When I do seminars and when I am at the office chatting with people on the phone about EIFS, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “What is the biggest/tallest/strangest EIFS project you know of?” That’s a good question.
This month’s column is about significant, large and unusual EIFS projects. Perhaps this topic will be of use in your work in discussing how pervasive and interesting EIFS buildings can be and also give you an opportunity to participate in a fact finding mission to identify these “mostest” projects.
First, let’s define “the mostest.” Does this mean the biggest contract value amount, or the square footage of wall area, or the height of the building? The most complex façade? I think it is unfair to compare commercial and residential wood frame buildings, so let’s keep them separate.
The largest, in terms of height, EIFS job that I have personally seen is a 42-story high-rise condo in south Florida. It’s a panelized job, and has withstood many earthquakes. Does anyone know of a taller EIFS building? It needs to be “the full system” to qualify, and not a direct applied finish system (DAFS) or traditional stucco. The tallest EIFS job I’ve ever heard of was a 60-story office/condo job in Chicago. It was detailed with an EIFS exterior but was not built using EIFS due to problems with the construction process. I was contacted very briefly about using EIFS on the in-the-works Freedom Tower project in New York City. This is the replacement for the WTC towers. My feeling was that EIFS was not well suited for such a tall and monumental building. The designers agreed and so the use of EIFS was shelved for the main façade but there is still some interest in using EIFS in other areas.
The biggest, in terms of wall area, for commercial buildings, is probably one of the several casinos in Las Vegas. These buildings use EIFS not just on the main façade of the tower-where the sleeping rooms are-but also on acres of low buildings that house the restaurants, theatres and so on. Some of the buildings have several hundred thousand square feet of EIFS wall area. In terms of the largest EIFS buildings all in one small area, the newer super deluxe properties have the highest density of giant EIFS jobs I know of.
Comparing large projects of wood frame residential vs. commercial buildings is a bit of a stretch. Residential projects tend to have lots of openings and odd angles and smaller blank wall areas. Commercial jobs tend to have more repetitive modules and are simpler in terms of the use of intricate small details. The budgeting on residential projects tends to be tighter than commercial, as do the demands on the logistics and planning. All that being said, both markets produce some whopper contracts.
The largest wood frame residential EIFS projects I have seen are not individual buildings, but rather large residential developments. Sometimes the buildings in the complex stretch as far as the eye can see, and involve thousands of units. Often, even though a given home will only have EIFS on one or two sides-not the whole building-the sheer total square footage can be staggering.
The largest single wall area, without joints, that I’ve heard of is a shear wall on a 20-plus story condo project in Florida. The façade had one horizontal joint at mid-height. The substrate was poured-in-place concrete. The foam and basecoat went on as usual, but applying the finish was the trick. It needed to be applied all in one pass. This required a lot of planning. Materials needed to be constantly available and a well-organized group of plasterers was needed to apply the material. The finish application was done from the top down, from a swing stage. The finish application process reminds me of the impromptu competition between the convicts in the film Cool Hand Luke where they are spreading sand onto hot tar on a rural road. At the end, the convicts relax and take pride.
Although not a huge building, an office building in a sprawling complex of like-styled buildings was a good example of using EIFS’s capability of jazzing up the façade in a cost effective way. This building has a substrate of flat (boring) precast concrete panels and makes extensive use of foam shapes to create a handsome face.
I’ve seen some very large EIFS jobs in Asia. Many of these are industrial type buildings-a market that is not big in North America for EIFS. Many of these buildings cover countless acres and house industrial activities, such as manufacturing and storage. The buildings are not unlike the common Costco-style warehouses that use precast load bearing concrete panels and fibrous insulation on the inside. In Asia, the flat concrete panels are cast onsite with the molds located toward the inside of the building. The to-be outer surface is thus the “up” side. The “up” concrete surface is a bit rough and not perfectly flat but is good enough to attach the EIFS to, using an adhesive. After the concrete is cured, the EIFS is applied in the normal way. The panel is then stood up and the joint between the panels is caulked watertight. Initially there was talk of just laying the foam board into the wet concrete. The idea was that the concrete and foam would bond together thereby eliminating the need for using an EIFS attachment adhesive. This would save money. The problem, after doing a few trials, was that the bond was not permanent and the foam would come loose.
The description “most complex” needs to be explained. Many EIFS jobs take advantage of the ability of EIFS to create large wall areas without joints. This is the opposite of complex. At other times, the designer goes wild and uses the “sculpt-ability” of EIFS to create complex façades that look like a gingerbread house. The sprawling Atlantis hotel resort project in Nassau is an example of a very large building complex with a complex façade.
Complex can also mean an unusual use of EIFS. For instance, a clock tower in a shopping center in a high-end residential area near Washington isn’t really a clock tower. Actually, it’s a disguise. The background of this structure is interesting and involves the fact that the cell phone reception in this residential area was bad, and it had to improve. The locals were adamant that they did not want to mar the local aesthetics with an ugly cell phone tower. So they added a “clock tower” to the shopping center. The whole tower is EIFS but the three rectangular, light-colored areas below the clock have no substrate. Cell phone antennas are located behind these areas, and the signals come and go through the EIFS with little loss of signal strength. The result was much improved cellular connectivity in the surrounding area without ruining the aesthetics of this planned community.
I would be curious to know the “mostest” EIFS projects you’ve been involved with. This would be interesting information to have when extolling the virtues of EIFS to prospective owners and designers. You can offer your experiences by sending an e-mail with basic information about your “mostest” projects to me atrgt@rgthomas. W&C
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