Precast Specialties Corp. President John D’Amelio talks with Becker Structural Engineers Vice President Todd M. Neal about the evolution of precast in the world of architecture and trends for the future.
John: Tell us a little bit about your firm, Becker Structural Engineers.
Todd: Becker Structural Engineers was founded in 1995. We have built a successful practice by providing practical, cost-effective and innovative solutions on a wide range of challenging projects. We serve a diverse clientele including architects, developers, industry, contractors, fabricators and government. Our project involvement includes a mix of new and existing buildings and parking structures. Our substantial experience with contemporary building design is complemented by an extensive background renovating and restoring historic structures.
We credit our success to the outstanding architect consultants, fabricators and contractors who collaborate with us and to our dedicated staff who maintain the highest standards and integrity, which are essential in structural engineering.
John: What would you say has been your firm’s most challenging project?
Todd: Every project has its own set of challenges from the renovation of a residence to the construction of a multi-story office building. Time is a constant challenge on all our projects. Technology and perception has really shortened the design process and the challenge is to put together a set of quality documents in three months for a project that several years ago would have taken a year.
One of the most challenging projects that our office has worked on was 84 Marginal Way in Portland, Maine. This project consisted of four levels of precast/prestressed concrete parking that supported six stories of structural steel office above. It was a challenging marriage of two building products that have quite different optimal spans. This project won the ACEC 2009 Honor Award for Engineering Excellence.
John: Tell us about your AIA New England 2009 Award winning project, House on the Ledge (pictured above).
Todd: The house was designed by the architecture firm of Elliott & Elliott Architecture of Blue Hill, Maine and re-defines how we think of a waterfront home on the coast of Maine. It is a steel and concrete frame structure that feels modern while it reaches out of the landscape. Use of high quality door and window components as well as glass bock walls create a home filled with light and lightness that provides clear, sweeping views. Structure was highly integrated into the design and becomes architecture. We are very proud of this project.
John: It has been a great partnership between Precast Specialties Corp. and Becker. For readers who aren’t aware of our work together, can you talk a little about services you have provided for us?
Todd: We provide engineering and detailing services to Precast Specialties Corp. (PSC) for architectural precast concrete projects. In the construction documents the architectural precast panels are typically specified as a performance based design which means that PSC is responsible for the engineering of the panels and connections. This delivery system allows the precaster to fabricate the panels with a process that is most beneficial to their individual plant and generally provides the most economical option.
We have been working with Precast Specialties Corp. since 2006 and have completed 24 projects together over the past 4 years. Each precaster is different and there is a steep learning curve to understand their fabrication process, preferred details, and drafting preferences in order to produce a submittal that meets their standards. We invest a lot of effort in the early projects with the hope that we can develop a long term relationship.
John: Does Becker do a lot of work with precast concrete and if so, what are some of your upcoming projects?
Todd: Approximately one quarter of our business comes from precast projects. The downturn in the economy certainly took its toll on the precast industry but we saw some positive indication of a recovery of the architectural precast industry since last fall and through the start of this year projects have been steady. Our precast work includes architectural and structural precast projects and we are optimistic that the structural side will start to recover this spring. We have been watching several new parking garage projects in the area.
John: What do you see as the emerging engineering and architecture trends for 2011?
Todd: From our perspective we see the continued growth of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to be the biggest challenge. Many firms have grasped the modeling portion of these programs and we feel the next step is to use the information portion to fully realize the potential of this system. We also see the request for these types of drawings files working down to the subcontractors and suppliers so that the general contractors can have complete models of the buildings.
Another important trend we see is the push for energy efficient buildings and “net zero” building. We feel this is going to have a significant impact on the design and construction community as we have to revise the way we think about facades. This may prove to be a significant adjustment to the precast industry as we have to develop new and innovative ways to connect precast facades with minimal impact on the building envelope.