Looking up Marilyn Monroe's concrete skirt


Construction company using concrete, and lots of it, to give Marilyn Monroe curves that will stand the test of time.

Toronto Star September 18th feature story (Condo Section: http://www.yourhome.ca/homes/realestate/article/861508--mississauga-condos-absolutely-brilliant)
By Stephen Weir

Long after the world has forgotten Marilyn Monroe, two well endowed condos will still be twisting the years away in downtown Mississauga. Curvaceous. Shockingly new. Absolute Buildings 4 and 5 are being built to last for the next century and beyond.
While their growing shapes are unconventional (Absolute 4 been dubbed the Marilyn Monroe because of its curves while Absolute 5 will sport a masculine big butt profile) it is the traditional application of concrete, and lots of it, that will make these buildings an eye-catching monument in time.
The 50 and 56 story condominiums have been under construction for over three years. Now, as the structures begin to tower over the nearby City Hall and Square One shopping centre, motorists, pedestrians and probably even the pilots of low flying planes are making note of the now undulating skyline.
Designed by MAD Inc, a very cutting edge and oh-so-chic Beijing based architectural firm, their Mississauga condos with curves are being hailed as examples of "structural expressionism". Needless to say there is nothing like them anywhere else in the Greater Toronto Area.
Both condos break the mold on status quo. And, of the two, Marilyn Monroe is the most different, and therefore most interesting in terms of how it is being built.
Anthony Pignetti of the Dominus Construction Group is the director of high-rise construction of the Marilyn Monroe Building. Dominus is overseeing the building for Fernbrook Homes and Cityzen Development Group.
Pignetti is quite used to being asked how an under-construction building can be rotated in space. Taking up a stack of his business cards, he shows how it is being done on the worksite. He holds the cards tightly in the centre and fans them out. While each card is the same size, the overall shape of the deck has morphed.
The cards, like the 56 egg shaped floors in the new Marilyn Monroe condo, remain rooted to the center (where fingers hold them in place) but are angled away from each other at a measurable angle.

“Each floor in Absolute 4 (Marilyn Monroe) is egg shaped and like the cards, are fanned out from the centre of the building. The angle of difference between one floor and another ranges from 1 to 8-degrees,” explained Anthony Pignetti. “Absolute 5 is different because the floors are shifted (from the core) at a constant angle shift of 4 degrees.”


The business of building a condo with off-centered ovoid floors began not with a deep hole, but rather in a wind tunnel. Since this is the first building of its kind in Ontario it was essential for the architects to find out how a non-rectangular building would be affected by the elements.
“The wind tunnel tests at the University of Waterloo showed we had to build heavy, underground and the first 25-floors above ground,” said Pignetti.
He estimates that the building’s base is about 20% stronger than a traditional condo of the same size. Not surprising, the actual construction cost of the building will be about 20% more than a typical 400 unit glass -lined skyscraper.
What will be under Marilyn Monroe’s glass exterior? Special concrete and steel, and lots of it.
The basement, all six floors of it, was dug like any other big Mississauga project. The differences come into play with the Marilyn Monroe when her foundation – the basement walls and the floors – was made. Her bottom was constructed using a thick network of reinforced steel poles (reinforced bars or rebar) that increases the tensile strength of the concrete that now cover it.
All buildings rely on rebar, but, in the case of Marilyn Monroe, a bigger rebar has been used. “Not only is it a thicker grade of rebar, we have used more of it” explained Pignetti “It is so tightly packed together you could easily walk across the rebar in the beams.”
So dense is this forest of rebar that traditional concrete could not be poured over and around it. Instead a flowing concrete has been used on the lower floors.
Dump run-of-the-mill concrete inside a form made of plywood and you won’t get a solid wall after it has set. Concrete, when left on its own, leaves large air gaps inside the mix. In fact construction experts say that with traditional concrete as much of 20% of its volume is made of trapped air. Bubbles reduce the density of concrete and that lowers it strength while increasing the chances that water will do damage to mix.
On “typical” construction sites it is very much a case of shake while you bake. The concrete is vibrated to shake all the big air bubbles out. The oversized rebar used in the Marilyn Monroe is too thick and too close together to allow for equipment to vibrate poured concrete. Instead, a relatively new and more expensive concrete has been used for the foundation and the first 25-floors above ground.
“We have been pouring SCC – self-consolidating concrete,” explained Sergio Vacilotto, Dominus’ director of site operations. “It is highly flowable. In fact it fills the forms so completely we have to seal off their ends so that the SCC doesn’t drain right out of the seams onto the floor.”
This new expensive concrete uses superplasticizers and it is the weight of its mass, not vibration that allows it to set without air pockets or seams. The concrete now exposed in Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished first floor lobby has a noticeable superior, almost polished, surface finish.
This summer Marilyn Monroe’s SCC passed the earthquake test. Workers already working on the 50th floor barely felt the 5.5 earthquake that rumbled through Ontario in July. “We didn’t even lay down our tools” said Vacilotto.
Because the windows have not yet been installed – the Marilyn Monroe – the innards of the building are easy to see. There are five ramrod straight concrete pillars that run from her bottom to her top. These pillars, the building’s core, form a tower that each floor, no matter its angle, is attached to.
Inside these pillars six high-speed elevators will soon be installed. “Sure the building has curves … but you can’t run elevators at an angle so there has to a perpendicular core.”
At right angles to the centre tower there are four “c” shaped smaller concrete pillars. Like the central core, the squared Cs run straight and true from the basement to the roof. These are the passageways that carry the electricity and waters upwards and residential garbage and recycled goods downwards.
Sounds normal. Where it gets a little wacky is in the building of each individual floor around these core shafts and tower.
The floors are egg shaped concrete platters. Since each individual ovoid plate is skewed at a different angle than the floor directly below or above it, each suite in the building is different.
While in a traditional condo tower each unit’s kitchen and bathroom is directly in line with the kitchen and bathroom above and below it, the same isn’t true in the Marilyn Monroe.
Wearing a hard hat and work boots and standing on the 49th floor of the under construction building Vacilotto uses his hands to show where a unit’s bathrooms and kitchen will be. “If we drilled down to the 48th floor chances are there wouldn’t be a kitchen or bathroom there. They could be here (pointing to a spot close to the open edge of the building) or over there (gesturing back to the core tower).”
This gives unit owners a uniqueness not found in any other large format condo build in this country. But, by not having water and sewage services running down the building in a straight line, the actual placement of pipes becomes an integral part of the initial stages of the build.

“On some floors we have more piping running horizontally across the ceiling than we do going vertically through the floor to the next unit below.”
Pipes line the ceiling like a Water Works Board game. Long before people start moving in 2011, ceiling material, drywall and paneling will hide those fixing.
Building a tall condo is akin to creating a vertical assembly line. Each floor has to be created by a team of skilled tradesmen, before the next level can be added.
Pouring concrete inside standing plywood forms creates the load bearing walls. Since the ceiling (and the next level’s floor) comes after the walls, so the concrete is poured in between the wooden forms from above.
When the walls have firmly set, the plywood forms comes down. The ceiling is poured and the basic services … electricity, water, sewage and gas are roughed in.
There are no outside walls, so the forms are bundled up and put on a platform on the outside of Ms. Monroe and lifted up to the next level so the floor building process can continue.
“We can’t “fly” form (a crane swings the forms out the side of a building and lifts it up to the next level) the way other buildings do,” said Vacilotto. “The shape doesn’t allow for it.”
It takes about 4-days to build a floor at the Marilyn Monroe site. Periodically the roof crane and a concrete pumping rig are raised to keep pace with the growing condo.
Driving by, you can’t see how busy the construction site is. The top two floors of Marilyn Monroe have a downward slanting brightly coloured wrap around it.
It looks like one of those protective cones a veterinarian might put around a dog’s neck to make sure he doesn’t rub at his head. Tight at the neck, wide at the top and red all over!

The covering is there to make sure the workers; their tools and building material don’t fall down onto a busy Burnhamthorpe Road below. The barrier protects the workers from the constant wind. And it takes the edge off anyone suffering from a fear of heights.
Watching the concrete being pumped from a crane you don’t see that you are at the top of the tallest building in Mississauga. But, once the structure is complete the view from inside will be just as interesting as the view from outside!
Cookie cutter and tiny boxes on boxes are two condo clichés that don’t get used much when talking about how the individual suites in the Marilyn Monroe will be created once the building shell is completed.
Each suite is aligned differently than the units above and below it. And each suite varies in shapes and sizes depending on where it is on the ovoid shaped floor.
A unit’s view of the outside world will be through a curved bank of windows and glass doors. Where there isn’t window glass there will be spandrel opaque glass panels giving Marilyn Monroe a wall-of-glass look.
These windows don’t open, instead there are sliding doors leading out to balconies. The balconies range in size; from 10 to 50ft – it all depends if you are on a hip or a waist. Stand on the bulge side of the ovoid and look down, can’t see any other balconies at all. Go to another unit and look over the edge and you see a stepped progression of balconies below you! Look up and you will see ledge upon ledge of concrete.
Dominus Construction Group readily admits that the building is over-built. All that extra concrete, rebar and snaking pipe-works does have its advantages. This is a building that could well be standing in the year 2110.
The project has caught the interest of buyers and builders alike. Only a handful of suites are left for sale and the top floor was snapped up long ago by a single customer. A steady stream of companies from across the country have sent their own builders in to look up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to see for themselves how it is being done.
Check out the follow-up story November 24th - top-off of the Marilyn Monroe building.

CUTLINES: Top - Artist's rendition of Absolute 4, the Marilyn Monroe building,
Second from top: Cards spread out to show how the floors share a common core but differ in their angle to the middle
Second from bottom: Sergio Vacilotto underneath a maze of water and sewage pipes.
Bottom: The red protective skirt around Absolute 5.


I was really impressed with the quality of the building design.

Paula M
Awesome post you have here! A very interesting topic. Thank you very much for sharing!

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