Westcon Precast of Alberta, Canada is a dynamic, progressive industry leader in manufacturing concrete products. The company has been operating for over 50 years, is CSA certified and manufactures to strict CSA and ASTM standards. Westcon Precast’s products range across the spectrum from waste water management to decorative architectural. Westcon serves Western Canada from their 2 locations in Calgary and St. Albert (Edmonton). Rob Andrusiw, General Manager of the St. Albert location has been creating custom one-off expanded polystyrene (EPS) molds for several years on his 8700 CNC. Rob recently discovered Hotwire Direct’s Special Project Support and used it to successfully complete a complex Modern Architectural project.
The Art Gallery of Alberta
Conceptual rendering of the Art Gallery of Alberta
Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton is currently expanding and updating their Art Gallery to a new 84,000 square foot museum with enhanced exhibition spaces, theater, educational facilities, restaurant and sculpture garden. An international design competition was held fielding over two dozen submissions from renowned architects worldwide, and the competition winner was Randall Stout Architects of Los Angeles. Randall Stout’s (FAIA) award-winning buildings are known for dynamic forms, state of the art technology, and environmental sustainability.
The Art Gallery of Alberta is being built of high performance glazing, patinaed zinc, and stainless steel which form an undulating ribbon of steel that meanders through the museum’s public spaces, eventually penetrating through to the exterior. One centerpiece of the design is the Grand Staircase which climbs around a concrete wall faced with illuminated glass tiles that are inscribed with private donor’s names. The core concrete structure of this feature is what Westcon Precast was contracted to create a mold for.
From Concept to Reality
Model of Concrete Stairway Structure
This modern architectural staircase is non-conventional, and to turn it into reality would take some non-conventional processes and materials. When approached as a subcontractor for this job, Rob took it because he has been making molds out of EPS foam for several years and knew the capabilities were there.
From early on Rob expected the mold construction would be a challenge. He describes it as:
“This thing was 3 stories high (45′ long) and it tapered down to 6′ and it was doing a spiral with a convex cross section. It looked like an airplane wing twisted.”
As the deadline approached and the scope of the challenge became apparent Rob made a call in to Hotwire Direct to get some advice on making the cut files for his machine. Learning about Special Project Support he requested a technician [Chris Rousseau] to come to his shop immediately and they got to work.
Using 3D modeling software the large twisted wing-like shape was broken down into segments that could each be cut out of a single 8’x4’x4′ foam block. The pieces were each numbered, delivered to the site, and assembled together to form the full-sized mold. During the three and a half days with the Hotwire Direct technician all the parts were designed and cut. Rob says: “Chris and I were working on this project day and night…he left and we delivered the product.”
Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong will go wrong
Construction progress on the Art Gallery
of Alberta – lower mid section shows top
of Westcon Precast’s concrete stair section
A call came in from the general contractor saying the forms were too small, by 1 inch, and that was unacceptable. Using an actual size paper print out of the 6 foot by 8 foot shape where it meets the floor proved the molds were made too small. Thinking quickly, Rob got the architect’s specified measurements and a laser measurement tool. He was able to show the molds were in fact within a single millimeter of the architects drawing and, more importantly, within specifications. Turns out the printed paper was so large that through the printing and handling process it had stretched to cause the apparent 1″ discrepancy.
Rob was relieved and says:
“Without that 8700 there was no way we could have pulled that off. There were complex angles; this whole piece was an enigma. Nobody will understand how it’s actually built, but that was the only way they could have built it. And in the end we pulled it off and it was 100% accurate.”
This time it seems that something went wrong with Murphy’s Law and fortunately things worked out amazingly well.
Special Project Support
A tight deadline is nothing new in the construction industry, but coupled with extremely challenging designs it shows how important technical support is when tackling these projects. Westcon Precast has finished their part of the Art Gallery of Alberta and soon visitors will begin pouring into the new gallery space by the thousands to marvel at how everything came together so seamlessly. It truly is a thing of beauty, and behind the scenes we all learned a little more of what goes into a cutting-edge project like this, including EPS hot wire foam cutting equipment. Beyond the equipment, it’s the people Rob adds:
“Your support team is amazing! I mean Chris went above and beyond the call of duty. He had a lot of heart. He was here until 12 o’clock at night and he was back here at 6 o’clock in the morning. He never complained. We had a job to do, we were both focused and we had to get it done.”