The brightly-colored decorative structures on the side of the parking garage at the University of Houston look like familiar items of structural steel: I-beams and walk-way grids. In fact, they are I-beams and walkway grids, but they are not steel. They are FRP.
The building was a design-build project. The Houston architectural firm Powers and Brown developed the concept, and had design assistance from Engineered Processes Inc. (EPI) of Houston, TX, a composites specialist. The assembly utilizes pultrusion profiles made by Bedford Reinforced Plastics of Bedford, PA. The I-beams are made as structural elements, and the walkways grids are intended to replace metal grids, for example in locations where corrosion is a problem. This same corrosion-resistant property was one of the reasons they were selected for the parking garage, making the elements virtually maintenance free.
Another attraction was color. Since they are a plastic composite, they could be made in whatever color plastic the architect desired, and very bright colors could be achieved easily.
The light weight of the FRP assembly also proved a boon during installation. The lattice sections could be pre-assembled and lifted into place easily and slipped into the webs of the I-beams.
Images Courtesy of EPI, Inc.