FAQ Fridays: Precast Concrete Design Options with Precast Cladding & Building Enclosure Panels

July 9, 2021

Want quick responses to our most asked precast questions? PCI-MA is kicking off a blog series called, “FAQ Fridays,” in which your most popular questions are answered and organized by topic and product category. In Part 1 of this series, we discuss precast concrete design options and aesthetic versatility.

Precast concrete offers a virtually unlimited palette of options for creating unique aesthetic treatments when taking on a historic feel or blending in with a contemporary style. Precast can provide any appearance desired in a cost-efficient way with added benefits that no other material can match. Some options can include:

    • Brick: Using inset thin-brick techniques on precast panelized systems creates the masonry appearance that building owners seek while adding benefits masonry can’t provide. Precast’s inset brick eliminates the long scheduling needed for laid-up brick while removing several trades from the site. It ensures a high-quality, even-spaced appearance that is difficult to achieve with actual brickwork, while eliminating on-site inspections. Using inset brick with precast panels makes efficient use of materials, minimizes time and construction materials, avoids problems with weep holes from falling mortar, and eliminates concerns over inconsistent labor expertise, weak mortar joints, efflorescence, and disruption due to inclement weather.

    • Stone Replication: Special mixes and finish techniques are used on panels to mimic limestone, sandstone, granite, or other types of stone. The finishes are produced far more economically than real stone can be laid, and they can be erected much quicker. Formliners replicate unusual pieces such as cut stone or slate, limiting options only to the designer’s imagination.

    • Colors/Tints: Precasters’ capability to tint concrete and provide several tones by using various surface treatments within one panel allow designers to specify any color they want. A wide range of finish combinations and textures can be achieved easily.

  • Textures: A wide variety of textures can be created in the concrete to add interest. The most common of these are:
    • Smooth or off-the-form finishes how the natural look of the concrete without trying to simulate any other building product.
    • Exposed-aggregate finishes via chemical retarders or water washing which are achieved with a non-abrasive process that effectively brings out the full color, texture, and beauty of the coarse aggregate.
    • Formliners create unique patterns or textures. The liners can be made of wood, steel, plaster, elastomeric, plastic, or foam plastic.
    • Sand or abrasive blasting provides all three degrees of exposure noted above.
    • Acid etching dissolves the surface cement paste to reveal the sand with only a small percentage of coarse aggregate being visible, providing a light exposure.
    • Honing or polished finishes are achieved by grinding the surface to produce smooth, exposed-aggregate appearances.
    • Painting is used purely for decorative purposes. The decision to paint should be made early to ensure the finished concrete surface is not so smooth that paint won’t adhere to it easily.
    • Combination finishes allow for two or more finishes to be achieved using the same concrete mix. This procedure will raise the cost of the product, but it will be less expensive than producing a separate unit that must be attached to the primary panel, as with an accent sill.

Precast’s plasticity and variety of finishes make it an outstanding choice no matter what style of architecture is desired. Ensuring the proper look is achieved can be made easy with precast concrete.

Precasters can provide finish samples, range samples and large-scale mockups, ensuring design concepts translate into reality. Designers can inspect window interfaces, joint connections, and other critical elements to ensure they are visually acceptable and will properly interface between trades. Plant visits to discuss technical and aesthetic concerns provide control without requiring constant site supervision.

As the single source for so many architectural and structural components, and the source for brickwork or other finishes, the precaster works closely with the construction team to ensure satisfaction. Overlapping trades and gaps in responsibilities are eliminated when the precaster provides the entire exterior design.

As you can see, the design versatility of precast concrete allows for almost any shape element, such as curved and radial sections, with flexibility in connection points and load paths. High strength prestressed concrete structural members also deliver exceptional load-carrying capacity, which can result in smaller sections, longer spans, or both when compared to other structural systems.

Click these links to explore our case studies and project profiles, which are stellar examples of architectural precast in the Mid-Atlantic or Find helpful tools, detailed information on working with precast, and expert guidance to support your next projects at our Solutions Center. VISIT THE SOLUTIONS CENTER

PCI has also developed several Designer’s Notebooks that can help you get started. These publications are available for download in PDF format and free of charge.

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