Planning with Intention
Stairs may be perceived as an unassuming feature of a building—but in truth, stairways are universal to design and an important vertical transportation element. Customers rely on DPR to be experts at every level of a project and finding the best solutions... even for stairways. Through intentional foresight and with the customer always in mind, expert planning teams can add value and innovation to almost every aspect of a project.
When the Mayo Integrated Education and Research Building (IERB) planning team began discussing options for stair systems that would fit both the building’s and the customer’s needs, design partners DFDG Architecture and CO Architects offered an unconventional suggestion. An idea that would help the collaborators achieve project success in form, function, and budget.
Recognizing the potential benefits of precast concrete stairs, the “Innovative Creatives,” as DPR’s IERB planning team was aptly nicknamed, immediately began to brainstorm and evaluate if the idea would be practical, preferable, and affordable in considering the customer’s needs and the entire building lifecycle holistically.
“Particularly on the exterior stairs that are exposed to the elements, we wanted to consider what was best for our customer in the long term,” said DPR’s project planner, Shashi Sriram. Aside from a feature stair in the building’s foyer, there are three additional stair systems on the IERB building, two of which are exterior. For the Phoenix, AZ research and higher education facility, the team was striving to build for a 100-year lifespan—something made to last.
“On the exterior of a building, concrete stairs are always preferred over steel stairs, especially in terms of maintenance and longevity,” said Shashi. “Steel stairs must be repainted over time and there’s a matter of rust and the need for replacing sections of stairs. Concrete doesn’t have this issue, and that means our customer doesn’t have to worry about it in the years to come. But concrete stairs are traditionally cast-in-place, which comes at a premium.”
“The decision driver to use precast concrete stair systems ultimately came down to maintainability,” said Shashi. “But it also gave us opportunities to be forward-thinking and to present additional solutions to the owner to meet their needs.”
DPR was brought on as the contractor and worked with the team to align the owner's budget and design intent. During a collaborative preconstruction effort with the owner and design team, the precast solution emerged. As the team explored precast concrete stairs from the perspective of maintainability, they also considered options for stair systems that fit into the sleek design concept.
Through a cost-analysis and a consultation with Suntec, the project’s design assist partner for concrete, the team determined that precast concrete stairs, not nearly as costly as cast-in-place stairs, were also the right decision to give the customer the desired clean concrete finish for their stair systems. RediStair, the precast concrete product the team eventually selected, helped achieve the aesthetic the owner desired without the steep cost.
“The customer wanted this building to be different, a beacon to attract future students and researchers,” said DPR’s project estimator Miguel Landeros. “We showed the option to the owner, shared the difference in price and explained the benefits of using precast concrete stairs. Especially for a cutting-edge customer like Mayo, they’re always intrigued by outside-the-box thinking and trying new ways of doing things.”
While the precast concrete stairs did come at a higher cost than what was budgeted for, they were more closely aligned with the budget than cast-in-place concrete stairs. Additionally, the team was able to balance the added cost and save valuable time by eliminating the need for rental, construction and deconstruction of temporary stairs.
Even when it comes to things people might not think much about, like stairs, “We always want to be on another level for our customers and owners,” said Landeros. “We tried a new approach that worked really well, and now we can share our experience with other DPR teams and customers in the future.”
“We want to change the world. It makes a difference when we find new solutions on our projects, even in small ways,” added Shashi. “As the subject matter experts, our customers rely on us to tell them what their best value solutions are. Now that we’re into the construction phase and the stairs have been installed, we are well on our way to proving that they’ll provide value as predicted.”
Posted on March 24, 2023