“Expressing the dignity of the courts along with the rugged Montana geology was one of the coolest things about our specially formed precast facades.”

Jeanne Iannucci, AIA, LEED AP, NBBJ in Seattle, Wash.


Best Justice and Correctional Structure

James F. Battin United States Courthouse in Billings, Mont.

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With both design and construction completed in a record 27 months, the James F. Battin United States Courthouse in Billings, Mont., represents the fastest delivery of a federal courthouse in modern history.

And precast concrete helped make it happen.

From the beginning, precast concrete was envisioned as an important design component of the project, says Jeanne Iannucci AIA LEED AP architect for NBBJ in Seattle, Wash. “The courthouse had to be designed and built in record time, while meeting high-performance, high-durability goals at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer,” she says. “Precast cladding, with its off-site production simultaneous with the onsite erection of the steel supporting frame, helped us meet this record-breaking schedule.”

The design team worked closely with the contractor and precast concrete producer to pre-weld connection platforms in a tight gap between the slab closure plate and the back of the precast concrete panel so precast concrete erection could immediately follow steel erection.

The courthouse features rugged precast concrete panels that reflect the mountainous landscape of Montana. The top two floors have large expanses of glass bringing light and transparency to the structure, while the lower floors are solid precast concrete for better insulation.

To make the panels more visually appealing, the architect wanted to compliment the “Buttes of Montana" says Tom Kelley, president of Gage Brothers. “We executed it by using formliners which created varying angled planes which are very playful in how they look in different angles of sunlight.”

The look was achieved through the use of 12 basic formliner patterns in various combinations, placed together to create eight different larger panels, which were then laid upon the building in a carefully orchestrated procession. To emphasize the lightness of the upper floors, the precast concrete panels are hung from steel framing, cantilevered past the lower level footprint of the building.

To minimize the appearance of joints, some of which extended 4  in. (100 mm) due to the random placement of panels, sand was blown onto the wet caulk, creating a more natural appearing facade.
The use of precast concrete also enabled the designers to meet the blast resistant goals for the building, says Collin Moriarty, engineering manager for Gage. To prevent objectionable deflection of the upper level panels, they needed to be stiff sections, causing them to attract large blast forces. “Precast provided that high performance attribute,” he says. “Energy dissipation is one of the advantages you get from precast.”

Sustainability is another benefit, adds Iannucci.  “The durability of precast translates into longevity for our 100-plus-year building, and presents an ideal face for the climatic barriers and super insulation essential to our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act energy conservation goals,” she says. “This is what we love about this project.”


Sean Airhart, NBBJ


Owner: GSA Rocky Mountain Region, Denver, Colo.
Architect: NBBJ, Seattle, Wash.
Precaster and precast specialty engineer: Gage Brothers Concrete Products, Inc., Sioux Falls, S.Dak. 
Engineer of Record: Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA), Seattle, Wash.
Contractor: Mortenson, Bellevue, Wash.
Additional Project Team Member: Weidlinger Associates, Inc. New York, NY
Total Cost: $59 million
Project Size: 147,000 ft2 (13,700 m2)