SOURCE: Smith-Midland Corporation

Smith-Midland Corporation

January 22, 2015 08:20 ET

Montreal's Griffix: SlenderWall Makes a Clean, Contemporary Mark for Expanding Skyline

For a City Making Development in Montreal, SlenderWall Serves a Futuristic-Looking Design Concept With Multiple Construction Benefits

MIDLAND, VA--(Marketwired - Jan 22, 2015) - Smith-Midland Corporation's (OTCQB: SMID) subsidiary Easi-Set Worldwide announces the completion of another successful SlenderWall architectural cladding project by its Canadian licensed precast producer Béton Préfabriqué du Lac (BPDL).

Urban revitalization is a major trend throughout North America, and although each individual development brings its own specific obstacles, certain challenges are more universal. How can a new building respect the past of the existing neighborhood while also looking to the future? How can it be constructed with the newest green building technologies and the most desired amenities at a reasonable cost? With the aid of SlenderWall, the Griffix condominium project in Montreal offers a compelling answer to these increasingly pertinent questions.

The Griffix reaches 20 stories above the corner of Peel and Wellington Streets in the Griffintown neighborhood and houses 175 units of between 545 and 1,245 square feet, as well as commercial space on the ground floor. The building, constructed atop the location's original one-story brick building, has a clean, contemporary finish façade combining 380 floor-to-floor height SlenderWall panels -- for a total of 50,000 square feet of SlenderWall cladding -- with a fully glazed curtain wall.

A variety of benefits led the project team to consider and employ SlenderWall for this major project. Among those was the high R-value of the cladding and its relatively lightweight, easy-to-assembly nature. SlenderWall's hybrid construction -- a lightweight 2 inch-thick precast panel fixed to a heavy-gauge steel frame -- provides both the exterior insulated envelope and an interior stud wall ready to receive gypsum board.

SlenderWall's weight advantages over traditional precast panels -- 28 lbs. per square foot versus close to 85 lbs. per square foot -- also made it an ideal specification. For example, the contractors could use smaller, lower-cost construction equipment and build the structural frame with smaller members. This helped reduce steel tonnage and associated first costs as well as contribute to lower construction-phase expenses for the owner. In addition, the ability of the system to be pre-manufactured off-site also helped boost the speed of construction scheduling. This proved critical for the developer, who could get the condominiums on the market before competitors in this rapidly changing neighborhood.

Yet cost was not the only consideration. The new development also demanded a finish quality and permanence that was truly modern in look yet could adapt to the context. The gray, sandblast-finished panels provide a simulated stone exterior that is trendy while also true to the area's history and aesthetic.

Unique history, big opportunity

A century ago, Griffintown was the beating heart of Montreal's waterfront industrial life. Located on the Lachine Canal in the southeast corner of the city, "the Griff," as it has been affectionately known, gave a home to factories, breweries, shipping companies, the Port of Montreal, and other operations needing easy access to waterways or transportation. But in 1959, as the opening of the St. Lawrence Expressway meant the closing of the Lachine Canal -- and a drop in Griffintown's economic importance. Less than a decade later, the Bonaventure Expressway was opened, severing Griffintown from the rest of Montreal.

Starting in the 1990s, artists began to gravitate towards the neighborhood, slowly turning it into one of Montreal's cultural centers. In early 2012, the city of Montreal unveiled its new urban plan for downtown, including Griffintown.

Seeking to attract an urbane clientele, Griffix was conceived by Diamond Trust and Investissement Poirier -- along with their lead design firm, Geiger Huot Architects -- as a lifestyle choice with a long list of amenities including a balcony for each unit, a furnished roof terrace with stunning views of Montreal and its surroundings, highly energy-efficient HVAC systems and windows, and of course, its location. The compatibility of all these needs with the lightweight, flexible hybrid system of SlenderWall panels, created an instant appeal for the developers, architect, fabricators and contractors.

Nearby, Griffintown began to show signs of being a highly livable, walkable neighborhood. Along with six new public green spaces and $93 million of public investment, city planners enacted a residential rezoning for much of Griffintown, opening the door for redevelopment of the area as a desirable waterfront location for mixed-use towers like Griffix. Young professionals, drawn by the interesting historical atmosphere and easy access to Montreal's new "cultural corridor" of art galleries, restaurants, shopping, parks, and transportation, came to Griffix to get a feel for the building and locale.

A novel design, and SlenderWall

The revitalization presented an ideal building scenario for the developers Diamond Trust and Investissement Poirier. Yet for the architects and construction team, it added certain challenges -- including the rush to get to market first. On top of that, for a neighborhood where visual appeal derives in large part from its historic low-rise brick and warehouse buildings, the architects needed the high-rise to maintain the local character while standing on its own merit. SlenderWall was an essential part of answering these questions.

For Eric Huot, a principal in the Montreal-based architectural firm of Geiger + Huot and the primary architect involved in the Griffix design, his main mission was "incorporating the existing façade of the historic building, recreating the arcade along Wellington Street, and marrying these to a new high-rise building." From a site planning standpoint, the solution was to locate the high-rise tower at the eastern edge of the site and leave the corner of Peel Street to the existing building, "in an effort to maintain the streetscape as it had been for most of the last century," Huot says.

To emphasize the tower's "distinct expression" in relation to the original building, Huot used SlenderWall and recessed windows to create a cladding design that combines solid masses with punched openings and a "lighter, airy counterpoint of glass curtain wall."

The exterior system also had to be adaptable and cost-effective to meet these and other design needs. From the start, Geiger + Huot looked to SlenderWall for the Griffix, preferring the premanufactured, panelized exterior approach. Familiar with the system and its benefits from their award-winning 400 Sherbrooke Ouest hotel project, the firm took advantage of the design freedom offered by SlenderWall. For example, the interplay of solids and voids that formed the basis of Le Griffix design depended on the façade's concrete cladding being attached to the edge of the floor slabs in the building, a standard feature of SlenderWall. The detail also adds a small amount of bonus square footage to the interior footprint.

Adaptable, efficient and lightweight

But it wasn't only the architects who advocated the use of SlenderWall on the Griffix, says Guy Tremblay, the technical director at Precasting firm Béton Préfabriqué du Lac (BPDL). Tremblay adds that the structural engineers for Le Griffix advocated for SlenderWall's use based on its suitability for the project and their experience with the system on previous multifamily projects in the United States and Canada. Construction advantages added to their case for SlenderWall. For example, with the balcony panels in-set from the main exterior of the building, crane access presented a potential design challenge. The reduced weight of the SlenderWall panels as compared to standard precast combined with a user-friendly erection method eliminated this concern by allowing for the use of smaller cranes that saved time and money.

Beyond weight, SlenderWall offered other benefits that attracted the Griffix's builders. "The SlenderWall panel already comes to the building with insulation," notes Tremblay, which helped both designers and contractors. Also, he notes, with its pre-insulated panels and built-in interior framing, "SlenderWall also speeds up the construction process, whereas usually with a precast panel, you set the panel in place and have to waterproof, enclose, and then do the insulation and the interior stud wall framing."

"So we had an advantage with SlenderWall," says Tremblay. Indeed, SlenderWall made it simple to achieve the tight thermal envelope and highly energy-efficient environment that the developers sought for Le Griffix as one of its major selling points.

Although the Griffix has been open for only a short time, the neighborhood has embraced it and the Montreal press has already described it as "spectacular," "hip," and "urbane." The Montreal Online says the building "captured the collective imagination of many purchasers" even before completion. The latest and greatest addition to the growing Griffintown scene, the Griffix is notable not only for its high design and amenities, but also for the cutting-edge construction elements that allowed vision to become reality.

About Easi-Set Worldwide

Easi-Set® Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Smith-Midland Corporation (DE), a publicly traded company (OTCQB: SMID), licenses the production and sale of proprietary precast products around the world. For more information on SlenderWall or precast product licensing opportunities, please call (540) 439-8911 or visit www.slenderwall.com or www.EasiSet.com.

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