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Precast Peace

By Martha Blastow

precast-pg20Architectural precast supplied by Niagara Falls, Ont.-based Modern Mosaic lends a distinctive face to the character of a new headquarters building for the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan institution established by Congress.

Situated at the northwest corner of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.­—the last remaining site on the Mall facing the Lincoln Memorial—the 125,000-sq.-ft., five-story structure will serve as a national center to advance the study and practice of international conflict management and peace building. It will house offices for Institute staff and fellows, a library and archive, a conference center, classrooms and education facilities available to students and the general public.

Selected through a nationwide competition, USIP architect Moshe Safdie and Associates of Somerville, Mass., created a design embodying the principle of peaceful coexistence: three distinct sections linked by two atriums fanning out from a corner entrance. The Institute’s public spaces are covered by undulating roofs, whose wing-like elements comprise steel frames and translucent glass, which appears white during the day and glows from within at night.

While the Institute stands at a comfortable remove from nearby structures, including the historic brick Navy House and buff limestone American Pharmacists Association building, Modern Mosaic nevertheless fine tuned the color of its precast panels to match a complementary buff sample provided by Safdie. Project manager Jason Elia notes that a suitable tone was achieved using Dynamic Color Solutions’ No. 48 Dark Orange Buff and No. 67 Wheat pigments. All precast components for the project feature an acid-etch finish.

Production spanning April through October 2009 yielded 449 building pieces, plus 23 panels for exterior radius walls. About 60 percent of the units required individual forms, Elia reports. Transporting product to the job site, 470 miles from the plant, entailed approximately 100 truckloads. Also delivered from Niagara Falls was a full-scale T panel mock-up requested by the architect. The majority of precast was erected atnight, following completion of cast-in-place concrete work and various trades using the lone tower crane deployed by lead contractor Clark Construction, Bethesda. Modern Mosaic retained Erection Associates of Hughesville, Md., as precast-erection subcontractor. Among challenges encountered in panel placement were multiple blind connections to shear walls. Moreover, precast work had to be scheduled around glazing and roof installation handled by Seele GmbH & Co. KG of Gersthofen, Germany.

Scheduled for early 2011 completion, the building has been registered under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s Green Building Rating System for New Construction (LEED-NC), version 2.1, and is expected to receive Silver LEED certification. To that end, credits have been tallied in multiple categories, e.g., for conversion of a hardtop parking lot into a building site, enhanced by green landscaping and shade trees [Sustainable Sites] that promote water conservation [Water Efficiency], also optimized in the structure, designed to improve energy performance and eliminate use of ozone-depleting volatile organic compounds [Energy & Atmosphere], while maximizing indoor air quality and interior daylighting [Indoor Environmental Quality], as waste generation is reduced and use of recycled materials advanced [Materials & Resources].