We were recently asked to be featured by a respected vendor on one of my favorite projects. Thermomass’ case study showcased the use of System CIP in NICC’s new Industrial Technologies building in Peosta. It made me think back to 2009 when we were in the middle of Implementation.

That project is a perfect example of the power of balance between functionality and design and how the two can come together for pretty stunning architecture. In this case, architecture with several awards and a life of its own.

No matter where we are in the process, maintaining balance is always dependent on collaboration with many people. And no matter whom we are working with, there is a process that guides us in finding the best solution that meets the needs, fits the parameters and influences people with design.

Case in Point: Pushing the Envelope

Blog-NICCPeosta-drawingWe were working with a low cost per square foot budget. The building site was in a hole. Programming for this unique line of study called for both pedestrian-facing aesthetics and large, heavy equipment and machinery accommodations. We needed the envelope solution to be energy efficient, have high face durability, provide strength as a support structure and retain soil. The typical component-based wall assembly fell short because it was too costly and pre-cast didn’t cut it because it was not suited for the soil retention requirements.

Self-consolidating, cast-in-place concrete with internally encapsulated insulation proved to be the best answer. It gave us the energy efficiency, durability, support and retention we needed without having to compromise an architectural finish. With Thermomass’ patented, pultruded fiberglass tie system, it was cost-effective and could be done by one contractor. It was a holistic solution that balanced functionality and design.

It also was a pretty new concept for the team. To our knowledge, this was the first internally insulated cast-in-place concrete system done with self-consolidating concrete in the state of Iowa. Even insulated cast-in-place itself had a limited application around here at that time. A gorilla exhibit was our only option to review previous applications—that was an interesting field expedition to say the least (unnerving at times).

Innovation Calls for Collaboration and Flexibility

Blog-NICCPeosta-ConstructionThe first time I do something it doesn’t always go perfectly, and this didn’t either. In construction, the fall rate of the concrete caused imperfections in the look and strength of the envelope. The perils of innovation were overcome with collaboration and flexibility. The team was broad—Larsen, John Paul Goedken at KJWW, Portzen Construction, Scott Bohlender from Norwalk Ready Mix—and they all worked with us to review the installation method and strive for the quality we expected. The recommendation we went with came from a relative of Brad Leeper, Principal in Charge on the project. It was a simple change to the tremmie from slick plastic pipe to more of a fire hose material, of all things, was enough to slow the concrete down and prevent it from curing with air pockets. Ultimately, it provided a smooth, consistent exterior finish.

Something More than Beautiful

When Jason DeVries, INVISION Architect, and I think back on this project, the envelope was just one of many aspects where greatness hinged on a great team and a thorough process. We celebrated the ‘bones’ of the building and left everything we could–the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structure—highly organized and exposed. For every student who passes through, the building in and of itself is a tool for learning. Since completion almost eight years ago, the school has changed a few of the class programs and uses the space differently than anyone intended. That possibility is a testament to our ability to think beyond initial satisfaction and into designing for the unknown. Thinking about flexibility, trends and how tomorrow impacts today, is a critical component of the process for great design, and this building showcases that well.

But it’s not those things, nor the multiple awards it’s won (five, in case anyone is counting), that leaves Jason and me satisfied when we think back on this project. Instead, it’s that balance between functionality and design and how crucial it was to the success of this building for everyone involved.

At INVISION, we don’t come to projects with a predetermined answer. We’re not hung up on a particular solution or style. We’re more interested at thoroughly understanding the project parameters, understanding all of the forces at work and creating a solution that satisfies all of the needs in the most simple, beautifully functioning way.