Five of the best from the 2021 PCI Design Awards

by Ofentse Sefolo
Five of the best from the 2021 PCI Design Awards

Now in its 58th year, the PCI (Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute) Design Awards programme recognises design excellence and construction quality in a range of projects where precast concrete is the hero.

“Once again, the precast concrete industry has put its best foot forward and has delivered many inspiring and impressive projects,” said PCI president and chief executive officer, Bob Risser, P.E. “Each year, the PCI Design Awards programme demonstrates that precast concrete is not only a practical solution to many construction challenges, but also a head-turning aesthetic solution.”

A luxury multi-family community, major league baseball stadium and world-famous causeway highlight the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s 2021 PCI Design Awards, which were announced recently. Judges awarded 26 projects and 12 honourable mentions for design excellence in building and transportation categories.

The PCI Design Awards have showcased and recognised the creative and innovative use of precast concrete for the past 58 years. A panel of industry experts that includes engineers, architects and precast concrete producers judges all nominees. The buildings and transportation categories are judged on aesthetic, structural and use versatility; site, energy and operational efficiency, and risk reduction; and resiliency, such as structure durability, multi-hazard protection, and life safety and health.

All winning projects will be showcased and honoured at the 2021 PCI Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, with an event on 21 May. To view the full list of winners and honourable mentions, visit: https://www.pci.org/PCI/About/Awards/Design_Awards/Design_Award_Winners?year=21

We have handpicked five of the best projects for this year’s awards and they are featured in no particular order.



Build a six-storey office building and freestanding conference centre above a two-level underground parking garage.
• Project cost: $162 million.
• Project size: 23 225m².

• Integral coloured precast concrete emulates the rich red colour of historic sandstone.
• Spray-foam insulation applied to thin-shell precast concrete at the plant enhances energy efficiency.
• The project was completed five months ahead of schedule.
• The project features 306 precast concrete panels and took two years to complete.

“When Orange County decided to build a new building as part of the OC Civic Centre in Santa Ana, California, the owner saw the building as an opportunity to enhance the community,” says Deryl Robinson, vice-president and senior programme and construction manager at Griffin Structures.

“It was the first building Orange County had built in 40 years, and they wanted it to reflect the elegant local architecture, which was dominated by a 120-year-old historic courthouse clad in natural sandstone. Our team’s challenge was to design and construct a building that combined high quality, durability and a long life with minimal maintenance,” Robinson says.

From the outset, the primary design objective was to create a beautiful and resilient building that would be efficient and operational for generations to come. The designers chose precast concrete because they knew it would deliver the desired durability and timeless appearance that the client was seeking – while staying within their budget.

“The owner originally wanted the feature walls to be made of sandstone to match the courthouse. However, that wasn’t a cost-effective option,” says the project’s architect, Melody Tang of LPA Design Studios. Instead, the design team elected to construct the feature walls out of coloured precast concrete that was designed to exactly match the colour of the sandstone while also meeting other project goals.

“The ability to seamlessly blend freestanding architectural precast concrete walls around the site and ground floor with an efficient, lightweight, thin precast concrete shell was critical in achieving the overall design aesthetic,” Tang says.

Weekly meetings throughout the course of construction between the construction manager, precast concrete producer and architect ensured that the aesthetic goals were met, while taking into consideration the logistical challenges of casting the panels at the plant, transporting them to the site, and installing and aligning them in the field.

Insulated skin
“To enhance the energy efficiency of the design, spray-foam insulation was applied to the thin-shell precast concrete at the plant. Attaching insulation directly to the skin of the panel minimised heat transfer between the exterior and interior of the building,” says Jeremy Hart, director of civic and cultural design at LPA Design Studios. This helped the building receive a LEED silver rating and reduced its projected energy use from the baseline standard by 76%.

“An efficient building skin was critical to the ability to achieve performance goals established by the owner and design team,” says Hart.

The design team reviewed many material samples with the precast concrete fabricator before finding the right match for the project. The final solution features an integral-coloured precast concrete to emulate the rich red colour of the historic sandstone, and thoughtful detailing of mitred corners and full returns of the panels give the precast concrete the appearance of natural stone.

Construction challenges overcome
Because the building is built in an active seismic zone, its lateral resisting system is a buckling-restrained braced frame structure (BRBF), which allows the building to move as necessary and remain operational after a seismic event.

Finally, the use of precast concrete mitigated construction challenges in the busy urban setting, allowing the project to be completed five months ahead of schedule. “We and our client love the fact that we were able to achieve a natural look and feel in our building’s exterior envelope, while still adhering to budget realities,” says Robinson. “The client is extremely pleased with the outcome.”

• Owner: Orange County, Santa Ana, California.
• PCI-certified precast concrete producer: Willis Construction, San Juan Bautista, California.
• Architect and engineer of record: LPA Design Studios, Irvine, California.
• General contractor: Swinerton Builders, Santa Ana, California.
• Project developer: Griffin Structures Inc., Irvine, California.
• Photo credit: LPA Inc. RMA Photography, LPA Design Studios/Costea Photography.



Build a seven-storey, 268-unit, multifamily housing project.
• Project cost: $47,1 million.
• Project size: 42 761m².

• The use of BIM software reduced errors and accelerated progress.
• Subsystems were produced and installed using laser-guided technology to enhance precision.
• Rapid erection gave the subcontractors early access to safely begin work.
• The project featured a total precast/prestressed concrete solution.
• The complex was open eleven months after breaking ground.

Juno Winter Park is the place to be if you want to live a life of luxury. The seven-storey, 268-unit multifamily housing project offers a variety of spacious studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom homes with gourmet kitchens, spa-inspired bathrooms and soaring ceilings.

The design team used building information modelling (BIM) software and Finfrock’s proprietary precast concrete products to prove that precast concrete could deliver the beautiful structure they envisioned, and so much more.

Within the complex, residents also enjoy resort-style amenities, including a beach-entry swimming pool, a sky deck with panoramic views, resident clubs and private fitness studios. And all of this is packaged in a beautiful, durable and highly energy-efficient precast concrete package.

Concrete innovation
“The customer was initially sceptical that a beautiful building could be designed and built with precast concrete,” says Allen Finfrock, chief executive officer of Finfrock, the designer, precast concrete producer and contractor for the project. The owner also wanted to lower the financial risk on the project while accelerating construction to meet a tight timeline. “Getting the building design right – and within a specified time frame – was critical to their strategic plan,” Finfrock says.

The project team started by creating a virtual plan using BIM. “By designing the project virtually in 3D software, we answered questions and instilled confidence that the customer would get the building he wanted, as well as being able to show the owner how using a precast concrete building system would allow for rapid erection of the structure, giving subcontractors early access to safely begin their work.”

As an added benefit, the nearly soundproof nature of precast concrete construction not only blocks the steady stream of noise from nearby traffic and road construction but also provides a more resilient solution than other material options. “Resiliency is always a concern for developers in central Florida,” Finfrock says.

BIM-driven innovation
Once the client was convinced and the project was official, Finfrock’s team created every precast concrete component using 3D modelling software, allowing designers to eliminate manufacturing and construction conflicts by integrating the structural and subsystems into one common model.

“Conflicts were noted and solved in the model by project designers rather than in the field,” he says. This approach eliminated errors and changed orders in the design phase, and considerably reduced the on-site construction time as well as disruptions to surrounding properties.

• Owner: Alliance Residential, Apopka, Florida.
• PCI-certified precast concrete producer, architect, engineer of record and PCI-certified erector: Finfrock, Apopka, Florida.
• Photo credit: Finfrock.



Build four campus housing structures totalling 170 477m².
• Project size: 170 477m².

• More than 6 700 windows were installed in the precast concrete plant.
• Choosing precast concrete helped designers cut six months from the schedule.
• Off-site fabrication resulted in 65 000 fewer worker days on the jobsite, reducing dust, pollution and safety hazards.
• The project used more than 14 000 precast concrete panels produced at three local plants.
• All four buildings were completed in eleven months.

Stanford University is a world-class institution that requires world-class housing for its students. But in 2017, the campus was facing a housing shortage, which strongly affected its 9 000 graduate students. Only 55% of post-graduates were able to secure on-campus housing, and more than 1 000 were living in off-campus accommodation subsidised by the school.

The solution was to build four graduate housing buildings with 665 two-bedroom apartments, 517 premium studios and 292 junior studio apartments. The structures would increase the university’s on-campus graduate housing rate to approximately 75%, while also providing computer labs, activity spaces and laundry facilities for students.

To meet the owner’s goals, the designers had to align their vision with several aesthetic and structural requirements. The new buildings had to conform to the campus standards for unit size, dimensions and layout, and they had to mimic the traditional architecture of the campus.

But they also had to use durable, cost-effective and easy-to-maintain materials, and had to be built while school was in session, to accommodate the next round of graduate students arriving in 2020. The architect chose precast concrete to address all these requirements and worked closely with the precast concrete producer to accelerate results.

The structural system is a special moment frame with exterior punched-window wall panels that are nearly 2ft thick and provide a seismic solution.

Rich and varied design
The flexibility of precast concrete also allowed the designers to produce the desired textures, finishes, colours and profiles to fit the campus design aesthetic. The precast concrete panels reference the original stone buildings on campus, with design details closely referencing the historical features of existing campus buildings.

By creating a staggered design that steps down from ten-storey volumes to eight- and six-storey sections, the mass of the project was noticeably reduced and the effect on neighbouring areas was diminished. The first two floors of each building also feature a horizontal “combed” texture to add depth and character to the surface of the precast concrete panels.

“Utilising the precast concrete system for both structure and architecture resulted in a rich and varied design,” says Amanda Borden, associate principal and project architect at KSH.

Using the prefabricated slabs, at least 300 fewer employees had to come onto the site every day during a busy campus season; and it also delivered many environmental and community benefits.

By fabricating the elements off-site, the precast concrete producer estimates:
• They made 136 000 fewer road trips.
• They had 65 000 fewer worker days on the jobsite, reducing the risk of worker injury.
• “They eliminated 65 000 days of dust, pollution and other hazards on campus,” says Bob Clark of Clark Pacific.

The precast concrete system ultimately provided the university with an exceptionally durable, long-term facility with reduced maintenance needs, and enhanced storm, fire and seismic resistance. It also enabled designers to cut six months from the schedule, ensuring future graduate students will have a safe, comfortable place to live.

• Owner: Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.
• Precast concrete producer and precast concrete specialty engineer: Clark Pacific, West Sacramento, California.
• Architect: Korth Sunseri Hagey Architects (KSH), San Francisco, California.
• Engineer of record: John A Martin & Associates, Los Angeles, California.
• General contractor: Vance Brown, Palo Alto, California.
• Photo credit: Bernard Andre.



Build a new baseball field for the Texas Rangers which is able to accommodate 41 000 seated spectators.
• Project cost: $1,2 billion.
• Project size: 157 935m².

• Thin-brick inlays mimic the appearance of hand-laid brick at a fraction of the cost.
• A distressed travertine look was achieved by incorporating three-finishes-in-one increments within the panels.
• The retractable roof rolls onto a steel frame with decorative thin-brick precast concrete arches.
• The project included approximately 10 590m² of finished precast concrete.
• The precast concrete erection was completed from October 2018 to April 2019.

The Texas Rangers is a 60-year-old major league baseball team that needed a new home. In 2016, the team announced they would build a brand new stadium through a public/private partnership between the City of Arlington and the Rangers. The new 41 000 seat ballpark would provide a permanent site for home games, as well as a multipurpose sports and entertainment venue for the community.

The designers originally wanted to use hand-laid bricks for the north facade. However, the contractor emphasised early on that 100% hand-laid bricks would not be possible with the construction schedule.

Finding viable solutions
As an alternative, they split up the brickwork, using precast concrete on the exterior of the facade and hand-laid on the interior. They selected a thin-brick version of the same full brick that was being used throughout the ballpark and cast them into the precast concrete column wrap units, which were eventually lifted into place and hung from the steel structure.

“From the start of design, Fred Ortiz of HKS challenged us to ‘think outside the box’ on the finishes for the exterior of the non-brick-clad areas,” says John Arehart, vice-president of the architectural division at Enterprise Precast Concrete.

Because the masonry in the north arcade was part of the same arch element, the precast concrete producer had to work closely with the masonry company and the contractor to ensure that similar masonry colour and coursing complemented the hand-laid bricks on the interior face of the arches for a cohesive aesthetic.

The precast concrete brick-clad columns and arches now read as one singular element, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the design and construction teams.

Retractable roof
In the old stadium, extreme heat or rain was often cited as reasons why the attendance was lower than in other baseball stadiums. According to Arehart, the retractable roof, which rolls onto a steel frame with decorative thin-brick precast concrete arches, solved this issue. “The roof introduces a fully climate-controlled atmosphere, a first of its kind in a major league baseball facility.”

To meet the tight schedule, which was set to accommodate the 2020 baseball season, the project team was able to speed erection through the shared use of cranes and having the precast concrete set overnight to avoid conflicts with other trades.

A second PCI-certified producer was brought in to provide 1 650 structural components in the stadium, including risers, raker beams, columns, beams and interior structural walls. Cooperation and collaboration between the two different precast concrete producers, who are typically competitors in this market, was essential to the project’s success.

As a result, the project was delivered on time and was tapped to host the 2020 World Series, but because of the pandemic, the fans haven’t yet had a chance to experience the beauty of this new ballpark. “Sitting in the empty stands is a strange experience,” Ortiz says. “You hear so many more nuances of the game, like voices and the clear crack of the bat. But we are all ready for baseball to be back.”

• Owner: Texas Rangers, the City of Arlington, and Globe Life, Arlington, Texas.
• PCI-certified precast concrete producer and precast concrete specialty engineer: Enterprise Precast Concrete, Omaha, Nebraska.
• PCI-certified precast concrete producer: Gate Precast Company, Hillsboro, Texas.
• Architect: HKS, Dallas, Texas.
• Engineer of record: Walter P Moore, Dallas, Texas.
• General contractor: Manhattan Construction, Dallas, Texas.
• PCI-certified erector: Precast Erectors, Hurst, Texas.
• Photo credit: Enterprise Precast Concrete and Jacia Phillips | Arch Photo KC.


1. Best mixed-use building
2. Harry H Edwards industry advancement honourable mention
3. Sidney Freedman Craftsmanship Award

Create a facade with maximum waterfront views for a 42-storey residential building and a 22-storey commercial tower.
• Project size: 42 921m².

• Use of 3D printed moulds and Revit software expedited panel production.
• Nearly 2 500 windows were installed at the precast concrete plant, cutting eight months from the schedule.
• The moulds could support more than 200 pours without reconditioning.
• The project included 1 593 precast concrete panels.
• Erection occurred from August 2018 to February 2020.

One South First in Brooklyn, New York, is a new mixed-use building that promises to redefine waterfront living. Overlooking the East River, the 42-storey residential tower and 22-storey commercial tower have transformed the property, which was once home to an old sugar factory. The new owners saw the potential for luxury living on the site, and they wanted a facade that would maximise the waterfront views.

“That brought us to the idea of dealing with sugar,” says Pam Campbell, partner at CookFox and designer of the project. “We were interested in creating a facade that would really be animated, but reminiscent of the reflection and form of sugar crystals.”

The architect envisioned a contemporary facade that was inspired by sugar’s crystalline structure as a way to connect the new building with the industrial history of the site.

Sugar crystals as inspiration
The precast concrete facade features a repetition of angled white precast concrete, using interlocking panels with deep facets to create a play of light and shadow that animates the rigorous forms. Designed to self-shade, each elevation is formed to respond to its specific solar orientation and optimised to reduce energy use for cooling. “It offers a unique opportunity to prioritise energy efficiency through the complementary energy profiles of different uses,” says Steve Schweitzer, vice-president of operations at Gate Precast Company.

The window openings were deep-set, and the sides were faceted back at different angles to catch the light and show the sparkle of the glitter sand used in the acid-etched white concrete. The front faces of the panels were polished to give a smooth reflective surface to complement the acid-washed surface. The layout of the moulds in the panel were varied throughout the building to give an appearance of randomness.

Additive manufacturing benefits
Traditionally, a mould for this type of project would require between 40 and 60 man-hours, notes Schweitzer. But with the automated 3D printing, known as additive manufacturing, the time was cut to just 14 hours. Each mould could support more than 200 pours, whereas traditional wood moulds typically require reconditioning after 16 to 18 uses. This allowed the production teams to run consecutive days without downtime during the fabrication of the facade.

Throughout the project, the design-assist team worked collectively using Revit software to plan and track various stages in the building’s lifecycle. They created “intelligent families” within the software to enable rapid advancement and collaboration between the teams.

The Revit model served as the cornerstone for the advance production workflow, Schweitzer says. “Without the ability to make real-time modifications in the architect’s office and then share those changes with the fabrication team instantly, the process of design and detailing would have taken several more months to complete, thus delaying production and delivery on site.”

Window installation off site
To further expedite erection, nearly 2 500 windows were installed at the precast concrete plant, which saved at least eight months on the schedule and allowed the interiors programme to start sooner. “The inclusion of the window system installation at the precast concrete producer’s production facilities proved to be invaluable to the owner and construction team,” Schweitzer says.

Special considerations for the attachment methods during the design stage enabled a rapid installation time of about 30 minutes per window. “As the precast panels were erected on site, the building envelope was virtually complete,” he adds. “This not only saved significant time on the construction schedule, but also provided a clean, weather-protected and safe work area for the other trades that followed.”

• Owner: Two Trees Management, Brooklyn, New York.
• PCI-certified precast concrete producers: Gate Precast Company, Winchester, Kentucky. Gate Precast Company, Oxford, North Carolina.
• Precast concrete specialty engineer: Gate Precast, Jacksonville, Arkansas.
• Architect: CookFox, New York, New York.
• Engineer of record: Rosenwasser/Grossman Consulting Engineers, New York, New York.
• General contractor: Two Trees Management, Brooklyn, New York.
• PCI-certified erector: E. E. Marr Erectors, Baltimore, Maryland.
• Photo credit: Gate Precast Company Kumar.

For a full list of the winners and more information, contact www.PCIDesignAwards@pci.org.

Main image: County Administration South – Building 16, Orange County, Santa Ana California

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