Creating pretty faces |

Creating pretty faces

Barbara Marquand

Concrete tilt-up – a construction method in which concrete walls are cast and then lifted into place – was used for decades to build warehouses and other projects that didn’t require a lot of design flair.

But if you still think the method is limited to boring boxes, think again.

Today architects and engineers all over the country are using concrete tilt-up for innovative and attractive designs of stores, schools, hospitals, offices and even churches.

Locally, many projects are incorporating tilt-up – from the Carson- Tahoe Regional Medical Center under construction in Carson City to the new Community Assistance Center, which will be built on Record Street in Reno.

And the trend is likely to grow, says structural engineer Peter Blakely, chief operations officer of Blakely Johnson & Ghusn Inc., an engineering and architecture firm in Reno.

“Concrete is low maintenance and low cost, and designers are continuing to push the envelope artistically with tilt-up design,” he says.

For instance, concrete poured onto textured plastic can be made to look like other materials, such as wood, on a building’s exterior walls.

Or elements such as bricks can be cast into the tilt-up walls.

The end result is a tilt-up building that looks like a traditional brick structure.

In its design of the Sierra Commerce Center Building D for Intuit, Blakely’s firm incorporated brick accents, and large windows to create a pleasing pattern in the rounded front of the building.

The firm also used tilt-up in its design of Landmark Homes’ new office building in South Meadows, which incorporates glass and steel panels in the front.

Designers create interest with color, window patterns and openings in panels.

Or they can design panels in different shapes and forms to create curved or angled walls.

A variety of materials can also be incorporated with the tilt-up panels to create unique effects.

Blakely Johnson & Ghusn’s design of Sierra Meat’s office on Capital Boulevard in Reno incorporates rectangular and square windows between vertical red panels that are juxtaposed to the building’s angled face.

Builders started using modern tilt-up in the 1940s in California, and the method has since spread across the country.Yet, it’s still more prevalent here than on the East Coast, Blakely says.

Tilt-up allows crews to build more quickly, which keeps costs down.”It’s always easier to build flat on the ground as opposed to building up in the air on scaffolding,” Blakely says.

He estimates that a 400,000-square-foot warehouse would take about six months to build using the tilt-up method, versus seven months if it were built out of masonry blocks.

Concrete tilt-up buildings are also durable, fire resistant, and energy efficient, notes the Tilt-up Concrete Association in Mount Vernon, Iowa, a national trade group formed in 1986 to expand and improve the method.

Tilt-up design has spread to more sectors in recent years as designers have explored the method’s aesthetic possibilities.

Tilt-up doesn’t work for every building.

Projects over four stories would have to use other methods for building the higher floors.And it probably makes more sense to build small stores or offices out of masonry blocks rather than tilt-up panels, Blakely says.

Some project owners still aren’t comfortable with tilt-up design, associating it with bland warehouse boxes.

But a growing number are realizing they can get the aesthetic qualities they want with tilt-up design for less cost and time, Blakely says.

The next trend? Blakely predicts tilt-up will spread to the single-family home market.