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Outside the Box

GETTING CREATIVE WITH COLORIZED CONCRETE 

BY SEAN O’KEEFE 

Enrique Esplain enjoys a challenge. He is a project manager for Sundt Construction, one of the largest contractors in the Southwestern United States. Sundt, a member of multiple AGC chapters, builds everything from commercial and industrial buildings to large-scale transportation infrastructure and renewable energy solutions everywhere from Dallas to San Diego. As the primary point of contact on the jobsite, Esplain manages a project’s overall performance with respect to scheduling and financial control in conjunction with a superintendent who leads field execution. 

The Beast Urban Park
Courtesy of Sundt Construction

“No two days are the same,” says Esplain, of the diverse work and continual stream of puzzles big and small he has grown accustomed to. Esplain has been in high-stakes construction for 26 years, building everything from higher education and K-12 to jails, recreation centers and natatoriums. “I love seeing the progress of change on a daily basis, trouble-shooting situations to come up with solutions is what makes the job fun for me.” 

Esplain’s latest Sundt situation, the Beast Urban Park in El Paso, Texas is nearing completion on Phase I of a 92-acre development. Featuring world-class aquatics amenities, the Beast Urban Park brings much-needed public facilities to a residential community that grew faster than anticipated and greatly outpaced recreational resources. The new, three-part complex will include a state-of-the-art natatorium with a 50-meter competition swimming pool, a community center and a vast outdoor waterpark highlighted by a wave simulator where soon, kids will be surfing in El Paso. 

Among the project’s many complexities, assembling the building form of the recreation center has been a puzzle of literal proportions. Constructed of concrete tilt-up panels, Sundt leveraged their knowledge of concrete, as the panels were constructed on-site and would be framed, reinforced, cast and erected as the building’s primary structure and exterior skin on-site. 

“The challenge in these precast panels begins with their unusual shape,” shares Esplain of the Z-shaped monolithic, exterior wall sections, which are 40-ft tall and 18-ft wide. “We are used to casting concrete panels this large, but the awkward angles made them hard to lift and hard to erect. Color is also an issue. There is an inconsistency received on the finish with site-cast concrete. This is based on placement, weather, casting techniques, timing and application of curing compounds and bond breakers. The city didn’t want grey concrete, so we needed to come up with something that feels very much like El Paso.” 

Colorized concrete can be achieved in many different ways including adding an integral color to the concrete mix before it is poured or applying any of many different types of dyes, paints or stains to the concrete after it has cured. Initially, in El Paso, the design called for using an integral color, which is one of the most common ways of adding color to concrete. By adding color pigment admixtures to the concrete before it is poured, contractors are generally able to create a layered sense of color that results in a multi-tonal appearance similar to natural stone. After developing two different 3’x3’ panel mock-ups using integral color mixes that didn’t secure the city of El Paso’s approval, the Sundt team recommended trying a stain instead. 

Like Esplain, Aaron Echaniz also enjoys a challenge. Echaniz is the president of Bomanite Artistic Concrete, the El Paso-based decorative concrete contractor that got the call from Sundt on the Beast Urban Park. 

“We have been installing high-end decorative concrete solutions in west Texas and southern New Mexico for about 40 years,” says Echaniz, who leads a dedicated team of craftsmen in the pursuit of exceptional solutions to concrete challenges of all sorts and scales. 

“Sundt Construction approached us about doing an acid stain on the concrete panels for the Beast Urban Park and, of course, we were thrilled with the opportunity,” says Echaniz of the chance to participate in such a dynamic public commission. The process of staining the panels began with clearly establishing the city’s desired aesthetic, which was less than exact in the beginning. “The city wanted a treatment that made the panels fit in with the surrounding landscape but also complements the unique, very modern architecture. We did several different mock-ups before finally settling on a treatment that falls somewhere between deep rust and old leather.” 

The chosen solution was Bomanite’s Patène Artectura, a topically applied coloration system that simulates a semi-weathered, antiquing effect. Because the acid-based stain was to be applied to the panels once they were tilted-up in their final place, the process for staining them had to be dialed in and approved before the work could begin. Using a compressor and an industrial sprayer, the acid-based Patène Artectura was sprayed on the vertical panels by hand working from the top down. Workers had to be very mindful of maintaining a consistent distance between the sprayer and the panels to eliminate unintended blotching while troweling away any drips. 

“On the technical side, one thing that was really important was prepping each panel to receive the stain,” says Enchaniz of the process’s potential complications. Burs were carefully scraped off panels before each was thoroughly sandblasted to open the concrete’s pores so that the stain could fully penetrate the surface. Once the stain was applied, an acrylic sealant was added to give the colorized panels a fade-free permanence that will last a lifetime in El Paso’s arid climate. 

“We are very proud to be a part of this magnificent project” remarks Enchaniz of his firm’s role in El Paso’s newest park, which is expected to open to the public in 2021. “Craftsmanship is very important in our work and this community-enhancing project is going to bring a lot of joy to the people of El Paso for generations to come.”