- Project Levern Hamlin Allen Residence Hall at WCU
- Location Cullowhee, North Carolina
- Type of Precast CarbonCast High Performance Insulated Wall Panels
- Project Size 165,000 sq.ft.
- CarbonCast Surface Area 151,950 sq.ft.
- Architect Clark Nexsen
- Contractor James R. Vannoy & Sons Construction
- Owner Western Carolina University
- Precaster Metromont Corporation
The new, five-story Levern Hamlin Allen Residence Hall at Western Carolina University fosters a vibrant, engaging experience for its 612 freshmen occupants. Open, welcoming entries and inviting commons spaces complement traditional double and single occupancy rooms. While speed of construction was a primary reason for the use of precast concrete, the team viewed the material as presenting new design opportunities and offering multiple other benefits such as building longevity and inherent life safety qualities. Additionally, the specific products and expertise provided by Metromont enabled the architect to create more open spaces in the design for a better student experience.
The use of Metromont’s proprietary total precast MetroDeck system achieved long, 30-foot spans with a low floor-to-floor height, thanks to being filled in part with foam. This composition resulted in a vertically shorter, more efficient building while allowing higher ceilings (9 ½ to 10 feet, versus 8 feet) in the interior spaces. Within the stackable system of the walls, floor, and roof, the design integrates two-story atriums at each of the three primary entry points. Together, the design team and Metromont found ways to use the MetroDeck system to eliminate beams and columns to create light-filled social spaces. There was a shared, intentional effort to provide a variety of appealing common areas where students can gather, collaborate, or study independently.
Aesthetically, the design team capitalized on the use of precast. In multiple places on the interior, the concrete is exposed and celebrated. The ceilings, for example, are simply the smooth, painted underside of the precast components. In other areas on the interior, a formliner was used on the concrete to create different patterns for exposed feature walls.
On the load-bearing walls down the center of the building, the precast finish on the interior was smooth. Rather than put up studs and drywall, the design team chose to expose and paint those walls, achieving more than $100,000 in cost savings. The use of precast concrete helped the project meet goals beyond the aesthetic, as well. Significant cost savings were generated by painting the underside of the deck as a ceiling material and using the smooth side as an exposed wall in corridors, rather than incurring the cost for stud walls, drywall, and installation. The longevity of concrete as a building material also added value for the university, making this more likely to be a 40- or 50-year building versus a 25-year building made of less durable materials.
Architecturally, visual interest is added to the exterior façade by using a formliner on the precast concrete and integrating a metal brow and shadow boxes for depth. Varied floor member spans on the interior further enhance architectural interest by allowing the high-performance insulated precast wall panels to project and recess along the exterior elevations. To create visual interest, the floor plan steps in and out along the exterior and corridor. This required ingenuity by Metromont to develop a solution that allowed for the projections without causing thermal breaks in the continuous insulation of the CarbonCast High Performance Insulated Wall Panels. The panels featured four inches of EPS insulation sandwiched between two three-inch wythes of concrete connected with C-GRID carbon fiber grid shear trusses.
Through some alterations in the pouring process, Metromont was able to maintain continuous insulation by creating u-shaped panels with built-in returns. For the corridor, the supplier was able to match the returns by switching the structural frame from wall panels to offset columns and beams. For the top level, the design team wanted the panels to be recessed. Metromont created a pocket in the returns of the u-shaped panels to support the upper level panels and utilized oversized wall panels to accommodate the 13’ floor-to-floor heights and one-foot parapet at the top level.
With the exception of the first floor, even the brick components were laid in the precast concrete to reduce on-site labor. Storefront glazing along the pedestrian bridge and group study rooms that cap each residential corridor modernize the building’s aesthetic. The result is a residence hall that both aligns with its campus context and advances it. Ultimately, the emphasis on expedited construction utilizing a precast system paid off. The selection of precast concrete for the building’s exterior walls, floor slabs, and roof reduced the typical construction timeline by six months, essentially saving a year in university time by allowing the new facility to open in fall 2019 rather than fall 2020.