Virtually any color, form, and texture
Long open spans
Minimal site disturbance
Energy and Operational Efficiency
Low life-cycle costs
Reduced and trades
Long service life
Barrier wall system
Life Safety and Health
Indoor environmental quality
Passive fire resistance
Meets FEMA 361
How Precast Concrete Builds - Versatility
The most versatile of building systems is precast concrete construction. Its ability to adapt to many different functions makes it a favorite of architects, engineers, and contractors alike.
Versatility in Use
What can you build with precast concrete? Ask anyone in the design community and you will receive a varied mix of their favorite applications of precast concrete. From NFL stadiums, office buildings, schools, data centers, and student housing, to retail, prisons, courthouses, and much more, precast concrete reinvents itself every time it is specified. Precast concrete parking structures are a common application, but new and innovative uses for this material continue to be developed.
Take a look at a total precast concrete project. Precast concrete walls can be used for both exterior and interior applications. From the exposed walls on the interior (insulated precast concrete panels), to a thin brick veneer (or other finish) on the exterior, to the precast concrete stairs (including landings), to the floor system (hollow-core slabs), to the roof (double tees), to the columns and beams… the list goes on and on.
A producer will tell you that they can translate into precast concrete whatever an architect can conceive. Incorporating a variety of colors, textures, and finishes makes each architectural precast concrete project a custom fit. Façade treatment options include a range of colors, textures, and other treatments (formliners, reveals, rustications, thin brick, stone, and tile).
Precast concrete building systems are adaptable to a wide variety of orthogonal and radial forms. The array of form possibilities provides nearly limitless creative opportunities. The plasticity of concrete adds to the already enormous range of design opportunities that includes pigments, aggregates, cements, sandblasting, and acid etching.
The outline of a building’s footprint can vary widely depending on several factors, including the zoning, the site, and owner preferences. Precast concrete is able to accommodate a wide variety of configurations. The layout of the precast concrete wall system can maximize open areas and create flexible options for floor plans.
Owners today often specify a 100-year life for a structure. When that goal is met with a precast concrete structural system, another benefit is the adaptable shell that can be changed during the decades of service. The structural engineer can create a variety of applications that resist hurricane forces, blasts, and seismic events, for all types of buildings.
Tenants move, market conditions vary, personnel shift, and technology advances. Versatile precast concrete structures can accommodate change easily and economically. Through the appropriate choice of interior systems and access floors for connectivity, all types of changes can be accommodated.
The open floor plate enables a flexible interior space that can accommodate any number of tenant scenarios. Column-free space allows additional flexibility in floor plans and layouts. Shallow floor thicknesses with few beams provide unobstructed ceiling cavities for mechanical and electrical systems.
Precast Concrete Builds with Versatility - Summary
From its fluid state in a form to its varied use in and on a structure, precast concrete is adaptable and serves multiple purposes. Whether you value the wide spectrum of colors, textures, and finishes, or rely on its stability, strength, and durability, it all comes down to the versatility of precast concrete construction.
How Precast Concrete Builds - Efficiently
The definition of efficient is “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.” Precast concrete embodies this term throughout every stage of a building’s life. From concept through completion, precast concrete checks every box. Efficient design uses thinner sections, precast concrete production uses the least amount of labor and materials, the speed of installation accelerates schedules, and the result is reduced operating costs for a precast concrete building.
From a sketch on a napkin in the conceptual stage, the design team works toward the most efficient structural design, using fewer components to resist shear forces, transfer loads, and function as the building envelope. Precast concrete engineers and the engineer of record make every effort to design a structure as closely as possible to the needs of the job.
These leaner pieces have multiple facets of efficiency. From start to finish, they use fewer materials in creating the structural system. With the ability to free span over 50 ft (with hollow-core slabs) and over 60 ft (with double tees), precast concrete can greatly reduce a building’s floor-to-floor height compared with other structural systems. The result is a reduction in the overall building height and the elimination of excess building materials and costs. These long, clear spans also eliminate unnecessary columns, allowing more flexibility in the design and layout of the building.
Where a multitenant building is required, precast concrete can overcome the challenge of providing mixed use in a single building. The superstructure can accommodate varying conditions. By varying the layout of the precast concrete supporting elements, sound-deadening walls can be placed between residential units. Precast concrete transfer beams can support wide, open spaces.
In a world with limited natural resources, every player in the construction industry has an eye toward avoiding shortages and puts an emphasis on conservation. Take a closer look at a precast concrete production facility and you will see ongoing efforts to avoid inefficiencies, redundancies, and waste. The ability to manufacture precast concrete components year-round in all weather conditions both increases speed at the site and makes efficient use of plant/labor personnel.
Precast producers also work with lean manufacturing principles to optimize bed length, strand usage, storage space, and raw materials. The significance of this optimization is often overlooked.
Working in tandem with well-organized precast concrete production is the optimized coordination of delivery. During the construction phase, the speed of precast concrete installation is unrivaled. The just-in-time delivery of pieces to the jobsite makes effective use of transportation and site access. A small crew can erect thousands of square feet per day and enclose the structure in days or weeks. Precast concrete construction is the most capable of meeting tight deadlines and enabling finishing trades to jump-start their work.
A single-source supplier enables the collective team to make changes more easily with fewer coordination issues and less site mobilization, which keeps costs to a minimum. Precast concrete’s speed of installation reduces enclosure time and eliminates the need for fireproofing, termite treatments, and additional insulation. Faster completion time also reduces interim financing costs and contributes to other economic benefits.
From a project program perspective, the use of structural wall panels with an architectural finish reduces the redundancy that is often seen with cavity wall systems. Precast concrete wall panels provide a moisture barrier, fire resistance, sound-deadening properties, and insulation. It is an all-in-one component without the need for extra materials and applications. Maximizing the thermal properties of precast concrete walls to delay heating/cooling requirements can reduce the load on HVAC equipment over the life of the building.
A precast concrete building is enclosed as the structure is being erected, thereby limiting the ingress of moisture and mold. Precast concrete provides efficiency in its use of materials, both throughout the construction stage and during the operation of the building. The hard finished surfaces are easy to maintain. Precast concrete is the epitome of a well-organized, time-saving, labor-saving, cost-effective architectural and structural building system.
Efficiency and economy go hand in hand. Precast concrete design results in a building that showcases the material with open spaces and an absence of superfluous material. Precast concrete inherently resists natural forces with a totally composite and fully insulated building system.
Precast Concrete Builds Efficiently - Summary
Precast concrete minimizes wasted effort or expense from cradle to grave. From the planning phase, efficient design uses thinner sections: skinny columns, reduced beam sizes, and slim wall panels. In production, precast concrete plant operations use the least amount of labor and materials to meet building specifications. During construction, fewer trades are involved, limiting on-site duration, wasted effort, and cost of financing. The operation of a precast concrete building involves less maintenance and lower insurance costs.
How Precast Concrete Builds - Resiliently
How do we build a structure that can withstand whatever natural or man-made disasters life can throw at it? Precast concrete construction is the top choice of owners who need durable, reliable structures.
Resilient design is multifaceted and involves long-term thinking about worst-case scenarios, as well as more common every day wear. The variables which contribute to resilience are complicated, but the big picture is simple: buildings need to be resilient in order to be truly sustainable. A precast concrete building can be both a beautiful and durable structure.
When you start the design process with resiliency in mind precast concrete checks all the boxes.
A resilient, durable building starts at the building envelope and employs proper sealing, insulation and adequate moisture protection. Precast concrete is a multipurpose barrier wall system that serves as a rain screen on the exterior and offers an interior finish that dries out if it gets wet and does not require replacement.
Commercial, industrial, multifamily—all types of buildings experience day-to-day wear and tear —these structures need to last through years of constant use. For a long-lasting building designers need a tight building envelope with low-maintenance interior and exterior finishes. Precast concrete structures can be designed for 100-year service life with minimal upkeep.
Keep the big picture in mind and prepare buildings to withstand possible disasters as well as more mundane long-term wear and tear. Resilient design serves to remind us to design with precast concrete to stand the test of time.
After so many super storms, hurricanes and typhoons, resilient design has become a top priority. While environmentally friendly principles are important, low-VOC paints and LEED points don’t matter much if a building becomes uninhabitable due to an earthquake, flood, power outage, or other natural or manmade disaster. That is where resilient design with precast concrete comes into play.
The wet climate in the east is the leading environmental challenge. There the most likely natural disaster scenarios involve water: hurricanes, flooding, storm surges, and blizzards. Resilient design is local and so the east needs to plan for all of these types of events, as well as the day-to-day stress that comes from year round precipitation, high humidity, and extremely dry interiors of heated buildings all winter. Add terrorism and low- to moderate-seismic activity to round out the list.
Out west, seismic considerations are obviously more of a concern, as well as tornadoes and fire. Precast concrete structures have withstood the barrage of all man-made and natural disasters with the backup data to prove it. From blast testing, to fire ratings, to shake tables—precast concrete has proved its capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption. With the innovative use of special seismic connections precast concrete structures can withstand an earthquake and maintain critical operations. From past disasters it is obvious that the precast concrete buildings are the last ones standing.
Life Safety and Health
Resilient structures are very important when it comes to the health, safety, and comfort of a city. Precast concrete does not off gas hazardous substances whether wet or dry which improves indoor air quality. Long, clear spans in a precast concrete building provide plentiful daylighting which can add to the well-being of occupants.
In fire, precast concrete performs well—both as an engineered structure and as a material in its own right. Precast concrete does not burn and it does not emit any toxic fumes when affected by fire. Because of concrete’s inherent material properties, it offers passive resistance and can minimize the fire risk for the lowest initial cost and require the least maintenance. Precast concrete does not require additional fire protection because it is noncombustible and has slow rate of heat transfer. Precast concrete ensures structural integrity and provides compartmentation.
Used at its most basic level as shelter from a storm—precast concrete construction meets all FEMA P-361 criteria for safe rooms. These storm shelters must provide near-absolute protection from wind and wind-blown debris for occupants from extreme events. The design wind speeds chosen by FEMA for safe rooms place an emphasis on life safety. Precast concrete storm shelters withstand wind-borne debris protection for wind speeds up to 250mph.
Precast Builds Resiliently—Summary
What can we learn from buildings past and present? A resilient building is one that rolls with the punches. To maximize the future resilience of buildings, they should be designed for durability, robustness and continuity. Use materials and construction methods that are durable in the face of natural and man-made events. Precast concrete construction is designed to last the test of time.