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Fallsview Hilton

Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview has opened its doors following a two-plus-year expansion that transformed the property into Canada’s tallest hotel. Rising 500 meters, the tower houses more than 1,000 guest rooms, including two presidential suites on the 52nd floor, each featuring a sitting room with a fireplace and views of either the city or the falls.

As an appropriate counterpoint to its location, adjacent to one of the true wonders of the natural world, the detailing on this complex is impressive and provided a challenge that both designer and precaster were eager to take up. Aesthetic details on the first few storeys above grade were one aspect, but in the higher reaches of the towers, restrictions put in place by the structural engineer provided the greatest challenge. Initially, the engineer did not want to allow pockets in the shearwalls — so that a redesign of the panels and connections was required to accommodate zonal reinforcing — but eventually allowed some pockets, with the caveat that they be some distance from the corners. “As a result,” explains Malcolm Hachborn, Project Manager for RES Precast, “the panels had to be fairly heavy — on the order of about 8,200 kg — and with the moments applied (because of the large off-set at the corners), the connections were fairly substantial.”

That created another challenge in that with such large panels and that significant corner distance, the returns during flipcasting were almost two meters — where they might typically be 1 to 1.5 meters — so the panel design had to be altered from standard to accommodate those. “Then,” explains Hachborn, “when you’re erecting the panels, because the placement of the connections are so far away from the centre of gravity of the panel, the loads on the connections are significantly higher.” Hachborn says that pockets in the elevator shaft meant that special, reusable platforms had to be built to access the ones on the far side.

Down on the first few levels above grade, it was a precast heyday. “The clients are Italian, and they had the image of an Italian townscape in mind,” explains James Smith, one of a team of designers from Stanford Downey Architects Inc., “with the interesting building shapes and forms for scale around the base of this new tower, before it suddenly shoots up to 52 storeys above.

For this Italianate landscape at the base, the precast applications were fairly straightforward, except for one element: the first floor rotunda precast was certainly the most complex of any that I’ve ever worked on in detail, and also one of the nicest pieces of workmanship on the project.”

Essentially a series of arched openings around the horizontal curve, the mouldings going around each of the openings are a mixture of convex and concave forms, creating an extremely compounded curve. “RES Precast’s work on this whole project, but especially on this particular detail, was superb,” says Smith, adding that the shade of the precast on this part of the building was a warm brown, accomplished through a combination of the colour admixture and the chosen aggregate, which was then sandblasted to bring out the aggregate even more. “It’s one of the nicest pieces of precast that I’ve ever seen,” emphasizes Smith, who also credits Daniel Quinn Detailing out of North York, which did the shop drawings, and transferred the architectural images for application in the RES shop.

Hachborn’s comments about the designer speak to a mutual respect for the other’s work. “Stanford-Downey has been an excellent architect,” he says. “They understand precast. They understand the complexities of it, and they understand some of the difficulties in manufacturing complicated pieces with it, so they seem to design things that are appropriate for the product.”

The Hilton Niagara project emphasizes the fact that advances in precast technology have added immeasurably to the available palette for Canadian building designers. “There really is no limit, within reason, to the looks and shapes that a designer can do with precast,” says Smith. “We tend to have our education in the traditional ways of materials and methods,” he adds, “but we quickly find out in practice that it isn’t practical, and that we can’t universally apply some method designed in a warm, Mediterranean part of Europe to an image that a client has in cold (Canada), so it’s very freeing. We have used it innumerable times and we really like the material.”

Owner: Hilton Hotel & Resorts
Architect: Stanford Downey Architects Inc.
Precast Supplier: RES Precast Inc.

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