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Architectural masterpiece takes shape in composite forms

News International-French

14 Mar 2012

The architectural centerpiece inside the Texas A&M University Health Science Center is a dramatic spiral staircase made possible by the artistic collaboration of two highly divergent material systems.  One of the materials is the steel bar-reinforced concrete that forms the stairway’s sweeping treads and connecting platform landings.  The other material is the fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite that MFG Construction Products (MFG-CP) made into forms that gave the concrete its structure and aesthetics.

MFG-CP’s experience as a premier manufacturer of FRP forms for architectural concrete was useful in meeting the engineering and design challenges of the project.  The architectural design required three forms, one for each floor.  At the job site, concrete was poured into the forms which remained in place until the concrete cured.

A design feature was engineered into the form so that the top riser could accommodate an overlaid marble cover that matched the surface of the floor at the top.  In addition, MFG-CP engineered a solution on site that allowed one form to be modified so it could form the staircase around an already-installed large column.

The architectural firm was GS&C Group, and structural engineering was handled by Structure + Haynes Whaley.  Both are headquartered in Austin, TX.

How the forms were made:
Before the composite forms could be made, MFG-CP used engineering drawings to create pre-construction replicas of finished stairway sections out of wood and masonite.  The replicas served as precise dimensional models for building the FRP forms that would give the poured concrete its final shape.

To keep the FRP forms from adhering when removed from the model, the surface of the model is coated with a special wax.  Workers then apply the first layer of the form itself – a sandable gel coat that will create the finished surface of the concrete.  Next comes the critical structural laminate that keeps the form rigid for shipping, on-site handling, and the pour and cure cycles.  The laminate is formed by lay-up of resin-impregnated glass fiber mat and woven roving.