A building is more than just a place with people in it. Across industries—whether it’s where you work, where you bank, or where you stay—the built environment can inspire creativity, security and comfort. This thought drives us in settings of all shapes and sizes as we partner with small businesses and global enterprises alike.
DPR Construction played a key role in the extensive efforts of WRNS Studio's Seattle office to seek Living Building Challenge Materials Petal certification, which would be a first for DPR’s Northwest region. WRNS desired a higher standard of sustainability with the project, a concept that aligns with DPR’s sustainability goals.
“It was important to WRNS that our team conduct a full evaluation and analysis of the requirements of LEED, WELL and the Living Building Challenge for this tenant improvement project. DPR priced all potential credits and opportunities to find a best value solution. Upon final review, it was agreed upon that we would only achieve LBC Certification,” said Cameron Thomas, DPR’s project engineer for the job.
After the analysis, it was determined that the best value for WRNS and WRNS employees came from pursuing the LBC Materials Petal certification. However, in addition, WRNS decided to pick and choose from some of the best value items for WELL and LEED, especially when it came to upgrading some of the HVAC performance and light fixtures.
The 5,500-sq.-ft. office, with views of Elliott Bay, was completed in 2018. The detailed process of Petal certification took shape during the project, with the entire process of documentation taking 15 months.
To achieve LBC Materials Petal certification, the DPR team had to approach mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) work differently due to the LBC’s Red List of disapproved products and materials. When mass produced, these materials can pollute the environment, have negative side effects on workers or contain unsustainable components. As a result, the team also needed to reassess their approach to the HVAC work, helping it function more efficiently with the already-existing core equipment. Additionally, high-end and Red List-compliant LED lighting fixtures were installed.
“Hitting this goal took strong teamwork,” Thomas said. “We collaborated with several key trade partners for mechanical and electrical needs. As one coherent team, we were able to evaluate all the systems on how well they would achieve the available credits to win certification.”
Material vetting, final selections and purchasing were all key phases of this project, requiring careful research and documentation from DPR, as LBC submission includes disclosure of all the materials and components used. In order to request those specific pieces of information, DPR relied on trade partners and manufacturers to be knowledgeable about what materials and components make up each individual product being used in construction.
While it is common practice to get disclosure information for some materials, obtaining this information about every single material on-site set a new bar. However, knowing that failure to meet this “zero tolerance” aspect would have stripped WRNS of their certification, the team rose to the challenge.
“In any other project, a request like this would be well beyond normal practice, but DPR believed in the customer’s vision for the project. Both the design and construction teams faced a high learning curve when searching for the right materials and required information for the submittal, but we’re able to share the knowledge that we gained across our business now,” said Thomas.
The Miller Hull Partnership recently received Living Building Challenge Petal Certification for the renovation of its San Diego studio. Built by DPR Construction, the 4,600-square-foot tenant improvement included upgrades to the open office, conference rooms and model shop.
“Through efficient building systems and responsible sourcing, Miller Hull was able to reach their sustainability goals and raise the bar for modern green projects,” said DPR project manager John Kay. “Because the Living Building Challenge is based on a building’s performance rather than projections, we’re demonstrating that these ambitious standards can be realized in a commercial tenant improvement.”
To meet energy conservation goals and achieve net positive energy, the building features a 24-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array on the roof and was designed to take advantage of natural lighting in the sunny Southern California climate. In the first year of operations, the studio produced 30 percent more energy than it used. Fresh air can be accessed from almost anywhere in the space through manually operated, full-height windows. There is no artificial air conditioning in the building.
Salvaged and Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood as well as locally sourced materials helped the project reach the Materials Petal. The project team also prioritized manufacturer transparency and products without materials or chemicals of concern.
It took vigilance and an integrated approach to attain the net positive waste standard during the construction phase. “We challenged conventional waste management practices and reinforced the importance of rigor with the diversion work,” said Kay. “The so-called ‘waste’ became a valuable resource. The interior wall paneling removed during demolition was reused for bracing and protection during construction. Excavated soil was repurposed for offsite gardening and landscaping.”
The Miller Hull San Diego studio is the first project certified under the fourth version of the Living Building Challenge, which continues to set visionary but attainable building goals, while focusing on the relationship between impact and effort in the design and construction industry. It is also the first Living Building Challenge certified project in San Diego County.
Presented by the International Living Future Institute, Petal Certification falls under the larger Living Building Challenge program and is awarded to projects that achieve at least three complete “Petals,” or performance categories. The San Diego studio successfully pursued six of the seven Petals including place, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty.
International airline EVA Airways Corporation has a new office campus in El Segundo, California, which reached final completion in May. As one of the larger design-build projects in the region, the campus encompasses two 5-story buildings totaling 150,000 sq. ft. wrapping around a 5-story above ground parking structure. It all sits atop a once vacant site, completing an area in the business-friendly city that has seen major redevelopment in the last decade.
“This is a project for a good group of end-users, providing them with a new North American headquarters and the ability to create more dynamic working environments for many other local businesses,” said Brent Bunting, who serves as the project executive.
As the general contractor, DPR Construction leveraged self-perform work (SPW) and 3D modeling expertise to maintain a high level of collaboration between EVA Air and its design partners, as well as keeping the project on schedule and within budget. Collaboration allowed for smooth sailing on a tight site footprint, ensuring deliveries, cranes erecting portions of the work, excavations, concrete pump trucks and more to keep the project flowing.
Creating Space for All
The campus goes beyond a typical office park, featuring “office condos” available for sale to small businesses that may otherwise not be able to own their own space. DPR worked in collaboration with kmd Architects, EVA Air, Messori Development and CBRE to bring this focus on designing for multi-tenant functionality to life, giving rise to the building’s unique exterior and circulation. Each “condo” includes its own private balcony or patio, and with a variety of materials and exterior articulation, the building skin design is different from any other project DPR has built in the region.
DPR’s team navigated through a few unique circumstances that included custom weathered metal finishes, complex window and door design, and incorporating a variety of materials on the exterior like plaster and a rainscreen system with weathered metal and phenolic panels. Additionally, the parking structure’s 2nd and 5th floors are connected to the office buildings’ 2nd and 4th floors via four skybridges that improve accessibility for occupants. The connectivity between the structures added to the challenges with the site and skin coordination.
Flexibility though SPW and Virtual Modeling Expertise
Leveraging DPR’s sizable SPW team on the concrete parking structure helped minimize the impact of several weeks of unprecedented rain for the region, with onsite craftsmen working to prep for, clean up and mitigate the effects of the weather. SPW teams also performed other specialty and smaller scopes of work, such as miscellaneous carpentry, fire stopping and lobby ceilings, in addition to providing valuable design input throughout the preconstruction phase.
When a major design decision needed to be made, DPR worked closely with EVA Air to evaluate costs and weigh the benefits of each decision. An example of this was the decision between a cast-in-place concrete structure versus a structural steel structure. A concrete structure can provide a shorter overall height of building due to the depth of beams in a steel structure, and concrete can provide an attractive ceiling finish if left exposed. However, a concrete structure will require additional columns and walls within the footprint that steel structures can avoid with longer allowable spans. Ultimately, the openness of the spaces was a definable project feature for EVA Air, and so the decision to proceed with steel was ultimately made. DPR’s ability to demonstrate the end conditions through 3D modeling was essential to the ultimate decision to adjust the design, while simultaneously mitigating what would be major impacts to the design schedule.
As a result, DPR was able to collaborate with its design-build partners to work in constructability and value analysis into the design to ensure the project moved forward expeditiously.
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Sept.10, 2020.
Houston’s largest hotel, Hilton Americas, first opened its doors in 2003 to host hundreds of sports fans for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Sixteen years later, DPR Construction partnered with Hilton, Houston First and Gensler to undertake a major renovation of this award-winning AAA 4-Diamond property in the heart of downtown. The renovation includes significant demolition, build back and upgrades to all 1,200 guestrooms and corridors, alcoves, landings and elevator lobbies on all 17 guestroom floors.
Phase 1 got under way in June 2019, with the first 600 guest rooms completed by December. The project then paused to allow for planned downtown conferences—some in the adjacent George R. Brown Convention Center—that included events for large tech firms and big businesses. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these conferences were cancelled and DPR was asked to remobilize earlier than planned to complete Phase 2—the remaining 600 guest rooms.
“Working in an active hotel in the middle of downtown is already challenging. Add in a global pandemic, and the challenges only increase,” says Houston Business Unit Leader, Nick Abay.
DPR worked closely with Hilton and Houston First to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 Emergency Response/Mitigation Plan, that includes:
A rigorous sign-in/health screening process with a sophisticated QR Code system, unique electronic badging, bilingual staff, infrared thermometer scans and color-coded wrist bands that alternate each day.
A second sign-in/screening location at the one and only entry/egress into the building as a second COVID-19 stage gate.
The implementation of four (4) separate shifts to manage the more than 250 people who are on-site during an average workday.
Dedicated freight elevators, with delivery access and debris removal scheduled at specified times to manage the limited loading dock space available.
Additional temporary restrooms and touchless handwashing stations.
These steps are part of a set of comprehensive EHS protocols that, when properly planned and executed, demonstrate that construction can continue to move forward without compromising the safety of employees or the community.
To allow for the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended six feet of social distancing, DPR also worked with Hilton to identify a larger office space within the hotel. The larger area allows DPR staff and other project stakeholders to carry out administrative functions and hold daily meetings while maintaining a safe physical distance.
These measures complement the safety protocols being developed by Hilton to protect its staff and guests. From seals placed on guestroom doors after cleaning, showing that no one has since accessed the room, to contactless check-in and extra cleaning of high touch areas, the industry is preparing for a necessary new travel experience.
Construction continues as the hotel still hosts guests, most of whom are part of the COVID-19 response: troops from the Texas National Guard, who are providing support to the Houston Food Bank, along with healthcare workers providing front-line support to patients in the Greater Houston Area.
The 509,289-sq.ft. project is a careful balance between construction and hotel operations. With continued room occupancy, work is being completed in blocks of 11 guestrooms—up to 298 rooms out of order or under construction at any one time. Of course, this couldn’t be possible without the value of DPR’s Self-Perform Work teams. Hilton Americas is the largest SPW project in Houston to date with over 55 craft working in the following scopes: demolition, drywall, wood blocking, tape and float, doors, frames and hardware, specialties, and FFE warehousing and installations. Even with the COVID -19 impacts on Phase 2 renovations, the SPW crews are trending an improvement in estimated man hours by as much as 10-15%.
“Using multiple scheduling tools, including a ‘Room Work Status board’ that displays the current status of each individual room as it progresses through the 28-day renovation cycle, our team is able to closely track progress and strive for guest rooms with zero defects,” said Ryan Schoeneberg, DPR superintendent. “With a total of 1,200 individual punch lists spanning 17 floors, this is critical to minimize rework and maintain our aggressive schedule.”
This high-profile project at Hilton Americas continues to excel in challenging conditions. Chris Gehring, Senior Project Manager, summarizes the experience with a nod to company culture. “DPR is proud to support Hilton, Houston First and our State and local front-line workers on this major renovation of a Houston icon.”
This is Part 4 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 2 and Part 3 examined ways to spread out individuals within a workforce and technology for remote asset management, respectively. This final segment discusses planning for healthier future spaces.
At some point, the pandemic will subside, the economy will recover and true, long-term planning will begin. When it does, it is likely that the momentum that was building behind healthy buildings and systems like WELL Certification will become mainstream.
The advantages of healthy workplaces have been highlighted from business researchers to innovation consultants to the medical community. Now, as many firms that are bringing workers back put measures including temperature checks into place, employees will be scrutinizing how well their offices support their health.
“We believe in the benefits of WELL from a standpoint of increasing productivity, lowering absenteeism and more,” said Matt Murphy, DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “The primary reason we’ve built our new offices to WELL standards, though, is because of the tangible benefits to the health of our employees.”
Including the 1918 flu pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic is the second worldwide event of this scale in 100 years. For anyone aiming to build higher performing buildings with a lifespan of 50-100 years, it’s worth considering that pandemics have more in common with earthquakes than hurricanes: they’re less frequent, but when they happen, it’s a widespread disruption.
“In places where earthquakes are common, we’ve taken a lot of measures to ensure the resiliency of the built environment,” Murphy said. “Shouldn’t we do the same with health and doing things to minimize disruption should another pandemic occur within our lifetimes?”
Planning for a truly healthy workspace, though, isn’t something to do after design has taken place. Buildings and workplaces with the best results and returns from green building strategies are the ones that started with integrated approaches from the start, setting high performance as goals and letting those goals shape the design and construction process. Achieving the same sort of results with WELL Certification takes a similar approach.
“Our customers were already facing high bottom line expenses for health insurance and wellness programs,” Murphy said. “While there are cultural factors that affect employee behaviors, we’re finding a whole-building approach to wellness and health can influence culture. Putting measures in for physical distancing will be important, but so will building systems and materials that hinder spread of disease. Designs that help with circulation and provide employees with comfortable spaces to have physical distance while collaborating and feeling productive make a difference, too.”
Ultimately, putting all these strategies together should lower any given business’ exposure to pandemics or other disruptions.
“Businesses need to know their ability to operate can move forward. Employees want the peace of mind that their work and lives won’t be disrupted. Every business is connected to supply chains and customers and the larger economy,” Murphy said. “Any office that moves to make its own operations resilient makes our entire economy more resilient.”
This is part 3 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 2 discussed ways to spread out individuals within a workforce. This segment discusses technology for remote asset management and the final installment covers planning for healthier future spaces.
Physical distancing will mean fewer workers in offices. With reduced staff levels in a given workplace, some of the things taken for granted in offices will need to change. For example, workers are used to having on-site IT help. On any given day, that may no longer be the case and remote options will be the first course of treatment when the “blue screen of death” appears.
For facility managers, the need for remote monitoring of building systems is going to be equally important. Operations dashboards that may have seemed like luxury items may get another look as essential software tools. With many projects already using robust virtual design and construction (VDC) programs, it’s not a big jump to reposition digital models for remote asset management.
“This pandemic has shown that, in buildings, the safety of teams, occupants and visitors will always be the top priority,” said Aaron Peterson, leader of VueOps, a strategic partner of DPR Construction that aims to put building operations information at customers’ fingertips. “More than ever, it is the responsibility of facility management, engineers and operators to take action toward implementing the right prevention and containment strategies.”
As it stands, research shows that facility engineers spend 50% of their time simply searching facility data. The faster an issue can be identified and addressed or prevented, the less disruption to operations. Doing so remotely, though, is going to become more common.
“Reduced workforces, remote work and limited staff proximity on-site just underscores the need for integrated data tools that can enhance and increase facility uptime, prevent downtime, improve workflow and eliminate pain points,” Peterson said. “This will be the ‘new normal.’ Much like restaurants will be shy to remove a revenue stream like takeout even after reopening, why would a facility manager want to pivot back to a monitoring approach that has increased risks?”
This is part 2 in a series where DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. Part 1 looked at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Part 3 examines technology for remote asset management and Part 4 discusses planning for healthier future spaces. This segment discusses ways to spread out individuals within a workforce.
Once offices come back online, facility leaders will have much to consider in the longer term. For example, physical distancing requirements in offices are almost sure to be a fixture for months to come, if not permanently. Certainly, the ability for any workplace to pivot to a setup that places employees at more physical distance from one another will be needed.
While that’s good practice for disease prevention, other potential disruptions may influence where people are able to go to work.
“Natural disasters have disrupted regions and businesses in the past. Mobility in many communities was an issue prior the pandemic, too. Our nation’s infrastructure is in great need of upgrading. As recent events like Seattle’s bridge closure show, that affects a group of people’s ability to commute reliably," said Matt Murphy, DPR Construction's core markets leader. "One outcome of this crisis, especially with the knowledge of how effective workers can be remotely, is flexible options for where to come to work.”
With billions of feet of suburban office park space on the market, some businesses may consider repositioning them to match the experience of their more urban office spaces. With technology to connect teams seamlessly, satellite spaces provide more options for workers and give companies an easy way to spread out their workforce to avoid overfilling an office.
“Obviously, this means taking on more real estate, but a lot of larger firms already have this setup,” Murphy said. “It’s more about aligning the office space to provide a unified worker experience.”
“On a longer horizon, many customers may consider spreading their workforces out simply to ensure that, whatever happens wherever, they can plan on limiting disruption to operations,” Murphy said. “If you’re a company with thousands of square feet of space, the more you can spread those square feet out, the more agile you will be in the face of disease outbreaks, infrastructure disruptions, natural disasters and more.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sep. 2, 2020.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been significant speculation about what the pandemic will mean for workplaces in the future. As certain as it is that changes in workspaces will be the new reality, the fact is that, generally, people like going to the office (and many people miss doing so!) The fast internet connections of office spaces provide a form of digital equity for workers, many of whom have certainly felt the limitations of their internet bandwidth at home. Many businesses that are doing well with keeping operations moving remotely are struggling to replicate the organic interactions of face-to-face contact in offices that help support everything from professional development to camaraderie. While amazing work is happening via video conferencing, there is no replacement for that one-on-one interaction in real time with coworkers.
The return to the office will happen, and when it does, it will look different for every organization. What will be important, though, is making sure offices are set up in ways to minimize further disruptions and optimize the health of their occupants. Through the design and construction approaches, businesses can plan for resiliency in the face of not only this pandemic, but other potentialities that could disrupt business for weeks or months at a time.
“The COVID pandemic has shown businesses where they have some risk exposure and that design and construction solutions can help alleviate those risks,” said Matt Murphy, who acts as DPR Construction’s core markets leader. “It’s clear that offices are not just places people gather, but key business assets, and there are strategies that can be put into place to help ensure those critical assets can always stay online.”
In this series, DPR experts look at ways to build resiliency into commercial spaces as we move through the COVID pandemic and beyond. This segment looks at improvements that can be made to existing spaces. Upcoming installments will examine ways to spread out individuals within a workforce, technology for remote asset management and planning for healthier future spaces.
Making Existing Spaces Work Today
While long-term solutions are needed, carefully re-opening existing spaces is the top priority. At various stages, businesses that want to reopen will considering everything from bringing groups of workers back in rotations, enhanced cleaning efforts to new ways to use kitchen and amenity spaces as well as office-wide physical distancing measures.
“Workspace utilization at DPR has never really been your standard 'space-centric focused' space planning. We've always been focused on human-centric metrics. Collaboration thrives in open office environments,” says Scott Sass, who acts as DPR’s national special services group (SSG) leader. “This pandemic has allowed us to reimagine the workplace and find new ways to satisfy the needs of our people. We're discussing new ways to enhance already human-focused design strategies that will ensure the highest levels of collaboration and safety in workplaces.”
Temporary safety measures are likely at first, but customers looking for more permanent solutions will want to make adjustments to existing spaces without disrupting day-to-day operations. DPR’s SSG group and its corps of self-perform workers have some ideas to consider.
“At the beginning of this, there were a lot of articles stating, '‘this is the end of the open-concept offices,’” Sass said. “That’s probably hyperbole. However, there will be a need to evaluate the existing office and determine if changes are necessary. Immediate changes like auto-operators on doors, new antimicrobial hardware and touchless operation kitchen equipment are considerations. There also may be a need to adjust workspace configurations, or add screens for the interim measures.”
Sass added: “One thing all offices should consider is re-commissioning HVAC systems. It’s like doing a tune-up on your car. It will give you the peace of mind that systems are doing what they’re supposed to, and changing the filters regularly is important.”
In other words, it’s the kind of work an SSG group is well positioned to support.
“Doors, hardware, drywall, MEP… this is what we were doing before the pandemic and finding ways to do it in active workspaces,” Sass said. “Delivering that with quality is more about planning. We want to work with individual customers to understand their needs and find ways to install what they need in ways that don’t disrupt their operations at a time when another disruption could be a critical threat to business.”
Sass believes that can mean after-hours work with thorough cleaning afterward, deliberate planning on crew sizes and phasing of work.
“The advantage of having a nimble crew ready to go is that it perfectly aligns with the idea that there isn’t one grand solution out there for everyone,” Sass said. “Every customer is going to have different needs and, through collaboration, we can get them online faster and in ways they can count on moving forward.”
As much as the word “disruption” gets thrown around by thought leaders, we know this: customers don’t like surprises. Surprises in the course of a major construction project create disruptions that can ripple through a project and an entire customer organization. Surprises in the field can be costly and can affect project schedule.
Even while striving to deliver more predictable outcomes, surprises emerge in the field from time to time. Just as safety incidents can be mitigated through the proper steps taken prior to and during work, DPR believes many costly surprises in the field can be prevented.
By spending a little upfront, projects can often avoid spending more due to unforeseen issues. Too often, those costs look easy to cut in early project stages, leaving little recourse when something unexpected arises.
“Throughout the lifecycle of any project, there are a lot of unknowns,” said Rishard Bitbaba, DPR’s large project corporate service leader. “You wouldn’t want a doctor performing surgery without first looking at scans, using tools to evaluate the best approach and using data from similar situations to inform next steps. Contractors and their project partners have a similar set of tools to get rid of the unknowns before a shovel hits the ground.”
Four specific things can help get projects off to the right start.
Sometimes on projects, what you see isn’t what you get—but it can be easy to take existing conditions for granted.
“It’s inevitable that existing buildings, over years of operations, have made a variety of modifications and upgrades, large and small, to systems that may not be fully captured in operations manuals and the original drawings,” says Hannu Lindberg, DPR’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) leader. “But for all project types, at various stages, reality capture can be a great example of spending a little now to save more down the line.”
Reality capture methods like laser scanning of existing conditions involves time, labor and some equipment cost, but by setting the basis for the larger digital model – helping support preconstruction activities ranging from procurement to how the work will be phased – it has larger benefits. While many project teams see the utility of doing this before a project begins, that is often left until the end when it’s almost too late to adjust for the discrepancies. Doing so misses the real value.
“The main reason to keep scanning is to ensure quality and catch errors in the field,” Lindberg says. “If you spent the money to coordinate the building, you should ensure you’re following the coordinated design. And, when you crunch the numbers, the cost of upfront labor is far cheaper than rework, change orders and loss of productivity in the field.”
Consider scanning and as-built verification together on a given project. Weekly scans of work put in place for a period of four months could run $46,000 – exactly the kind of money that looks easy to trim on a line-item basis. What if each scan found 10 minor issues that could be quickly addressed before they became $80,000 in major rework costs over the same time period?
Similarly, it might seem like spending $22,000 annually for a drone to capture aerial progress photos for site mapping is unnecessary. The same task with five field crew members and equipment could end up costing upwards of $52,000.
“These things add up,” Lindberg says. “For things like scanning and aerial progress mapping, before work commences, it might seem like trimming $68,000 upfront is cost savings and a better short-term trade off. But, if that results in spending more than $130,000 later in avoidable rework… I’m not sure anyone wants to have to explain that to their supervisor…or owner, for that matter.”
Reality capture can also prevent surprise costs and increase ROI through better overall productivity, quality control, and by reducing waste (in both materials and processes).
Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) scopes typically account for 25% to 40% of a project’s total construction costs and drive the operating costs during the facility’s life. Since MEP systems have a significant impact on project budgets, they are often the first scopes that teams look to reduce in the early stages, often without the guidance of a MEP professional.
“Too often MEP systems are taken for granted in early stages of a project,” says Joe Dillingham, one of DPR’s leading MEP coordinators. “We’ve seen assumptions about these systems during design and buyout that lead to costly redesign and rework during construction.”
Bringing MEP professionals into these early stages reduces project teams’ reliance on assumptions when making decisions that affect construction all the way through facility operation.
Often, project teams do not bring on MEP professionals until the commissioning phase, when addressing issues hampering a system’s performance adds cost that could have been avoided with more oversight from the beginning. Even during this late stage, MEP professionals frequently save expenses from hitting clients’ bottom lines.
Blair Calhoun, another MEP professional at DPR, recalls a time when a warehouse manager called him to voice safety concerns with a recently commissioned tenant improvement. Her staff had difficulty navigating almost a 1/4 of the space because it lacked adequate lighting. After some investigation, Calhoun discovered the owner’s recently departed PM had opted to save upfront costs by not replacing the preexisting lights and the project's coffers were tapped. Calhoun asked the electrical subcontractor who previously submitted a proposal to replace the outdated existing lights with contemporary, high-efficiency ones for an estimate of the energy saved with the new lights. The team ended up showing the warehouse manager that the $22,000 change order would be paid for in less than three years from the savings on monthly electric bills, a true win-win.
Recently, DPR’s MEP and data groups began analyzing nearly 40,000 “Requests-For-Information” (RFIs) related to MEP trades from over 1,700 projects. Fundamentally, an RFI indicates an unwanted break in the flow of required and accurate data. The disruptions in data flow often lead to lost production time and pose threats to the quality and predictability of project outcomes. The groups are planning a rigorous analysis to find insights to shine a light on issues affecting MEP upfront costs that ultimately lead to lower total costs for clients.
Things like a truly engaged owner, project partners co-located in a “Big Room” and more were among the nine key indicators DPR identified for executing successful healthcare projects. Another is having the right team who exhibits the Lean principle of “Respect the Individual.” The traditional, more siloed approach to project delivery, where a contractor comes into the process after design is finalized and many key decisions have been made, though, puts the teambuilding starting blocks farther back. In doing so, things like design management fall by the wayside and there isn’t proper time to organize both the design and building team members.
“On a large project – half a billion dollars, say – success depends on organizing a large team up front and how they will make decisions,” said DPR’s Chris Dierks, one of the company’s Lean leaders and a project executive. “The larger a project, the larger potential issues could be if they’re not tackled early on. So, we always recommend getting the teams together early and spending some time and money upfront to not only properly organize as one team but also to focus on developing relationships to head off anything down the road. Strong relationships directly tie to strong trust.”
You can’t implement a successful Design Management process without this sort of team. High-level discussions that combine the customer’s goals, the designer’s vision and the contractor’s knowledge of what is constructible can only benefit from high levels of trust. What’s more, one of the most effective tools for cost control strategy is Target Value Delivery (TVD) and how projects organize and manage the design and preconstruction efforts. The value can be initial cost, total cost of ownership and user experience, which then informs design decisions, means and methods, project sequencing, and cost priorities with accountability to all parties to maximize value in a quantifiable way.
“TVD presents unique challenges over the course of a long project planning effort including ambiguity about timing of decisions, and a tendency to revisit previous decisions when the value is not clear and quantifiable,” Dierks said. “It’s really shifting costs. It’s heavier upfront, but the payoff, ‘the value,’ comes from implementing the right strategies and processes to identify and bring resolution to arising issues so they never materialize in the field.”
The departure from “typical” project startup costs can be a barrier and overcoming it takes an honest appraisal of the stakes in the field.
“I get it. If you’re a customer, you hear ‘teambuilding event’ or ‘building a Big Room’ and you think, ‘sounds like a lot to spend upfront for … what, exactly?’” Dierks said. “It takes seeing how it unlocks the full toolbox of Lean concepts and processes to make the entire project more efficient. [Efficiency] meaning where trust is so high that everyone is aligned and wrinkles are ironed out quickly, with quality in mind, to deliver that cost certainty, again ‘the value,’ ultimately desired by the customer.”
The root of all of these, however, is the long-standing ways construction has been procured and the traditional relationships among project partners. To take advantage, a perspective change is required on all parts.
“Our industry has been called ‘slow to change’ when we’re actually seeing more tools and technologies that can change project outcomes in positive ways,” Bitbaba said. “What has been slow to change is the traditional model of construction so we can properly leverage these new tools.”
Behavior change may not have a dollar cost, but there is certainly a mental cost. No one likes change, but more than enough projects using alternative delivery setups – ranging from design-build to more robust integrated project delivery agreements – to show the way.
“Too often, the new ways of working are being assumed to just work under the traditional, more siloed ways of working,” Bitbaba said. “Owners have to have a mind shift to where they seek to be more engaged early and not be afraid to get into the details, rather than questioning some of the details.”
Bitbaba recalls times when customers wondered why so many superintendents’ hours were needed in preconstruction phases or that terms like TVD were just something a contractor would do.
“The engagement makes the difference,” Bitbaba said. “It’s easy to look at worker hours or assume it will all go to plan, but when a contractor submits the RFI that a wall in a design wasn’t included in project budget, are you going to wish you had considered more engagement upfront? Likely so.”
Which is why Bitbaba likens the entire process of “knowing the unknowns.” Essentially, when all project partners are aligned and working together, using all available tools from VDC to field expertise to working in new ways, it allows projects and the people that make them happen to be more nimble when outside forces are thrust upon us.
“We can’t control the rain,” Bitbaba says. “Let’s work together early on in projects to control the things we can so the only surprises are if the weather forecast is wrong.”
At a time when social distancing, health, and safety are top of mind, the DPR WeWork project team continued to push their project forward while adhering to all mandated safety restrictions. When it came time for the building inspection of the 60,000-sq.-ft. co-workspace located in Nashville’s popular neighborhood, The Gulch, the team faced a new challenge. “The fire marshal called us and told us our inspection that week would be canceled as the fire department was suspending all in-person activities indefinitely,” said DPR’s Kyle Wortendyke.
The team moved quickly to develop a viable alternative solution. “This was an issue, as we only had two weeks to hit substantial completion and move the owner in on time,” said Wortendyke. The potential roadblock didn’t slow the project team’s momentum. The team was utilizing a 360-degree camera throughout the building process to enhance the owner’s progress photo experience in lieu of traditional progress photos to review the space and decided to lean in on innovation and use the same camera to conduct a virtual inspection.
To provide a realistic walk-through of the space, the project team shot sample videos using the camera, which ultimately allowed the viewer to spin the video 360 degrees and rotate views up and down. Once the sample videos were provided to the fire marshal, DPR was given the go-ahead to conduct the full site inspection virtually. The team immediately got to work shooting video of the full ring out and emergency lighting systems.
Thanks to the project team’s fast thinking and innovative approach, the building was successfully inspected and turned over to the client on time and ready for use.