Precast Studios are collaborative education opportunities developed with leading universities with architectural and structural engineering programs. They receive start-up funding grants from the PCI Foundation and are supported by regional PCI associations and local precasters.

The mission of the PCI Foundation is to foster educational and research initiatives focused on innovative approaches to the integrated and sustainable use of precast concrete design, fabrication, and construction. It is a charitable 501(c) 3 corporation which supports the inclusion of precast concrete programs at accredited college and universities throughout the US.

Currently there are two active Precast Design Studios in California: CalPoly Pomona (Run jointly between the Departments of Architecture and Civil Engineering) and at the USC School of Architecture. See below for recent articles on the activities of the two studios.

Cal Poly Pomona: AE Studio – Precast Concrete

Axel Schmitzberger, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture | California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Mikhail Gershfeld, S.E., Professional Practice Professor, Civil Engineering | California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

The Cal Poly Pomona Civil Engineering Department and Department of Architecture have pioneered the concept or an Architectural Engineering Studio for Engineering and Architectural Education and have developed over the years an effective delivery model. The Architecture and Engineering Studio (AE Studio) has been taught by both departments for the last six years and is now an integral part of Civil Engineering curriculum as a senior level technical elective. In past precast studios the architectural and engineering students worked in interdisciplinary teams on selected projects in a progressive competition style. The selected projects exploring precast concrete design included a Regional Train station, Tsunami Vertical Evacuation facilities and a College Size Football/Soccer Stadium.

The project type selection is critical to the interdisciplinary environment and should complement not only the ten-week quarter schedule but also emphasize the relationship between structure and architecture. Both disciplines require different input early on in the design process and the feedback between the two have significant impact on both the architectural and structural design.

Throughout the course of development we identified a few core objectives of the AE Studio – Precast Concrete.

  1. Expose students of both disciplines to precast concrete.
  2. Encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration during the education process.
  3. Expose engineers to creative aspects of structural design and architects to practical and utilitarian constraints of structural behavior
  4. Deliver a comprehensive design product.
  5. Develop an appreciation and respect of each other’s art and work.

The studio of Fall 2013 emphasized the development of a 20,000-seat football/soccer stadium on the Cal Poly Pomona campus. The basis for this project was the widely discussed and debated proposal for a 70,000 seat football stadium for the Greater Los Angeles region, approximately 4 miles from campus. The stadium project started with 18 design proposals, developed in a one-week design-charrette after a prior study was undertaken of internationally reference stadiums selected by the faculty.

These 18 proposals were reduced to nine selected preliminary design concepts and the joint AE teams progressed to mid-review presentations. The review panel consisted of faculty, practicing architects, engineers and industry representatives. The reviews focused on the evaluation of architectural and structural criteria such as aesthetics, originality, functionality, response to context, structural integrity, interconnectivity (effective use of precast concrete), constructability, cost effectiveness and AE collaboration. Based on the panel critique and project rating, five projects were selected to proceed to the next phase of design development and teams were enlarged to typically four architecture and two engineering students each. Within the remaining four weeks students further refined their designs and design investigations resolving critical detailing issues and developing more detailed structural calculations. At the end of tenth week the five teams faced a professional panel for final review and a winning project was selected.

Out of the five projects two were selected as demonstrating innovation in stadium design, excellence in collaboration and each included a simple to complex range of structural systems.

The first team, titled Kellogg Arena, introduced a novel approach to stadium design, rejecting the standard stadium model, considering it a poor muse for the university fabric. Rather than creating an internalized space wrapped tightly in a conventional facade, the team argued for the extension of the campus into the stadium, thus generating the building’s identity from its very structure. For this students created an undulating landscape that rises and falls to create pockets of dining, gathering, retail, and media hubs.

Furthering the connection between campus and stadium, the grandstands were split into two tiers. The lower tier was sunk into the ground 20 feet (where it meets with the playing field), while the entire second tier, VIP area, and a large perforated roof was lifted off the ground to allow for continuous visual and physical access to the field and further integration of the stadium into campus life.

In order to achieve a hovering stadium, structure became essential. The team proposed creating a dense column grid composed of five column sizes ranging from 6” to 4’ in diameter. The column sizes were chosen to closely reflect the loads they were resisting and their role in the structural system so as to give an accurate read of the structure. As a facade, the column field automatically creates infinite readings as it is encountered.

The second project, the winning entry, emphasizes a complex, experimental roof system that forms the façade and identity of the stadium itself. The team proposes a roof structure that utilizes the connectivity of arches in a parabolic shape. Each piece is designed for modular manufacturing and explores the use of concrete in a large format.

Between each arch the students propose an elaborate wood trellising system that acts as a frame for the exterior skin, which is also visible from the inside. The skin is made up of GFRC panels and follows a scripted patterning, de- fining a variety of different spatial experiences in the interior. Following an internal ramping system each visitor to this stadium should experience the structure as it unfolds and eventually becomes so porous through the paneling effect that it visually reconnects the public with the spectators.

Roof structure and seating tiers are structurally connected at strategic locations. The secondary structure is made up of precast shear panels that extend from the highest tier of seating all the way to the basement floor in some cases. These shear panels are modular pieces that act as program representatives and their location provides a convenient base for circulation when you are not traveling along the ramping system.

The Mamba stadium is designed to accommodate 20,000 occupants for public uses including: Soccer, Football, Rugby, Concerts, and other activities that the University might want. It also provides VIP Boxes, Concession stands, a team store, and Fan based restaurants, as well as many other commodities that the University desires.

Concluding now its fifth year with the support of the PCI Foundation, PCI West and Coreslab Structures LA the interdisciplinary AE studio has proven to be an extremely popular learning environment for students from both disciplines and offers a unique and significant link between material, practice, the two disciplines (architecture and structural engineering), and the precast industry. It has created a tremendous output and showcases the emerging trend of directly linking industry and academia through practice oriented teaching.

The PCI Foundation Studio of Architecture University of Southern California

Karen M. Kensek
Douglas Noble

The CLIPPER Studio in the USC School of Architecture is just starting its’ third semester collaborating with the precast industry to help architecture students learn about precast materials and processes. Prior to the start of this collaboration, architecture students had very little exposure to precast, and most did not have a reasonable grasp of the strengths and uses of precast in structural and architectural applications.

The PCI Foundation studio involves 12 students each Spring Semester, and the design project has been a hypothetical project for Joshua Tree National Park. The students learn how to use the advantages of the material for the unique extreme climate of the eastern desert area of Southern California.

Students learn how to take advantage of the thermal mass characteristics of precast to craft net-zero energy buildings. The large daily temperature swings at Joshua Tree are ideal for using thermal mass methods. Students learn how to capture the cool of the night and use it to provide cooling during the heat of the day.

Students also learn how to use the advantages of plantmade structural and facade elements to reduce the construction site impacts in the National Park. The National Park seeks to minimize the area and scope of site-built construction areas. As more work can be created off-site and simply assembled on-site, the area of disruption is kept to a minimum. This is especially important in a fragile desert park, but is also valuable in dense downtown construction sites. The students take construction site tours of downtown Los Angeles projects like the GFRC skin of the Broad Museum and the new Emerson Apartments.

The site for the Joshua Tree project is a long way from the construction labor force, and so it is doubly valuable to use prefabricated structure and skin for the buildings, and students are learning that facade elements can be created complete with fenestration in place and transported as a completed unit.

The students received detailed tours by Brad Williams of the Clark Pacific architectural and structural precast plants in Fontana and Irwindale. Williams patiently answered dozens of questions posed by architecture students who clearly know very little about precast but are eager to learn.

“Visiting Clark Pacific gave me new insight on the flexibility and wide array of possibilities Precast can do in aiding and enhancing design. I really enjoyed seeing the form-work of precast panels and how they are transported in the work yard with huge traveling crane machines,” reported 4th year architecture student Caroline Kim.

“I didn’t know the design potential of precast. It’s not all double Ts and parking garages! Some of the finishes and details that can be produced are really impressive.” -- current 4th year studio architecture student Christopher Penfold.

Doug Mooradian from PCI West visits each studio several times during the semester. He makes an introductory presentation at the beginning of the semester, providing an overview of the materials, processes and people involved, and he shows many examples of completed work. His presentation provides both an overview of existing projects, and also a good snapshot of the current leading edge testing and analysis work being undertaken.

This studio is just getting started, and we are looking forward to the usual involvement of precast industry representatives in the studio reviews.

This year, we added several new features to the PCI Collaboration, and we now have precast being introduced in the 2nd year materials and methods courses that all of the students take, and the younger students are asked to actually work in teams to create a real precast concrete project so that they can learn hands-on.

Each year, USC also works with PCI West to host a symposium on precast to highlight a few examples of work recently finished or currently underway.

“Being able to see the assembly line of production at the Clark Pacific precast plant in Fotanta first hand was definitely valuable. The process is a lot more systematic and organized than I originally thought. The amount of control and precision the plant has over its products, however detailed or complicated they may be, is impressive.” -- current 4th year studio student James Bergstrom.