“They were very clever in how they articulated the form, breaking it up so it related to its surroundings in a better way.”

Tom Brock


Office Buildings: 1-3 Stories

PBS 39 Public Media and Education Center at SteelStacks

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Locating this new broadcast facility and office building on the site of a former steel mill, once the town’s major employer, provided a strong symbol for the citizens of Bethlehem, Pa. It represents a significant step toward redeveloping the idle site and breathing new life into the area. Designers acknowledged the signature nature of the project by using insulated and solid architectural precast concrete panels to create an articulated, high-tech exterior shell.

“This was a relatively simple program that could easily have been just a box,” says Tom Brock, a member of the buildings awards jury. “They were very clever in how they articulated the form, breaking it up so it related to its surroundings in a better way than a box ever could. The way precast played into that was the cleverest part.”

The precast concrete panels are exposed on all facades except on the north side, where the panels were covered with charred-cedar siding and backlit with metal mesh. The combination of materials created a layered effect that gives the building depth and offers contrast between hard and soft, light and dark. The detailing reveals the mesh and siding as thin skins against the mass and permanence of the precast concrete panels. Color-changing night lighting enhances the effect.

The interior sides of the precast concrete, along with the building’s steel frame, were designed to be left exposed, juxtaposing them against selected refined elements, such as the reception desk and the frameless glass in the lobby. Backlit graphic panels accent the space.

Specifying precast concrete allowed the designers to provide strong aesthetics while remaining within the limited budget required for a nonprofit media organization. Thirty-five load-bearing, insulated precast concrete composite sandwich panels were used for the walls of the broadcast studios, while 57 panels were used to construct the nonstudio exterior walls.

The insulated panels were chosen from both a first-cost and life-cycle-cost standpoint. They provide continuous insulation and high thermal mass while offering durability, quick erection, and low maintenance.

The panels also provided the monolithic appearance designers wanted without any thermal bridging. The composite construction and inherent mass of the precast concrete panels also helped achieve the required sound transmittance reduction needed for the broadcast studios.
“We especially liked the building’s sophisticated use of finishes,” says Wanda Lau, a member of the buildings awards jury. “The designer juxtaposed the precast against other finishes and, by doing so, showed that precast can be used as a very elegant finish material. And the precast continues on the interior as well on the studio walls. It is a very creative way of using precast as an exterior finish.”

Location: Bethlehem, Pa.
Owner: PBS 39, Bethlehem, Pa.
Architect: URS Corp., Columbus, Ohio,
Structural and electrical engineer: URS Corp., Columbus, Ohio
Fire protection and mechanical engineer: Brinjac Engineering, Allentown, Pa.
Contractor: Alvin H Butz Inc., Allentown, Pa.
Precaster: High Concrete Group LLC, Denver, Pa.,
Project size: 28,488 ft2 (26,800 m2)
Project cost: $8.8 million