National Precast has a role to play in informing architects in what can be achieved with precast; educating them about new technologies and manufacturing techniques that can enhance creativity and offer visual appeal.
And of course architects are just one part of the equation; engineers have an integral role to play in designing a structure. Spans, loads, connections, temporary supports are all in the realm of the engineer. The engineer also has a role to play in temporary works design, with engineers taking the Erection Designer role per the revised AS 3850 Prefabricated Concrete Elements. This is a trend that is set to follow in the erection of other construction materials including steel.
In the case of architects, knowledge of the many options that are on offer from the precast industry is imperative in order to maximise creative and design outcomes. It is about the architect knowing what’s possible for any particular project. Early discussions with National Precast and its members are an important part of this research process to ensure the knowledge is at hand and choices are maximised.
Very often we hear stories of our members offering solutions that help the architect achieve a desired finish or the engineer or builder achieve better structural or building outcomes.
There is a perception in the market that prefab units can restrict the architect’s design input. After all, prefab is about pre-finishing or part-finishing mass produced units, to improve construction efficiencies. Perhaps this is a misconception, but one associates mass produced prefab with standardisation, or standardisation perhaps with limited variables. The degree of design input from the architect can vary depending on the project and on the particular prefab unit manufacturer.
Precast concrete on the other hand, is a designer’s dream. Unlike concrete that is formed and cured on site (in-situ concrete), high-tech, high quality precast is manufactured in purpose-built factories. This enables much greater flexibility in terms of what can be achieved as an end result. Alteration in components of the typical cement, sand, aggregate (or stone) and water mix suddenly becomes possible, as does the use of different moulds and applied finishes.
Inspired by a lotus flower, the design of Nan Tien Institute in Wollongong NSW involved early involvement with the precaster, S.A. Precast.
Nan Tien Institute, Wollongong NSW
Nan Tien Institute, Wollongong NSW
Not only can cements be varied, but colour pigments can be added, or additives used that change the properties of the concrete (for example, to improve its flow characteristics or curing time). Moulds can be custom made, from almost any material, in any shape. Additionally or alternatively, mould liners can be used to imprint patterns on the concrete’s surface. From complex geometric patterns, to ridges, to curves or waves, to stone or brick patterns, the possibilities on offer are exhaustive. Combine these with integrallycoloured precast that incorporates colour pigments in its mix; or with staining that can be factory-applied after the concrete is cured, and one can only begin to imagine what’s possible. Unlike completely or partly finished prefab units, precast offers complete design flexibility from inception. Architects generally love precast because it can be formed into any shape, boasting any pattern, texture or colour. It can even be designed to mimic other materials, such as brick, block, stone or corrugated iron. The extensive range of finishes available when precast is specified spans the simplest of all, grey off-form (meaning straight from the mould) wall panels, to the reflective sparkle of polished precast that can incorporate colour pigment in the concrete mix and specially selected aggregate (stone) mixes.
“In the case of architects, knowledge of the many options that are on offer from the precast industry is imperative in order to maximise creative and design outcomes. It is about the architect knowing what’s possible for any particular project.”
Sarah Bachmann, CEO, National Precast Concrete Association Australia
Think concrete panels with colour staining that mimics Corten steel (such as that used in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art). Think apartment loadbearing concrete walls that are virtually indistinguishable from a brick wall. Think lightweight intricate web-like facades created for the Newcastle Court House using precast Glass Reinforced Concrete (GRC). Or integrally coloured patterned wall panels to contain Taronga Zoo’s resident elephants. Or the lustre and graceful white polished curves that inspire the architectural students at the University of NSW Jane Foss Russell Building. Or the photos etched into the surface of Perth’s new Stadium using ramsetreid’s trademarked Graphic Concrete. Really, absolutely anything is possible. Nan Tien Institute in Wollongong NSW is a good example of a project that was originally designed in ‘in situ’ concrete but converted to precast. The $40 million Buddhist college is being hailed both an architectural and engineering milestone. In terms of shape, colour and texture, you simply cannot achieve onsite, what you can achieve in the factory. Both the Association and our members welcome the opportunity to assist all stakeholders as needed.■