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Arizona State University

In a typical design studio, the students are assigned a project, given a program, and allowed to choose a material. When the PCI Foundation paired with assistant director and clinical assistant professor Philip Horton and clinical associate professor Warren Murff at Arizona State University (ASU) and Tpac Architectural and Structural Precast Concrete (an EnCon company), the teaching team decided to turn things around on the students. The students kick off the semester with a research exercise, looking at material on the standard precast concrete “kit of parts.” They also have a chance to explore some case studies of precast concrete projects from around the world.

At the same time, the students spend time at the Tpac plant in Phoenix and engage with professionals from the precast concrete industry who visit the students in the studio. The plant tour allows students to see familiar projects and begin to understand the scale and complexity of precast concrete. “One of the cooler things we saw was the rebar for a tub section being formed up while we were there,” says Horton. “That tub session is for an extension to the sky train at Sky Harbor International Airport. That sky train is going to fly over the existing Terminal 2, and then Terminal 2 will soon be demolished.”

Through teaching this course, Horton says he has learned more about emerging technologies in precast concrete that will be attractive to architects who wish to reclaim their stake in the overall design and construction of a project. The students working with industry and understanding the technology help them understand that the precast concrete industry embraces the concept of design-assist, or involving the architect with the precast concrete producer as early in the project as possible.

As part of the course, the students research innovations in precast, both in fabrication techniques and design.

During the last part of the semester, students begin work on their final studio projects. Rather than providing them with a program and having them all work on the same project, Horton and Murff ask students to choose a project of their own devising that is a good candidate for precast concrete design. “For better or worse, we’ve chosen not to give them an assignment of, you get this site, this program, do this project,” says professor Phil Horton. “Instead the idea is, the student will study what the potentials of precast are and what the constraints of precast are. And then, they will propose a project using the logic of what you learned about precast.”

This open approach leads to a wide variety of projects from a soccer stadium to a border crossing.