In a typical design studio, the students are assigned a project, given a program, and allowed to choose a material.When the PCI Foundation paired with assistant director and clinical assistant professor Philip Horton and clinical associate professor Warren Murff at Arizona State University (ASU) and Tpac Architectural and Structural Precast Concrete (an EnCon company), the teaching team decided to turn things around on the students. The students kick off the semester with a research exercise, looking at material on the standard precast concrete “kit of parts.” They also have a chance to explore some case studies of precast concrete projects from around the world.

At the same time, the students spend time at the Tpac plant in Phoenix and engage with professionals from the precast concrete industry who visit the students in the studio. The plant tour allows students to see familiar projects and begin to understand the scale and complexity of precast concrete. “One of the cooler things we saw was the rebar for a tub section being formed up while we were there,” says Horton. “That tub session is for an extension to the sky train at Sky Harbor International Airport.That sky train is going to fly over the existing Terminal 2, and then Terminal 2 will soon be demolished. A new modern terminal will be built there, along with a hotel. But because it flies over the existing Terminal 2, there’s a 300-foot span, and so the students got to see that being formed up.

“We also saw some of the engineering, to understand how there are two sections that are cantilevered, and then there’s a third section that will get dropped in, and it will all get post-tensioned. It was a great learning exercise for the students. Whenever you talk to students about the idea of a 300-foot span, their eyes get pretty big.” The class turns next to innovations in precast concrete research. This can include three-dimensional printing, fiberglass formwork, or thin concrete. Students will also hear premier architects speak, such as Charles Renfro from Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose firm designed the precast concrete museum The Broad in Los Angeles, Calif.

Reclaiming Design

Through teaching this course, Horton has learned more about emerging technologies in precast concrete that will be attractive to architects who wish to reclaim their stake in the overall design and construction of a project. The students working with industry and understanding the technology help them understand that the precast concrete industry embraces the concept of design-assist,or involving the architect with the precast concrete producer as early in the project as possible.

“One thing that we’ve been talking about for years from the architecture side of the world is that increasingly, architects have given away a lot of their stake in a project; the construction management industry has taken up a lot of that territory,” says Horton. “Being able to do things like taking on the design not just of the building, but also taking on the design of the molds and walking through the geometry of the panel that we want to have at the end, is helpful.”

Students Choose Projects

During the last part of the semester, students begin work on their final studio projects. Rather than providing them with a program and having them all work on the same project, Horton and Murff ask students to choose a project of their own devising that is a good candidate for precast concrete design. “ASU has students invent independent projects where they establish their own programming requirements,” says Horton.“The student population is diverse in culture and the projects rangein size, use, and location. The students have done an amazing job researching precast solutions from all over the world and are applying those concepts to their programming. It is an amazing sight to have them open to a precast solution, how they can adopt their programming requirements for the use of precast, or think of unique precast systems to meet the programming requirements.” One group of students is designing a soccer stadium in Lagos,Nigeria.

“The project location is a landfill full of trash, so we are trying to see if we can utilize some of the trash, like plastic and rubber from tires,” says Henry Erives. There will be a community center that will be integrated into a park and the stadium. Alissa Hernandez, a student from the border town of San Ysidro in San Diego, Calif., is designing a port of entry. It’s an interesting project because it is such an intimate one for Hernandez, having gone to school on one side of the border while living on the other and going back and forth regularly. ‚óŹ