When the leaders of St. George Catholic Church in Baton Rouge decided to build a new church, they envisioned an elegant yet simple design that would be a welcoming center for parishioners in the community.
With that vision in mind, the architects created a structure that features a collage of transcendental Christian motifs, veiled within the fabric of historic gothic architecture. “The design intent for the church was for it to look and feel as though it was built hundreds of years ago, representative of the history of the community it serves,” says David Hebert, principal and architect for Grace Hebert Curtis Architects.
The efficient and creative use of precast concrete played a vital role in achieving that aesthetic.
Hebert’s team engaged the precast concrete producer early in the design phase to explore the best techniques and paneling options to achieve the desired look. The precast concrete producer worked in a design-assist role and then as supplier of the architectural precast concrete after the project was awarded to the contractor.
“Gate Precast's design assistance was critical to achieving the owner's lofty design goals: an aged limestone and brick motif and the inclusion of several gothic-style archways,” Hebert says.
The architect and precast concrete producer both used Revit software, which enabled them to easily sync their work and conduct coordination checks in real time and was key to addressing many of the complex challenges on the project. "It was the perfect way for us to get everyone on the same page,” Hebert says.
To achieve the stone aesthetic, the precast concrete producer used a proprietary casting method that resulted in different shades in the façade as well as randomness within the panels. The inlaid brick pattern was achieved by placing old fired bricks from overseas into liners with various joint thicknesses to appear as though they were hand-laid. The brick veneer precast concrete panels along the base perimeter of the building serve not only as an aesthetic cladding, but also as the lateral stability of the structure.
The church also features gothic precast concrete archways to add a transitional look, though these elements required careful design consideration. Each of the arches, which have varying supporting structure ranging from steel to glue-laminated lumber, required examination of the various load paths and connection schemes required to resolve dead loads and address the lateral forces due to wind. In response, the precast concrete producer created panels that would resolve forces from both the structural diaphragm and, in selected cases, the forces from the precast concrete arches.
Precast concrete banding, projections, and brick sections had to be aligned from panel to panel, which required an extensive amount of coordination between the precast concrete producer’s detailers, carpenters, and production teams. Templates were often used during the mold-building process and after the panels had been cast to verify alignment.
Some of the more extravagant bell tower column panels with “wings” required multiple pours over two to three days. Arched brick-inlay entrance panels at the bell tower had to be perfectly cast to ensure they matched the brick arched panels back to back to provide a seamless transition.
Through close collaboration, the teams were able to reduce panel joints to ½ in. at most areas at the front of the church to further achieve the look of stone and eliminate large caulk joints. They also made a decision late in the design process to switch all of the precast concrete to load-bearing panels that could support the curved roof structure, Hebert notes. “This change resulted in a net savings of $350,000 by eliminating perimeter columns and all of the curved steel beams.”
In the end, both the architect and owner were pleased. "The experience was fantastic," Hebert says. "The panels went up almost flawlessly."