Photos: Gate Precast Co.

“The judges were in 100% agreement that this was the number-one winner. It was so strong.”

Debra Kunce


Government and Public Buildings

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

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A science museum must convey to visitors its position on the cutting edge of new ideas. The architectural precast concrete wall panels used to clad the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science helped achieve that by minimizing material (and budget) with a system of casting that maximized modularity, interchangeability, and strong aesthetics for the  facade.

The goal of the facade’s design was to reflect the geology and stratification of the earth with undulating forms, which seem random but actually were rigorously organized. The designers used the museum’s architecture as an active tool for science education rather than allow it to serve merely as a neutral background. Integrating architecture, nature, engineering, and technology, the building’s envelope was to help stimulate curiosity.

Panel prototypes were designed and organized into categories of projections and shapes, from which rubber molds were created. Functioning like a plug-and-play puzzle, these categories then were pulled apart and rearranged after each concrete pour. The molds were reused up to 50 times each. The as-cast panels created an unlimited possibility for combining and contrasting concrete textures.

“The judges were in 100% agreement that this was the number-one winner,” says Debra Kunce, a member of the buildings awards jury. “It was so strong. What makes it strong is that they allowed precast to be used in a new way, with a nice undulation and softness that you don’t see every day. It was wonderful.”

Precast concrete could be molded into virtually any shape the design team required. The designs were digitally modeled, providing greater integration and coordination with other building systems and trades. The process of casting the forms, and using repetition, allowed a systematic approach to design and documentation of the facades.

On the plinth and atrium, nine out of every 10 panels have some type of curve, either concave or convex, in either their face or top. A number of panels were straight for some distance before they curved, and some started plumb in the direction they were being erected only to cant away from the structure by 12 degrees. Some panels both canted and curved.

The panels were designed with a nominal 6.5 in. (170 mm) thickness, allowing for 2 in. (50 mm) and 3 in. (75 mm) projections. Additional projections, extending 8 in. (200 mm), were created separately for some areas and were hand applied to the panels before shipping.

“The dynamic nature of the massing made this project a clear winner,” says Bob Powers, a member of the buildings awards jury. “The architect took precast concrete and created a very fluid form complete with texture and shadow. It’s almost like frozen liquid in space. This project really highlights the versatility of precast. It’s a great project.”

Location: Dallas, Tex.
Owner: Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Tex.
Architect: Morphosis, Culver City, Calif.,
Associate Architect: Good Fulton & Farrell, Dallas, Tex.,
Engineer: Datum Engineers Inc., Dallas, Tex.
Contractor: Balfour Beatty Construction, Dallas, Tex.
Precaster: Gate Precast Co., Hillsboro, Tex.,
Project size: 180,000 ft2 (17,000 m2)
Project cost: $92 million