The project was a proposal for the Park Ranger Services of Joshua Tree National Park for an overnight visitor and educational center. The program had four major components; a day visitor center/exhibits, a cafeteria, educational classrooms, and an overnight dorm component for school trips.
Why I Chose Precast for the Project
Aside from the programmatic requirements, construction in Joshua Tree National Park comes with its own set of challenges. The natural ecosystems in the area are easily disturbed by large machinery and the site of the proposed center was hours away from any concrete batch site making on-site pouring difficult. Concrete was still a preferred material, however, because of its desirable thermal properties and durability. This made pre-cast a viable choice.
Concrete allowed for thick walls with high thermal mass that reduced the heating and cooling loads of the building significantly in the fluctuating temperatures of Joshua Tree National Park. Pre-cast elements are easily trucked out to the remote site in standard sizes and assembled quickly. Furthermore, precast offers a wider range of aesthetic finishes allowing for concrete that does not contrast as heavily with the surrounding landscape.
Significant Lessons Learned
The most valuable lesson learned was how cost effective precast concrete can be. It can also be very flexible in certain respects as long as size is considered and repetition is used when creating the form work.
The final design used several types of precast, including a Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete Veneer for the main structure over a standard hollow-core slab/ precast wall panel system. The Canopy was created from a mix of custom pieces cast with high strength reinforced concrete and 40' precast slabs.
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