Design Assist: How to Get the Best Results with Precast, Prestressed Concrete

April 26, 2021

To get the best results for every precast concrete project, precast producers must collaborate with architects and engineers early on in the project, during the design phase. This practice is called design assist, and it is the procurement method that guarantees every stakeholder in the construction chain works together to uncover high-value benefits. By providing invaluable, up-front engineering and constructability knowledge, design assist ensures the final product reflects project needs, budget, and timeline—ultimately reducing risk and adding value for the building owner.

Explore the multi-faceted design assist approach, so you can implement the process in your next project and uncover hidden value from the design phase through construction completion.

How Can Projects Benefit from Design Assist?

Any decision that traditionally occurs after the contract is awarded is instead discussed, coordinated, and executed early in the precast design process. When precast producers become part of the project team and contribute to initial plans, there is no shortage of positive outcomes:

  • Precast, prestressed concrete mixtures are developed during the planning process rather than enduring a lengthy and costly sample approval process after the bid and award.
  • Early integration of a precast producer eliminates requests for information (RFI).
  • Erection and installation plans are prepared early on for a streamlined shop drawing review process.
  • Precast design and panel connections are completed in collaboration with the engineer of record.
  • The precast concrete and construction teams align on production, delivery, and installation schedules.

Based on a review of preliminary design concepts—whether in the form of renderings, models, or 2D-3D views—the precaster can help determine the massing of volumes and the elements being considered for architectural precast concrete. The precaster would then be able to recommend key precast concrete design options and communicate benefits that would have a significant effect on the appearance, function, and cost of the project. In this phase, the precaster presents options for loadbearing or cladding elements. Either of these may also be supported by the structure or stacked to the foundation. These are options that have unique considerations for each project and are part of the decision-making process for structural framing selection, which may include structural steel, cast-in-place concrete, and precast concrete.

What Role Do Precasters Play?

Design assist partners precast producers with the design team. This informs precast design decision-making, mitigating unnecessary costs and changes later in the building process. The precaster will also better understand other construction materials in the project and how they interface with precast.

By involving precast concrete producers in conceptual design, the team can expedite project development with engineering innovations and scheduling improvements while enhancing aesthetics and remaining cost-effective through project completion. The precaster makes suggestions to the designers and architects, capitalizing on all inherent benefits of precast, prestressed concrete and achieving maximum efficiency at the lowest cost.

Preparing for Your Precast Design

Several elements need to be considered throughout the design assist process to maximize the precast building’s potential.

  • Precasters have the flexibility to meet challenging aesthetic goals, incorporating various colors, finishes, and styles while enhancing precast slab design with unique mold fabrication.
  • They plan connection concepts and locations of connections to the structure and determine handling methods, material costs, and construction sequencing—all before erection and installation.

The key to your project’s success is working closely with a precast concrete producer to achieve the best results. The right precast partner should be selected based on technical expertise, unique project needs, and capabilities, including PCI Certification. During construction, the precast producer:

  • Ensures smooth operations at the job site, monitoring granular details, such as field conditions, tolerance and alignment issues, and more.
  • Works to reduce risk and complexities from start to finish, enabling the entire team to work on a cost-effective and accelerated schedule without sacrificing structural durability or appearance.

More About Precast, Prestressed Concrete

If you’re a designer looking to learn more about precast projects, browse the PCI Mid-Atlantic Solutions Center for helpful resources and reach out to PCI-MA for precast information, partnerships, and more.

Additional References

  1. Architectural Precasters’ Design Assist Role Designer’s Notebook, PCI
  2. Collaborative Design Assist & Architectural Precast Cast Studies, Recorded Webinar
  3. Jacobs Tackles Global Challenges with Precast Concrete, PCI Ascent, Fall 2020
  4. Hospital Maximizes the Master Mold, PCI Ascent, Fall



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