truly blended with execution.”