Formwork Design Skills Helped Deliver Architectural Concrete Wall at Contra Costa County Project

One Webcor Concrete expert on the CCC ADR team was key to implementing the design vision of architectural concrete walls at a reasonable budget.

April 26, 2023

Technology / Innovation

Webcor Concrete superintendents have a mad amount of skills.  

The Contra Costa County Administration Building (CCCAB) team was tasked with implementing the design vision of architectural concrete walls at a reasonable budget. One Webcor Concrete expert was able to bring the skills he had learned early in his career to the table.

"When I was a young assistant superintendent, Eric Peterson gave me the opportunity to take on the task of designing wall formwork," says Sr. Construction Manager Mike Gilmore. "I've learned a lot from all our superintendents, but Eric forced me to learn how to design wall formwork."

Wall formwork is a temporary structure that supports freshly poured concrete in vertical walls, ensuring that it maintains its shape, alignment, and desired dimensions as it hardens. The process requires precise measurements, accurate placement, and the selection of appropriate materials to withstand the pressure wet concrete exerts. Other factors that have to be considered include load-bearing capacities, structural integrity, and architectural requirements such as tie layout, plywood seam alignment, reveals, and the overall schedule to put the formwork together.

Unique Challenges

The walls at CCCAB were particularly challenging, given that the wall segments varied in size -- with a curve among the design elements -- but had to align perfectly to achieve the symmetry called for in the design, according to Webcor Concrete Superintendent Dan Deane. "We detailed every piece of formwork for every dimension," he says.

"The design team wanted the base of the architectural walls to be located below the adjacent sidewalk," Mike recalls. "The sidewalk slopes considerably. Between the rebar detailer, concrete outline detailer, and formwork detailer, it would be easy for someone to misinterpret how the foundation would be modified to accommodate this design element."

The coordination process was a team effort. Emma Hesz, assistant PM for WCG, did the heavy lifting with design and trade coordination for the structure. To eliminate the potential for an error in coordination, the team decided it would be best to have the person designing the wall also detail the foundations. In addition to ensuring the walls reflected the design, an opportunity presented itself for Mike to train Dan Deane on how to design and detail formwork. Dan was introduced to CAD (computer-aided design) and wall formwork design. "Eric taught me. It's a skill worth passing along," Mike says.

The fact that the team had the skill proved providential since the project budget didn't account for the complex single-use formwork required for each of the four applications. To achieve the final result, the team decided offsite prefabrication would speed up the installation and fit within the budget. That decision didn't pan out as expected. "The outside fabricator made some glaring mistakes, and we ended up having to re-work the panels upon delivery," Dan says. "We'll be getting compensated for that work."

The end result is a  beautiful example of architectural concrete and teamwork. The Administration Building was designed for consistency with the design of another County building across the street. "There is no architectural concrete in that building," Dan says, "but the precast has the same color."