Tilt-up concrete construction requires four major components—expertise, concrete, a lifting device and a little labour. For Shawn Hickey, president of Ottawa’s SiteCast Construction, that makes it the perfect construction method for overseas countries that haven’t yet experienced its efficiencies.
“No matter where you construct a tilt-up building, you can always share the economic benefits of construction with local suppliers, contractors and labour,” he says.
SiteCast’s first foreign venture saw the company traveling to Eritrea in 1999, just as a two-year war with Ethiopia was drawing to a close.
“We were invited to the country by a Canadian expat who wanted us to bring the technology to his homeland,” he says. “We produced a 900–square-foot building as part of an orphanage.”
The construction crew consisted of Hickey, an electrician and local labour.
“They’d never seen a power trowel or some of the tools we brought,” he recalls. “We completed the building in two weeks and they were just stunned by how fast it went up.”
Continued tensions related to the border war prevented SiteCast from establishing a more permanent presence in that country. In 2002, SiteCast worked with a partner on the possibility of establishing a satellite operation in Malaysia, until economic difficulties in that country halted the plan.
“We were busy in Canada, but got back into international development in 2010 with a partner of one of our owners in Jordan,” says Hickey. “Flying in, I was astounded by all of the concrete and concrete block construction. I realized right away this was a market for what we had to offer.”
The pilot project was a military housing prototype utilizing insulated tilt-up wall and roof panels at a hospital base in the capital city of Amman.
“Again, the project allowed local trades to see the benefits of tilt-up firsthand,” says Hickey.
The project not only received an achievement award from the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, but also caught the eye of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
“The king wanted to meet the people who built the project,” says Hickey. “So we were invited to give him, his top commanders and the Canadian ambassador to Jordan a presentation on tilt-up. They were interested not only in possibilities for housing, but also in the product’s durability and the vision of employing Jordanians to perform this work.”
In 2011, SiteCast was contracted to produce a series of eight buildings for the country’s military, a two-hour drive from the Iraq border. The company also constructed buildings for the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Centre in Amman where special forces from around the world train.
SiteCast subsequently established a permanent office in Jordan, employing two Canadians and three Jordanians. SiteCast imports form release agents, but uses local cement products. The panels are cast at night, but adjustments are made for hot weather curing, according to standards set by the American Concrete Institute.
The company’s Jordan operation has since taken on additional work in Abu Dhabi, arranged by partners in Amman.
“We just came back in January from building two 5,000-square-foot villas for private owners,” says Hickey. “These are one-storey luxury homes that will give local buyers a chance to kick the tires.”
Hickey was recently named one of the five most influential people in the concrete industry by U.S. publication Concrete Construction magazine, for promoting tilt-up concrete both in North America and internationally.
He says he’s humbled by the honour, but quickly turns the topic back to tilt-up.
“The secret to international promotion of tilt-up is to find the right local partners,” he says. “The beauty of this construction method is that we can build in local styles, because the architects and labour are local. We’re sharing the technique with them and are welcomed because we’re not there to take their jobs.”