Renovation of Willoughby Tower with FRP

Located on Michigan Avenue, opposite Millennium Park “Willoughby Tower” building was built in 1929. It is cladded with limestone and originally had cast iron spandrel panels and window sills and a cast iron storefront. The old decorative iron spandrel panels had deteriorated over the years and were beginning to fail so it was determined to replace all the panels and sills with replicated FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic), manufactured by Plasterform

Central Building & Preservation removed numerous cast iron panels and window sills for sample and forwarded to Plasterform in developing the replacement FRP panels and sills. A mockup was prepared to ensure the new support system worked and to understand the installation means
As this is a landmarked building, Central Building had to ensure the sills and spandrel panels matched the original color. This was done by reviewing historic drawings and photographs and performing an on-site analysis of the paint finishes using field microscopy of the building.
Plasterform sandblasted the cast iron parts and cast rubber molds from them. These rubber molds were used to create the models and new molds. Plasterform then cast 319 fiberglass sills and spandrel panels and then primed and painted the gelcoat with a polyurethane paint in the approved finish.

The project to remove the spandrels and sills began in mid-March 2022 and was finished late December 2022

Plasterform utilizes the industry’s best methods throughout every step of the process – from design, to estimating, to production. Whether you need to maintain a historical aesthetic or wish to establish a new one, Plasterform has a product that fits your purpose. Let Arcspec assist your team on your next project! Contact us today at 847-362-1590 or visit our website at for more information.

Swisspearl and Strongirt Team Up For The Perfect Retrofit

In the heart of Fitchburg, Wisconsin lies one of the biggest employers in the area. This biotechnology company established their headquarters in Fitchburg over 40 years ago. The main buildings were originally built using an Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS).

Location: Fitchburg, WI
Products Used: Swisspearl, Strongirt
Architect: Ramlow/Stein
Year Retrofitted: 2022
Products used on this system:
Swisspearl – Carat 7030, 7031, 7032, 7020, 7060
Strongirt – FRP pultruded System – 4” girt size
The owner of the company was looking not only to expand, but also to enhance their energy efficiency and improve the overall aesthetic and design of their buildings. The best option for the owner was to do a complete retrofit of the existing building, along with the construction of the new buildings. This process involved removing the EIFS system and installing a complete Rainscreen Attachment System with mineral wool and a non-combustible façade. But first, the appropriate materials needed to be selected.
A 4” Strongirt Insulated Rainscreen Attachment System was selected, which resulted in 4” of mineral wool insulation added to the exterior wall structure. The 4” of mineral wool significantly increased the building’s energy efficiency. With the help of Arcspec, it was determined the subcontractors could use their own carpenter crews to install the Strongirt, which saved time and money.
The façade system was finished in five different colors of Swisspearl Carat fiber cement panels. The Swisspearl panels are non-combustible, durable, graffiti resistant, and meet the desired aesthetic.
Let Arcspec assist your team on your next project! Contact us today at 847-362-1590 or visit our website at for more information.

Custom Castings by Plasterform; Innovative Projects, Complex Design

When the new Loews Hotel opened at 455 N. Park in Chicago last March, one of the many fine details that reviewers marveled at were its floral ceilings. The project, designed by local Chicago architect Simeone Deary Partners, included a floral ceiling pattern in the lobby and prefunction areas.

Plasterform was contacted to handle this important piece of the project. The ceiling was ultimately manufactured out of GRG and is just one of many stunning details carefully included in the project’s execution.

Founded in 1987, Plasterform is one of the world’s largest custom casting manufacturers. Arcspec has represented Plasterform in the Chicago architectural community for over 20 years. With installations as familiar as Soldier Field and McCormick Place and as innovative as Harrah’s Casino and the new Loews Hotel, Plasterform’s appeal is evident throughout the region.

The experts at Plasterform have been linked to some of the most impressive, creative, and iconic projects around the globe. They provide consultation to architects, designers, and contractors to ensure that the manufacturing process proceeds in a smooth and cost-effective manner. Using CNC (computer numeric control) routers for pattern making allows them to achieve tighter tolerances than traditional pattern making.

Plasterform utilizes the industry’s best methods throughout every step of the process – from design, to estimating, to production. Whether you need to maintain a historical aesthetic or wish to establish a new one, Plasterform has a product that fits your purpose.

Old Building Gets New Look with Swisspearl Retrofit

Pekin Insurance recently opened its new office located at 120 N. Parkway Drive in Pekin, IL. Since its beginnings in 1921 after the introduction of the automobile, Pekin has grown from providing auto insurance solely to Tazewell County to offering a complete line of Life, Health, Auto, Home, and Business coverage to six states. Pekin bought the 28,740SF building in response to their growth and a need for more space.

Designed by Dewberry Architects in Peoria, the new Property/Casualty Claim building was renovated and retrofit with TerraClad terra cotta panels and two different colors of Swisspearl’s cement composite panels – Carat Sapphire 7060 and Black Opal 7021. The integrally colored cement composite panels were supplied by Arcspec and installed by Zobrist Construction based out of Morton, IL.

New Argonne Facility Contributes to Solving Nation’s Energy Challenges

The Argonne National Laboratory’s new Energy Sciences Building (ESB) provides a facility for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to fulfill its mission “to deliver the remarkable discoveries and scientific tools that transform our understanding of energy and matter and advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States.”

Committed to sustainability, the design team of HDR Architecture lived up to the task with the help of Curt Finfrock who has extensive experience in designing research laboratories and other advanced technology facilities. In the early stages of designing the Argonne Energy Sciences Building, Finfrock consulted with Arcspec and investigated several façade products, including TerraClad terra cotta rain screen panels, Swisspearl cement composite panels and aluminum plate wall panels which were ultimately chosen.

Currently under construction, the façade of the ESB includes a copper and clear anodized finished dry joint metal panel system supplied by Arcspec and is being installed by G & L Associates of Des Plaines, IL. Click here to hear how the Energy Sciences Building will be helping the DOE and Argonne address the nation’s energy challenges.

Stainless Steel Roof Tiles: Not Just for Roofing Anymore

Often thought of strictly for roof shingles, stainless steel tiles offer a unique and durable façade alternative. Whether designing in neutral tones or bright colors, Millennium Tiles, the only manufacturer of Stainless Steel Tiles, uses several different manufacturing processes to produce tiles with dimensionality and endurance. The Natural, Pewter and Zalmag tiles offer more subtle gray colors in a range of sheen. Colored tiles are available in both the LIC and TiNi products.

LIC (Light Interference Color) tiles are made from “an electrochemical process which thickens the naturally occurring chromium oxide on stainless steel. The clear oxide layer acts like the raindrop which creates the rainbow.”

The color is produced by light interference on the surface of the stainless steel; therefore, the color will vary based upon the amount of light and the angle from which it is being viewed. Since the color is merely perceived, the tiles are not affected by UV and will not fade over time.

Manufactured using vapor deposition, the TiNi product comes in rich colors, including imperial gold, permanent copper, antique bronze, royal blue, and peacock. LIC and TiNi tiles are available in several sizes, including sheets up to 48” X 120” giving architects numerous layout alternatives for designing exterior facades.

According to Architectural Record, the roofing tiles are “competitively priced” and “are made of approximately 75 percent recycled material and are 100 percent recyclable”. Since all Millennium Tiles’ products are permanently colored tiles, they are maintenance free and come with a 50 year warranty. The timeless beauty, recyclability, and longevity of stainless steel tiles make them an exceptional value for any type of building project.

Restoration to Revitalization in Chicago Uptown Neighborhood

As a former resident of Uptown, I am keenly aware of the residents’ desire for a long-awaited revitalization of the neighborhood. Home to the Green Mill Jazz Club, the neighborhood drew the likes of Al Capone “when big jazz names graced the stage, and even Frank Sinatra slung back a few through a couple of sets.”

Venues like the Aragon and the “Riv” (Riviera) continue to draw music lovers to the area, but the vitality of the neighborhood that once existed in the swing area diminished over the following decades. “Uptown began a slow slide, morphing into a low-rent district known for crime, grime and arson fires.” Burdened by corruption and misallocated tax dollars, buildings fell into disrepair, and such landmarks as the Uptown Theater and Bridgeview Bank, formerly known as Uptown National Bank, awaited long overdue restoration.

Slowly but surely, the neighborhood is experiencing a revitalization with the completion of Uptown Square/Borders project, funding being raised for the Uptown Theater, and the $16 million dollar renovation of the Bridgeview Bank. The circa 1920’s art deco building is “the second largest terra cotta structure outside the Loop, and serves as an Uptown anchor, hosting special events and public gatherings.”

The three year rehabilitation project based on Klein and Hoffman’s façade inspection is being performed by Design Installation Systems of Morton Grove. The project will include removal, repair and replacement of damaged terra cotta.

The terra cotta will be replaced with ARC’s glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) supplied by Arcspec. Due to its ability to replicate building ornaments and terra cotta, GFRC is becoming more commonly used.

The strength, durability and low weight of this material make GFRC an appealing option for restoration projects. “Lower weights mean easier hoisting and installation, and replacing terracotta with a lightweight material like GFRC will also reduce loads on the structure.”

GFRC’s characteristics provide a long life span and make it a viable alternative for replacement of terra cotta; however, the determination of which material should be used for restoration should be evaluated based on the type of pieces to be replaced, structural, mold and field conditions, and the budget of each project.

With the recent election of three new aldermen and their plans to draw businesses and retailers back into the area, perhaps there will be more opportunities to use these materials to restore more of Chicago’s historic buildings and promote a much anticipated upswing in the not so “up-and-coming” Uptown.

Plasterform Creates Unique GFRC Rainscreen with BIM

Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Thom Payne of Morphosis’, 41 Cooper Square is the first academic laboratory project in NYC to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest honor. Plasterform, one of the largest architectural casting manufacturers in the world, contributed to both the exterior and interior of this high profile project.

According to Crain’s magazine, as part of a progressive green building initiative, this LEED Platinum project has a double skin exterior consisting of a coated window wall system enclosed by perforated metal panels which improves the energy efficiency of the building by reducing the amount of heat penetrating the building in warmer weather and reducing the loss of heat in the winter.

Interwoven into the exterior façade of this building is Plasterform’s Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) rain screen system, a more sustainable option than conventional construction. The GFRC rainscreen has a complex shape that had to conform to the shape of the perforated metal fabricated by A. Zahner.

According to Mario Botelho of Plasterform, this was accomplished with the use of BIM (Building Information Modeling). The Architect created a 3D electronic model of the building that was passed on to each manufacturer. A. Zahner and Plasterform then used their CADCAM (Computer Aided Design Computer Aided Manufacturing) capabilities for prefabrication which allowed for the seamless integration of both materials despite being hundreds of miles apart from each other.

Sustainability wasn’t the only driving force behind the design of 41 Cooper Square. “Internally, the building is conceived as a vehicle to foster collaboration and cross-disciplinary dialogue among the college’s three schools, previously housed in separate buildings.”

At the center of the nine-story, 175,000 SF building is a vertical piazza with a full height atrium with grand stairs, sky bridges and skip stop elevators. As the center of the social hub, Plasterform’s randomly perforated Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG) panels were installed throughout the atrium to help with sound absorption. The use of GFRG on the ceilings speaks to its versatility as a “lightweight material that can be made into just about any shape imaginable”.

Plasterform’s contribution to the Cooper Square project exhibits their diverse capabilities due to their extensive product range and use of the most innovative technology.

Accolades Abound for Swisspearl Project

Gary Comer Youth Center, designed by renowned Chicago architect, John Ronan, was completed in 2007 and continues to receive recognition. Awarded with the Silver Medal Award for the 2011 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence in May, Ronan designed the exterior cladding of the center with Arcspec’s high quality Swisspearl fiber cement panels, incorporating nine different colors, some custom, installed horizontally.

“On the exterior, a cladding system of brightly coloured cement composite panels stand for the Center’s Youthful Orientation.”
John Ronan, Swisspearl Architecture Magazine 4

Utilizing various shades and sizes of gray panels hung in a vertical orientation, Ronan worked with Arcspec and Swisspearl a second time on the recently completed 94,000 SF Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School. Cross inscribed Swisspearl panels were also used on the interior of the building in the St. Ignatius Chapel which won the Interior Design Best of the Year Award in February of this year. The project was recently featured in the May 2011 issue of Architect Magazine.

Demonstrating the flexibility of the color palette and design options offered by Swisspearl cement composite panels, both of Ronan’s projects are featured on Swisspearl’s website and in their publication, Swisspearl Architecture Magazine.