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Precast Cladding Gives Retail Giant Classic Look

Located in Pittsburgh's First Avenue shopping district, the new four-story, 247,000-square-foot Lazarus Department Store is a major landmark in the revitalization of the city's downtown area. To accent that, architectural firm Cooper Carry used architectural precast panels to create façades that relate to the Steel City's existing traditional buildings while providing distinction in character and color.

The new Lazarus Department Store is a major landmark in Pittsburgh's revitalized downtown area. The use of precast cladding allowed the architects to model the façade into three planes giving the building distinction and character.
"The use of precast allowed us to shape the façades the way we wanted," says Gar Muse, principal in charge of the firm's retail division. "The store is a classical building done in a contemporary manner." It also represents the first freestanding department store built in the city in 25 years. To showcase that distinction, highly articulated precast concrete panels were designed to give the building scale and character. This combines with granite that was used at the base to add richness and depth of color.

The building features a steel frame above grade with precast concrete columns supporting the three-level, below-grade parking structure, which encompasses 193,000 square feet. The building's entrances were placed at the corners to align with pedestrian crosswalks, announcing the entrances to onlookers from a distance. Similarly, the architect used large windows both to add light and as a marketing tool.

"The prominent use of glass defines the corner entrances maximizes the use of natural light and allows the passerby to peek into the store," Muse says. "At night, the light shining through the glass creates excitement along the neighboring streets and sidewalks." Aluminum eyebrows near the top of the entrance towers also highlight the entrances.

Precast concrete allowed the designers to shape the façades into three planes. "Although the building is only four stories high, it reads as a taller structure because of the vertical emphasis, the different planes and the changes in the precast color," Muse explains. "The notches topping the front plane on Fifth Avenue relate to the height of the building across the street."

Reveals in the panels mimic the rustication of natural stone and help the panels resemble the masonry on neighboring buildings. The reveals also give the building a more human scale, Muse points out. The aggregates used in the precast matrix were selected to reflect the traditional buildings in Pittsburgh but are somewhat lighter in color to give the store a unique look. The precaster made two mock-ups and many samples for the architects' approval.

Modern Mosaic Ltd. in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada produced the panels with two tones of two finishes. The darker panels have a Cedar Lake aggregate in the mix and an exposed aggregate finish. The lighter, smooth acid-etched panels have limestone in the mix. The precaster produced 255 pieces of architectural precast, with typical panel sizes of 30 by 9 feet, 20 by 12 feet and 18 by 12 feet.

The use of precast concrete also expedited the construction schedule. An existing building on the site had to be demolished before construction could start. After demolition, the architects discovered that the foundation needed a cast-in-place retaining wall around the site. This work threatened to delay construction.

To ensure the center was open for the Christmas season, an accelerated construction sequence was used to allow construction to take place simultaneously on the underground garage and the store above. Precast concrete columns were used to construct the garage instead of cast-in-place concrete columns. Once the store's concrete first floor was completed, the columns were braced sufficiently to construct the garage floors at the same time the steel for the superstructure was erected. This method saved three months of construction time.

"Precast is a very economical way to cover broad areas. It also is an excellent long-term, durable material that will weather well in an urban environment," Muse says. That durability and economy blends with the distinctive styling to create a successful retail center.

"The exterior design is reminiscent of the more urban character associated with traditional downtown retailing," he notes. "Through elegant detailing and contrasting finishes of architectural heritage of Richardsonian masonry is reflected in the finished look."

Anne Patterson
The combination of highly articulated precast panels and large windows creates a lively façades, which is highlighted at night with lights from the store's interior and exterior flood lights.

This is a good example of a façade that blends precast elements in a very appealing way with metal and glass. It also is very respectful of the fact that it's located on a downtown streetscape with a need for a human scale. It shows that precast concrete can be used to create very delicate members that allow for a lot of openness and visual penetration in a building elevation. It's a big box done right."

John Fowler, CPCI President (left), and Bill Avard, CPCI Chair (centre), present the 2000 PCI Design Award to Tony Di Giacomo, Modern Mosaic, for the outstanding architectural precast concrete on the Lazarus Department Store project in Pittsburgh.

Architect: Cooper Carry, Atlanta
Structural Engineer: Structural Engineering Corp., Pittsburgh
Owner: Federated Department Stores, Cincinnati
General Contractor: Turner Construction Co., Pittsburgh
Precaster: Modern Mosaic Ltd., Niagara Falls, ON, Canada

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