Tilt-Up Is Looking Good In Wisconsin

By Jim Baty, Technical Director, Tilt-up Concrete Association | September 28, 2010

Edited by Mike Larson

Tilt-up construction is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. More than 10,000 buildings, encompassing more than 650 million square feet, are constructed using tilt-up methods each year.

That includes more than 15 percent of all industrial buildings constructed annually in the United States, with sizes ranging from less than 5,000 square feet to more than 1.5 million square feet.

Some of the major reasons are the aesthetic appeal, energy efficiency, long-term durability, and fast-track delivery afforded by tilt-up construction.

Expanding from its original application in industrial buildings, tilt-up continues to build momentum in an ever-widening range of projects — from religious institutions and schools, to office buildings and homes.

According to Ed Sauter, executive director of the Tilt-up Concrete Association (TCA), the tilt-up construction method continues to gain market share each year because of speed of construction, advances in architectural treatments, and adaptability to markets such as schools, retail centers and office buildings.

"Exposure of the results possible with tilt-up today is clearly shown in the diversity of architectural expression and the quality of projects submitted as part of the TCA Achievement Awards competition each year," said Sauter. "Site-cast tilt-up construction will continue to grow as a preferred building method as more and more owners have a chance to see the benefits."

Flexible Finishes Aid Acceptance

Architects and designers now generate creative forms and aesthetics engaging a wider palette of technologies and processes than ever before. Cornice lines and accent bands; façade enhancements of thin brick, block and stone; and a multitude of textured coatings give architects limitless possibilities for creating an aesthetically appealing structure. The ability to produce massive shapes including curves, arches and many other shapes has enabled tilt-up construction to expand beyond its early applications in straight-walled, box-type structures.

Thin Brick

One popular decorative finish uses half-inch-thick bricks milled to tight tolerances that match the exterior surface of the tilt-up panel. The bricks are laid onto the floor slab within the panel forms to build a brick wall horizontally on the casting bed. Concrete is then poured to form a panel with a brick façade. The brick has no impact on the wall's structural performance and can be installed in almost any weather. In addition, the concrete can be enhanced with color additives to match adjacent projects.


Although painting is still the most common method of finishing tilt-up panels, advances in textured coatings are giving new looks to painted concrete walls. Textured coatings can provide a wide range of finishes, from varying grades of texture, to things as visually stimulating as simulated stone finish. The thicker textured coatings can cover surface blemishes, and can be applied to damp, dry, cured, or uncured concrete in a wide range of temperatures.

Two award-winning projects in Madison, Wis., demonstrate the versatility and architectural appeal of tilt-up:

2310 Crossroads Building

A 2007 TCA Achievement Award winner, the 2310 Crossroads office building features several architectural treatments. Although this five-story, 70,000-square-foot building was originally designed for conventional construction methods, the owner ultimately chose tilt-up construction to save about $1 million.

The change in method meant the project's contractor, Newcomb Construction Co., Inc., Madison, would be working with five-story panels on a small, 14,000-square-foot foundation. The 57-foot panels were the tallest Newcomb had ever used in 14 years of tilt-up construction. The construction team met the challenge by forming most of the panels on temporary casting beds, and by having the project's engineer design a precise weaving pattern that allowed the temporary construction braces to adequately support the panels in the small floor space available.

The building's architectural features include red Endicott thin brick, 18 mitered columns, two 60-degree pointed corners, and specially poured white Portland cement face panels.

RS+K Office Building

Newcomb had previously won a 2005 TCA Achievement Award for RS+K advertising agency's office building in Madison.

The owners' desire for a head-turning design brought several complex elements to the project, such as irregularly shaped 8-foot-wide panels with 4-foot offsets for windows.

The roof provided additional challenges, incorporating a 4-foot-high band of windows directly below the roof and a Douglass-fir-diaphragm roof deck with a 4-foot roof projection.

The 20,539-square-foot structure also features a stair tower formed by eight curved panels surrounding a concrete paved stair. To meet the firm's aesthetic needs, steel cladding panels augment panels of white Portland cement to complement the owners' collection of motorcycles. Clear glass and clear anodized aluminum framing complement the exterior concrete and steel.

TCA judges selected this project for the intricate panel shapes — an architectural element ideally suited to tilt-up construction. They also noted the project's effective blending of concrete with stainless steel.

Said Jim Sendecke, principal at RS+K. "Newcomb Construction ... completed our program in seven months and met every one of our expectations."

The TCA was founded in 1986 to improve the quality and acceptance of site-cast tilt-up construction, a method in which concrete wall panels are cast on-site and tilted into place. The organization will hold its national convention at the University of Maryland Marriott Inn and Conference Center, College Park, Md., October 3–6, 2007.