Biotechnology-Science-Engineering Building, University of Texas, San Antonio Braaksma Design, Denver, Colo.  Braaksma often uses concrete without color additions and exposes the local aggregate. Here, she compels our interest with science symbols embedded in the polished floor.
Sharon Slaughter Biotechnology-Science-Engineering Building, University of Texas, San Antonio Braaksma Design, Denver, Colo.  Braaksma often uses concrete without color additions and exposes the local aggregate. Here, she compels our interest with science symbols embedded in the polished floor.

The new Biotechnology-Science-Engineering Building tells the story of what happens when embedded scientific images made of metal and stone add depth and intrigue to a concrete floor. Glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) wall panels repeat the images, and an Albert Einstein quotation wraps around the walls asserting, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Braaksma titles her installation, “Two Ways.”

Braaksma submitted a conceptual design for the atrium. When awarded the project, she became responsible for all the components of its installation. With a team approach, Braaksma hired Paul Nasvik, Milestones, Hudson, Wis., to cast the three-dimensional GFRC panels; Tom Graf, Concrete Arts, Hudson, Wis., to install and polish the concrete floor; and Lee Gamble, Creative Surfaces and Designs, Steamboat Springs, Colo. to apply the concrete stain.

Consulting with faculty members and poring over biology textbooks, Braaksma found microorganisms, such as diatoms, bacterium, and adenovirus icosahedrons, which she enlarged into metal and stone inlays. She created a fossil fish for the floor using a piece of shaped stone and a stencil of a fish skeleton. She used the stencil with a sandblast and then added detail to the image with a concrete stain. This shape was one of many that were embedded into the concrete.

Biotechnology-Science-Engineering Building, University of Texas, San Antonio Braaksma Design, Denver, Colo. The three-dimensional cast GFRC balustrade pieces use the same science symbols that are on the floor. The 3x21-foot-long panels had to match the curve of the building.
Sharon Slaughter Biotechnology-Science-Engineering Building, University of Texas, San Antonio Braaksma Design, Denver, Colo. The three-dimensional cast GFRC balustrade pieces use the same science symbols that are on the floor. The 3x21-foot-long panels had to match the curve of the building.

The 43-foot-diameter floor was a 3-inch recessed area on a post-tensioned slab when Tom Graf arrived. First, using a shot blast machine, he opened the surface of the concrete and sprayed it with a coat of XP primer plus two lifts of self leveler underlayment material by Bomanite. After the floor was shot blasted once more and received another primer coat, different sized art pieces and terrazzo strips were set into place, followed by a 1 ½-inch lift of concrete. The floor cured for 30 days before Graf began polishing. He used planetary grinders with 40-grit metal bond diamond pads and finished with 800-grit diamonds for a honed surface that revealed the aggregate, metal, and stone. “The metal and stone were harder substances than the concrete and required considerable hand polishing for a uniform reveal,” says Graf. He completed the floor with an application of Bomanite's Stainguard.

Lee Gamble added the large pecan leaf to the floor after it was sealed. She cut the basic leaf shape into the concrete with a hand-held grinder and colored the area with the chemical stain Patinaetch by Colormaker. She put down a vinyl adhesive stencil and etched the veins in the leaf with Tek Gel by Surface Gel Tek. Once the etching was complete, Gamble adjusted the color by mixing a stain mule into the chemical stain to prevent seepage into the surrounding concrete. “Even the aggregate absorbed the green stain. It added a soft organic mottled color to the leaf,” says Gamble. She pulled the stencil and used Stainguard to complete the work.