The Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn has become one of the hottest places to live in the area, thanks to the nearby waterfront, thriving art scene, and industrial appeal of the architecture. The new five-story townhouses at 55 Pearl Street only adds to the local charm.
Originally an industrial center, the neighborhood is known for its early use of reinforced structural concrete in building design, says Jared Della Valle, CEO of Alloy Design, the architect on the project. His team wanted to honor that architecture in their designs. “We created a contemporary structure for an industrial neighborhood, and the use of precast concrete was a nod to that history,” he says.
The new townhouse complex consists of five, five-story, single-family luxury townhouses situated across from a newly designated public park. The building envelope incorporates a unique louvered precast concrete panel system cast with ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), reinforced with poly-vinyl alcohol (PVA) fibers. “This project is the first of its kind in North America and demonstrates how UHPC, used in an innovative precast louvered-façade application, allowed the perfect blend of old and new architecture without compromising the integrity of the neighborhood,” says Bill Henderson, vice president of operations for Gate Precast, the precaster on the project.
The panel design consists of a head and sill cast with vertical ribs and a thin ¾-in. web between the shades on a majority of the pieces. Each vertical rib has a slight recess toward the front face to make the ribs appear thinner. Each unit also has a raised private entrance clad with wood and bronze-coated aluminum that soften the entry experience in contrast to the precast concrete panels above.
The precast concrete panels are entirely reinforced by the UHPC and connect back to the structure via stainless steel connection hardware. “Connecting the panels was one of the biggest challenges on this project,” Henderson says. The panels act as cladding for a masonry and steel structure and the designers wanted limited connection points to maintain the passive thermal features of the building.
“Gate was very successful at engineering a way to support the dead load of the panels without burdening the thermal energy performance of the building,” Della Valle says.
Getting the panels to the site was another challenge in the historic neighborhood where many streets are still cobblestone and the only way in is via bridge. “The infrastructure didn’t allow for heavy trucks to come down the streets,” Della Valle says. So the team used the nearby Navy yard as a staging area and brought the panels in one by one.
The completed structure met all of the owner’s requirements in a beautiful high-performance design that will stand the test of time. “I’m incredibly proud of how it turned out,” says Della Valle, who also lives in the neighborhood. “We achieved exactly what we set out to do.”