Photos: Brad Feinknopf

“Erasing 89 days off the construction schedule is a really admirable thing.”

Tom Brock


Military Structures

711th Human Performance Wing Complex

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The new testing and training complex at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base comprises two major buildings and ancillary facilities that house laboratories, medical facilities, offices, and a range of highly technical equipment. Base closures elsewhere created a tight 24-month construction schedule that could not be missed. To ensure that didn’t happen, designers chose architectural precast concrete panels to enclose the buildings, which helped the project reach completion almost three months ahead of schedule.

Designers convinced the Corps of Engineers that precast concrete panels embedded with thin brick would meet requirements better than laid-up brick veneer. They explained that precast concrete could offer better quality control and faster production due to its off-site casting. It also could continue production through any weather, providing a reliable and faster schedule. Precast concrete also proved to be more economical.

“Erasing 89 days off the construction schedule is a really admirable thing,” says Tom Brock, a member of the buildings awards jury. “For a huge facility, three months off of a project is nothing to scoff at. What really amazed us was that it was a really beautiful facility nonetheless. Their use and variation of the materials showed a very skillful approach to proportion. They ended up with a really handsome building.”

The facade appearance was established in a master plan for the base campus, with the goal of complementing adjacent buildings. The designers wanted to match the brick color and provide the look of hand-laid brick without the expense, site congestion, and potential delays due to weather. To achieve this, the designers worked with the precaster to find the appropriate color in a 5/8 in. (16 mm) thick brick. Some areas also used exposed architectural panels in a buff color with a light sandblast finish.

To overcome concerns about aesthetic quality, the RFP included specifications that the panels would provide a toothed appearance at the building corners and expansion joints located at the column center lines. These design details, along with the cost and schedule benefits, convinced base personnel to use the system.

The precast concrete facade proved to be a key part of the success of the building, the base’s largest single construction project since World War II and the district’s most expensive project ever. The panels provided a level of quality control and uniformity above expectations for a huge project that would have been a challenge for local masons, the designer said.

“The designers presented this project as being about the schedule savings that they got, but I think it goes beyond that,” says Debra Kunce, a member of the buildings awards jury. “They took a big box, broke it down, and used precast concrete with color and form to create an aesthetically pleasing building.”

Location: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
Owner: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, Louisville, Ky.
Architect: Cannon Design, Arlington, Va.,
Architect/Engineer for the RFP: KZF/BWSC Joint Venture
Associate Architect: Burgess & Niple, Cincinnati, Ohio,
Engineer: THP Limited Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio
Contractor: Archer Western/Butt Construction Joint Venture, Chicago, Ill.
Precaster: High Concrete Group LLC, Denver, Pa.,
Project size: 680,000 ft2 (63,000 m2)
Project cost: $194.5 million