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Architecture Primer: How Understanding Basic Theory Creates Success
By Alan Wilson, AIA
In recent years,
Tilt-Up professionals have begun to explore new innovations in design—so much so that this construction method, previously relegated to box-like warehouses, is now delving into the realm of architecture. But what makes a Tilt- Up project truly architectural? This is an area that is considerably gray and subject to debate, however, all recognized that architectural acceptance is key to success. As such, it is important to have a basic understanding of the tenets of architecture to be able to properly partner with architects to create a successful project.
Architecture Defined. To further understand how certain Tilt-Up projects can be considered to be a work of architecture, we must first understand what is meant by the term. Webster’s Dictionary defines architecture as “the art, profession or science of designing and constructing buildings.” A professional practice definition includes the impact that architecture has on humans: “the business of creating environments for people.” Another good definition however is a explanation from yesteryear. In his ancient Roman treatise on architecture “DeArchitectura” (The Ten Books of Architecture), Vitruvius set forth three “conditions of well-building” that all structures must possess in order to adhere to architectural standards: firmness, commodity and delight. First, a building must have firmness, or durability. This means it must be well-constructed using quality materials, thereby imparting a sense of longevity. The second quality a building must possess is commodity – in other words, it must be functional, and it must be successful in serving its intended purpose. Finally, and not to be discounted, is delight. The work must possess a sense of aesthetics, beauty or expression that allows it to transcend the realm of the ordinary.
The problem with beauty, however, is that it is, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder. While firmness and commodity are tangible values that can be judged somewhat more objectively, beauty is open to the individual subjectivity. Whether a project is elevated to “greatness” often depends on the collective opinion of many people, from the building’s owner, inhabitants and maintenance staff to the design community and critics to the general public.
Properties such as proportion and scale, which significantly impact one’s perception and experience of a building, are derived from the human body. As such, people must be considered above all else when one designs a building.
Facade Development and Architectural Concepts. Beyond the parameters of proportion and scale, architecture derives much of its meaning from the treatment of its “face” or facade. Facades can “tell a story” about a building, its purpose or its importance. Manipulation of the details within a facade can produce very different meanings. For example, a plain, unadorned facade creates a “wall aesthetic” with punched openings, producing a more utilitarian structure, while two-story ground-level columns can lend a sense of grandeur and significance to the structure, as might be found in public buildings. Each of these may be an appropriate design response depending on the nature of the building and the expression desired by the designer.
Beyond solving the basic project requirements and producing good aesthetics, architecture often expresses a concept—an idea or theme that unifies and gives meaning to the building design. To be successful, one must be able to identify what idea the building intends to express. For example, the Tilt-Up project, Jacksonville Beach Seawalk Pavilion, offers a beach theme. The three-dimensional building boasts a sculptured quality, complete with sweeping curved panel tops that derive their form from nearby dunes or ocean waves. The stage roof, which cantilevers 13 feet, reaches out to the audience like a wave preparing to break onto the beach, just as the performers “reach out” to the audience. The design of this structure is enhanced beyond its basic functional and constructability requirements by the overlay of a theme to provide a degree of “delight” thereby helping to make it a successful piece of architecture.
Types of Tilt-Up Buildings. As Tilt-Up concrete has evolved over the years, so too have the types of buildings that are designed and constructed using this method. Many design teams are no longer content to leave Tilt-Up projects “unadorned,” and are therefore designing buildings that serve to do one of two things: “mask” the method so the building doesn’t appear to have been constructed by Tilt-Up, or “celebrate its nature” by making use of forms and aesthetics derived from the use of Tilt-Up. “Masking it” generally is done by employing design techniques and construction materials found in traditional buildings such as using applied brick or other appliqué to the Tilt-Up. “Celebrating Tilt-Up” utilizes the qualities of site cast concrete in new, creative ways to produce buildings that are obviously Tilt-Up, often can only be built out of
Tilt-Up, yet are aesthetically successful in their own right.
No matter which treatment an architect might choose for a Tilt-Up project, many are now realizing its potential as a gateway to great architecture. As a technique, Tilt-Up allows buildings to meet the three “conditions of well-building.” Its use of strong, solid concrete provides firmness; its flexibility to serve any purpose lends it a sense of commodity; and the freedom of expression that abounds in the medium today allow endless possibilities for delight.
Going forward, the challenge for architects will be to celebrate Tilt-Up and use it to its full advantage during the design stage. Tilt-Up buildings can be designed to respond to a user’s sense of scale and proportion. The method itself can be used as inspiration for new facades that will impart meanings consistent with or different from the traditional styles. Concrete comes in liquid form and is limited only by the imagination of the person or team conceiving the application. Finally, it can be used to help express the underlying concept of the building, bringing all components of the design together. Applying the fundamental principles of architecture to this construction method will surely take future Tilt-Up projects into the realm of great architecture.
Alan Wilson, design principal at The Haskell Company and board member for the Tilt-Up Concrete Association. Alan Wilson joined The Haskell Company in 1987 and has designed a wide variety of Tilt-Up concrete buildings including office buildings, schools, distribution centers, general mail facilities, restaurants and more. Wilson works closely with engineering and construction staff to produce projects that not only meet cost and schedule needs, but also produce an aesthetic solution. He is a Registered Architect and recently served as president of the AIA chapter in Jacksonville, Fla. For more information about the TCA, visit
Tilt-Up Finish Options
A variety of finish options and design techniques are available for today’s
Tilt-Up professionals to increase the architectural appeal of facilities. Some examples include:
· Exposed aggregate finishes (sandblasting or chemical retarders)
· Flagstone finishes
· Dimple finish
· Cast-in thin brick
· Cast-in thin CMU block,
· Trompe l’oeil finishes
· Form liners
· Post-applied finish treatments
· Curved panels.
· Diversity of color options
· Panels in different sizes and shapes.
· Availability of maintenance-free finish options that match the quality and visual look of other building systems.