University of Colorado, Denver

Working with Encon United in Denver, precast studios will investigate a several architectural themes over the course of three academic years: Tectonic Expression, Programmatic Specificity and Spatial Quality. These themes maybe investigated separately or in conjunction with one another and maybe investigated as enclosure systems (facades), structural systems, and as integrated systems (structural enclosure systems).

Professor Matt Shea and the student in his PCI Foundation-sponsored studio took on these challenges at the University of Colorado Denver School of Architecture during their spring studio. Like many studios, the students took on a project that had some very real-world implications, although on a hypothetical project. The Friends of America’s Mountain—a group supporting Pikes Peak—interacted with the students and acted as the client for the project. This project, more so than many others, had some unique challenges. For example,an elevation of 14115 feet provided a challenge in getting building materials to the visitor center.

Another interesting challenge was that there are three ways to ascend to the peak, via the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway, the Manitou Incline that consists of about 2744 steps, or the Cog Railway. These three routes come together at the summit. The material of choice for the project was precast concrete. Students worked with local industry experts not only to learn the basics of precast concrete design and construction, but also to ensure that they addressed limitations in terms of transporting precast through two major switchbacks and how erectability and crane choices would affect the design.

Jason Lien, vice president of Encon United, was a regular visitor at the studio. “I loved working with the students and I think they got a lot out of me being there,” says Lien. “I would meet each group every week and then come back the next week and do it again during a 3-week period. I also gave the class three presentations on precast: a general architectural program, then we got down to products and constraints, and one on connections.