The past year has pushed our limits in every way imaginable. As individuals and as a society, our strength and endurance have been tested. We have seen challenges that previously were unimaginable. But we get up each day, take the hits, and keep moving forward. That is resiliency on the human level.
The same resilient quality is required of our buildings. It has been a difficult time for them, too. Wildfires, floods, severe storms, and earthquakes challenge the integrity of the structures that make up our communities. None of these stressors are new, but as climate change continues to march forward, hazardous events have become more common, more severe, and more destructive.
A building’s first responsibility is to protect its occupants. We know that precast concrete is an incredibly durable material that is strong, noncombustible, and can endure abuse from fire, storms, blasts, earthquakes, and other events. That is why it’s often used in the construction of community safe rooms and other buildings that are specifically intended to shield occupants from the elements.
The durability of precast concrete protects not just the lives of those inside a structure, but also the day-to-day activities and life of the community around it. Even after a severe tornado or fire, hospitals need to treat the injured, kids must go to school, and people need to be able to go to their jobs. Because precast concrete structures not only survive the initial event but can often return to usable function quickly with minimal repair, these resilient buildings preserve both lives and ways of life in neighborhoods all across the country.
All too often, we have seen the tragic stories of communities needing to rebuild after tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires. In the case of Joplin, Missouri, a town that was destroyed by a monster tornado in 2011, one of the few buildings to survive the storm was a precast concrete big-box store that had been unoccupied for years. In just 55 days, that building was transformed into an interim school. Even in the face of almost total devastation, life in that community was able to continue.
The built environment needs to respond to the growing challenges of the world around us. When designing the buildings of tomorrow, it’s important to make choices that will protect and serve the occupants of that space, not just today, but for generations to come.
Jim Schneider LEED AP is the executive director of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) Mountain States region. This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of PCI's Ascent, Designing with Precast.
Another outstanding article in that issue of Ascent is Transforming Precast Concrete by Monica Schultes, which describes how ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC) is pushing the bondaries of what can be accomlished with concrete. PCI is conducting research on UHPC to discover its potential and cost benefits.