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USC Precast Studio Recognizes Outstanding Student Projects

Five architecture students were recognized for work in the University of Southern California Precast Studio “Arch 402b Precast Analytics Design Studio” sponsored in part by the PCI Foundation, during the spring semester of 2012/2013. The studio was the precast studio at the school which partnered with local industry to bring a “real world” flavor to the student’s work over the course of 16 weeks. Local partners included Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute West (PCI West) and its eleven precast producer members.  

Each student had an individual project they worked on all semester, although all of them designed projects for Joshua Tree National Park.  This park is about the size of Rhode Island, and has several different climate zones. It actually crosses two completely different deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado.  Students designed visitors' centers, ranger headquarters, lodge hotels and education/research centers.  All the buildings were about 25,000 square feet, and typically were about three stories.  

They were similar in that each student had one very large space with a good-sized roof span.  “The desert climate is an ideal match for high-mass concrete, and the extreme sensitivity of the sites mean that off-site fabrication is a valuable strategy,” says Karen Kensek, one of the professors leading the studio. “The buildings were large enough to allow for adequate reuse of forms for multiple castings.”

Five juries participated in selecting outstanding student projects. All student projects were shared with all juries - and five individuals were singled out for recognition. The students whose work on the Joshua Tree program was recognized were:

ANISH TILAK      (selected by mixed architects/engineers/precasters jury) Rattlesnake Maze Research Center: Joshua Tree National Park

Anish placed special effort on the design of the roof.  He created a long-span, curved precast roof clerestory composed of multiple individual elements.  The final jury debated the results, but eventually determined that the design could be built.  Anish made a mold and cast several of the repeating elements.  He used mirrors to mimic additional elements, and studied the daylight reflecting on the precast.  

ALEXANDER SHEFT       (selected by studio students) Lost Horse Arts Education Center: Joshua Tree National Park

Alex was determined to make maximum use of precast elements throughout his project.  His primary structural system is precast columns and beams, and he uses double-T elements for the floors and roof.  He crafted an inner shell of GFRC to create a smooth interior condition for the display of artwork.  The exteriors are all precast concrete used as a thermal mass for tempering the extreme climate. He focused on the design of a precast skylight system to be fabricated and glazed off-site, and transported as a complete unit. 

NICHOLAS TEDESCO (selected by architecture jury)

Queen Mountain Lodge Hotel: Joshua Tree National Park

Nick embedded his main building in the crest of the hill to protect it from the heat of the summer.  A glass facade faces north.  Double-T roof elements carry the heavy load of a green-roof, and are exposed to the interior main spaces.  Nick experimented with casting customizable double-T configurations using a single mold.  Some of these special custom elements serve as skylights.  

ALEXANDER DIMENTO   (selected by architecture jury) Keys View Visitors Center: Joshua Tree National Park

While Alex used precast throughout his project, he emphasized two elements: he designed a custom, repeatable precast clerestory roof element, and a custom precast concrete exhibit floor system.  For the roof, he worked with the precast producers to determine the largest possible transportable element.  The organic and flowing roof is actually made of the same repeating element.  The exhibit floors are raised platforms in the center of a large volume.  The floors are composed of long, thin precast elements Alex calls “surfboards.”  The surfboards are individually pre-stressed elements.  They are structurally stronger where they engage the support beams. After all of the surfboards are positioned, they are post-tensioned in the short direction.  Nick was careful to obtain engineering assistance for the long cantilever, and he redesigned the element several times.  He was pleased and a bit relieved when the jury indicated that they believed it could be cast and built the way he designed it.

KIRK BARIAN     (selected by studio faculty) Cottonwood Visitors Center: Joshua Tree National Park

Kirk explored the use of precast in a special energy system known as a trombe wall.  He crafted a foam mold using CAD/CAM CNC milling and a vacuum forming machine.  He was able to re-use the mold several times.  The jury appreciated the depth of the project


“I have said many times that this was an extraordinary studio,” says professor Doug Noble who co-taught the studio.  “I know all the students worked very hard in this studio, and I am delighted with the results.  I could not be happier with the presentations and the book pages.  While I deeply admire your completed projects, the most important parts for me were the people and the processes.”

The USC Precast Studio was the sixth of its kind in the US. Other programs have been at Illinois Institute of Technology, University of North Florida, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina Charlotte and CalPoly Pomona in either the engineering or architecture schools. The programs receives grants from the PCI Foundation, and work in conjunction with a local industry partner who provides project tours, lectures, plant tours, and feedback to the students.

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