Concrete? Luxury? Really? Isn’t concrete usually the preserve of functional amenities such as public conveniences? Or brutalist architecture conveying the triumph of (un-beautiful) form over function?
Well, no. Precast concrete is gaining ground as fantastic material for luxury home construction on many fronts, not least its capacity to create an almost unlimited range of beautiful visual effects, from moulded geometry, to rich colour, to textural or gleamingly polished! Take a beautiful specimen, the Marguerites (Daisies) Building in France (pictured below). This is an example of ‘graphic concrete’. Its printed daisy pattern is a witty counterpoint to the durability of the material and also conveys a sense of beauty and optimism to passers-by. And of course, there’s no reason why a similar concept couldn’t be used in the interior of a home.
The pluses of precast
Precast concrete is produced by casting concrete in a reusable mould or form. Unlike traditional concrete, which is poured on site, precast is made in a factory, transported to the construction site and lifted into place. When it comes to luxury home designs, just some of the boons of this ugly-duckling-turned-swan of materials include:-
- Strength + load bearing capacity: Pre-stressed precast concrete is VERY strong and can be used to create larger clear spans, reducing the need for structural supports.
- Durability: High-density precast concrete is durable to acid attack, corrosion and impact. It reduces surface dirt and resists the accumulation of dust.
- Efficient construction: Making building componentry in a factory prior to construction results in better pre-planning and quicker on site construction or “assembly”.
- Aesthetics: Prefabrication in a controlled environment means imaginative combinations of colours and textures can be used.
Case study: Surface appeal meets interior comfort
Sydney luxury home builders used precast concrete in the construction of The Alex residential scheme in the suburb of Alexandria. The premium development features stylish boutique living over five storeys of 42 chic apartments. https://www.psecprojects.com.au/alex
Constructed using precast concrete panels, the building’s exterior aspect channels the current trend for geometric facade designs. While the facade appears complex, with clever planning its execution was relatively simple, requiring just three moulds to manufacture all the precast concrete panels.
Panels painted white were used to form the building’s window openings. This approach was enabled by the load bearing ability of the precast concrete, which allowed each panel to have a positive connection with the suspended concrete floor at each level.
The Alex demonstrates the great outcomes that are possible when luxury new home builders work together with architects and precast specialists. In particular, collaborating from early on in a project enables detailed planning for a structurally sound and visually stunning result.
Back in 2011, ‘Team New Jersey’, a competitor in the Solar Decathlon, set out to prove the viability of a precast concrete net zero home. The team was the first in the competition’s history to use concrete as its main building material; and the resulting design, The eNJoy House (pictured above) exploits precast concrete’s unique advantages, including modular assembly, energy efficiency and a sculptural aesthetic… not to mention a surprisingly ‘pretty’ feature wall behind the bed.
There are obviously some important points to think carefully about for those contemplating using precast concrete in their luxury home designs.
- It’s typically heavy unless lighter forms are used (see below).
- It offers a small margin for error.
- Economies of scale demand regularly shaped buildings.
- Joints between panels can be complicated and therefore costly.
- Cranes are required to lift panels.
Lighter weight forms of precast concrete, such as glass fibre reinforced concrete are being used in major projects, for example for facades that create eye-catching visuals. But it’s an idea that could easily be translated into most luxury home designs. Whether it’s an exterior feature wall, interior screening or an entire home that’s both textural and functional, precast concrete’s subtle beauty is undoubtedly worth a look.