Organized by our Young Designers Core (YDC), we had the opportunity to hear from our Amherst Design Team and LeMessurier as they discussed the design process of our Amherst College New Science Center project. The New Science Center, an interdisciplinary Higher Education facility with a strong focus on high quality design, departs from typical construction methods. In a region where steel is the standard material, this project is entirely made of concrete. LeMessurier, our Structural Engineer for the project, tailored the conversation about the important issues involved in concrete design and coordination for the New Science Center.
The aesthetic vision was an important driver of the project. Although concrete is more labor intensive, heavier and difficult to coordinate, it was in line with the client’s goals to express the character of concrete construction and expose the building’s structure. Knowing this, the design team collaborated with the structural engineers early in the process to inform the module sizes, vibration criteria and system selections.
Concrete Design & Coordination
While concrete is beautiful, it is not very flexible – making early coordination a necessity. To minimize potential issues during the construction administration phase, the Amherst Design Team began working together with LeMessurier as soon as possible to address issues of column spacing, slab depths and surface penetrations. It was critical to draw every slab and wall penetration in the early design phases for the engineers to analyze deflection, understand load paths and implement reinforcement at areas of high stress.
The Design Team not only had to plan for the immediate spatial needs, but also for future use changes and growth in the event more fume hoods, ductworks or other systems were necessary. The team understood the implications and limitations of concrete structures, and designed thinking about the future – incorporating flexibility, adaptation and efficiency of space.
Documenting Architectural Concrete
An important takeaway from the presentation was “getting it right the first time.” It is costly to fix mistakes, as well as aesthetically messy. The team and engineers expressed the value of on-site mock-ups, which insure the quality, color, finishes and total aspect of the construction is aligned with the project goals. Working closely with the structural engineers to ensure the specifications and drawings are expressing the requirements and intent accurately will lead to the overall success of a concrete building.
As seen in the Amherst College New Science Center, designing a concrete building is equal parts engineering and art. The process is holistic, and forces discussion of aesthetics, planning and programming, and constructability to occur simultaneously. Coordination is integral to the design process from beginning to end. Without early collaboration between architecture and engineering teams, the final building may not have the capacity to handle the intended systems and use, or be flexible enough to handle future needs.
Ultimately, a beautiful and functional building like the Amherst College New Science Center can be achieved with a well-organized design and engineering team, an enthusiastic client and a united vision.