375: Development of a Concept
375 East and West Outer Loop connects the east and west sides of El Paso, TX, on its northern perimeter, crossing over the Franklin Mountains. These dramatic peaks rise from the desert valley of the Rio Grande, providing a picturesque backdrop to the city. Looking from above, out of the windows of an airplane, the fractal nature of this landscape reveals itself. The nubby texture of the native shrub landscape is reflected by the erosion patterns of the hills and valleys that, in turn, are represented magnified by the folded geology of the whole maintain range. These many layers of self-similar geometry provided the inspirations for the wall patterning.
We devised a simple triangulated grid as the basis for our patterning as a result of the fast-track nature of this project and the specific technical requirements of the concrete wall panels. This enabled us to, quickly and efficiently, mockup 2D figure ground patterns on the panel surfaces. The patterns were distilled to a set number of unique panels. Then we developed them into 3D using a system of faceted planes. These facets reflect light in a similar manner to the landscape of the mountains.
This project involves miles and miles of concrete walls at many different heights. We studied many different pattern combinations to understand what worked on each type of wall. As we were mapping these patterns, we realized that they looked like the skin of the local diamondback rattler, one of our very first inspirations. The diamondback rattlesnake makes its home in these mountains. Our pattern panels create imagery reminiscent of both the sawtooth outline of the mountains and the zig-zag patterns and textures of the rattlesnake’s skin.
This snakeskin metaphor helped us develop the intricate surface texture for the panels. We conceived of the walls as a continuous skin made up of diamond shaped scales at three different sizes. Overlapping, blending and subtracting these scales created a richly textured surface, adding a level of subtlety and detail to the walls. This pattern activates and enlivens the wall with a strong graphic gesture and a captivating surface texture. This allows for people to appreciate the walls on many repeat viewings and at different speeds, as the pattern depth reveals itself over time.
After completing our intense scrutiny of the panels in three dimensions, we stripped them back to their primal gestures in simple 2D pattern maps. This allowed us to quickly map them into the project documents. The pattern map, above, displays the eight unique pattern units, and their rotations. This quick visual snapshot of the scope of the patterning shows how we gradually transition through the panels adding more large diamonds to each panel. Combining these elements allows us to create linear bands, wide pattern fields and dramatic transitions across the face of a wall.
Delivering legible, workable drawings is critical to creating patterned concrete walls. We work directly within the construction documents, adding both pictorial and numeric coding to the wall elevations. This allows for the engineers, fabricators and contractors to understand exactly where each panel is located and how many of each they will need. We maintain our standards of quality by providing this level of precise coordination and ongoing collaboration with the team.