2022 MultiFamily

Work on phase one of the University of Louisville Belknap Residence Hall was documented by Dan Kubican, principal engineer of structural engineering firm Brown + Kubican PSC in Lexington, Kentucky. Completed in August 2021, this $35 million-dollar project brought a 130,000-square-foot Nudura ICF building to the campus. Large commercial planes fly over constantly due to the close proximity of the international airport and UPS hub. Therefore, the design team’s goal was to provide the student occupants with a fire-safe and sustainable structure that would also be quiet and reduce vibrational disturbances. “The project is a large-scale example of how ICF construction can be utilized to achieve so many goals,” says Kubican. 

The Z shape of the building allowed for several unique views from each of the 452 rooms. In addition, the cultural center entrance is highlighted by curved glazing and a cantilevered roof structure. The architecture also utilized ICF to form support for the brick wing cantilevers located around the building perimeter. The building features multiple student study lounges located conveniently at each building wing. The amount of glazing (i.e. glass) in this building is atypical of an ICF building. Large multistory and strip windows are utilized in order to provide an abundance of natural light. The incredible mass provided by the ICF wall and precast concrete floor systems hinders nearly all of the sound transmission and provides a peaceful place to sleep and study.

“This residence hall is pretty special,” said University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi. “Students influenced the design and the features. This is the most student-driven residence hall that we’ve ever built and it is right in the heart of campus.”

Brown & Kubican played a major role in the promotion of the ICF system to the construction manager and the university. After a vetting period, the CM preferred ICF over the other systems because it was less expensive than the structural steel option, or even cast-in-place concrete. ICF was chosen over concrete masonry due to the speed of construction and the ability to construct during cold weather. 

Ease of Construction
The project was intentionally and strategically designed for efficiency, ease of construction, and cost savings. Building corners were minimized, offsets were planned with form dimensions in mind, window openings were generally made of punched openings for minimal jamb and header reinforcing, etc. The floor structure consists of hollow core precast concrete plank mounted flush within steel beams for a constant total structure depth of 11 inches. Additionally, the Z-shaped building was split into two halves with a seismic separation joint. Such strategic planning netted a cost savings of approximately $25 to $50 per square foot of building area compared to other dormitory projects. The most complex aspect of the project was the use of ICF load-bearing walls in combination with a considerable number of strip windows on the first floor.

Replacing Wood
The most recent residence halls built for the University of Louisville were of wood construction. The same construction manager was hired to construct this nicer, centrally located flagship residence hall. The design team collaborated with the CM in order to vet wood, cold-formed steel, and ICF construction during the early stages of design. “Brown & Kubican was pushing for an ICF system, due to our previous success utilizing it to achieve an affordable budget and expedited construction duration,” says Kubican. “To the surprise of the CM, the ICF construction was estimated to cost nearly the same as the cold-formed steel system. When bids were due, the ICF wall and precast plank floor construction came in on budget.”

The residence hall is the first step in the recent revitalization effort of the university’s housing authority. The success of this residence hall project encouraged the university to construct another similar residence hall immediately adjacent to this building, which will utilize the same building materials. 

High-performance Building
ICF combined with precast pre-stressed hollow core concrete planks provided the University with a durable structural system that is excellent for fire resistance, sound transmission, floor vibration, and wind and seismic performance. The permanent insulating forms make the structure very energy efficient. Precast hollow core planks with a 3-inch topping were used for the floor structure, spanning from exterior walls to a single line of steel beams and steel columns along one side of the interior corridor. The 8-inch deep planks are supported on the bottom flange of 10-inch deep beams, allowing the design to limit the depth of the floor structure, reduce floor-to-floor heights, and allow for an abundance of future flexibility if the owner were to renovate and move interior partition walls. 

This ICF project has received attention from the National Ready Mix Concrete Association and many other public and private educational institutions who have visited the campus and Brown & Kubican’s other nearby ICF projects to witness the possibilities in design, construction, and economics that ICF affords. “The residence hall has become UofL’s flagship hall, generating a high level of accolades from the university’s president and director of student housing,” says Kubican. “Local media stations have covered construction and the grand opening of the residence hall in their nightly news casts.” 

Project Statistics 

Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Type: Collegiate residence hall
Size: 130,000 sq. ft. 
ICF Use: 65,552 sq. ft. 
Cost: $35,000,000
Total Construction: 80 weeks
ICF Installation Time: 140 days

Construction Team 

Owner/Developer: University of Louisville
General Contractor: Messer Construction
ICF Installer: Olympic Construction
Form Distributor: Nudura
Architect: JRA Architects
Structural Engineer: Brown + Kubican, PSC
ICF System: Nudura

Fast Facts 

  • Home to the University’s Cultural & Equity Center
  • Student input was implemented during design
  • 452-bed residence hall with multiple social gathering areas
  • Located in the heart of campus
  • ICF walls and precast concrete floors accelerated construction
  • Integrated openings enabled faster construction


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