DPR Construction's projects don’t just build themselves. Our craft employees and subcontractors make amazing things happen on site every day, but the need to recruit a new generation of people to the trades is vital.
At Wake Tech, in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, DPR’s sponsorship of the university’s apprenticeship program is just one of the ways we aim to support a sustainable, skilled workforce. Watch the video to learn more.
Picture this scenario: an up-and-coming data center developer is looking to expand its portfolio in the Silicon Valley data center hub of Santa Clara. The company initially casts a wide net looking for the right property on which to build its new ground-up colocation facility – only to discover that undeveloped or greenfield land is a scarce commodity in this densely developed, high tech mecca.
The developer launches a new search, this time for an existing building it could retrofit and convert to data center use. In short order it finds a candidate that seems to fit the bill: an older industrial office building that has been sitting vacant for a few years. It is priced to sell. The building’s footprint is workable, the structure is intact, and both buyer and seller are motivated. Add some extra power and cabling equipment, the developer reasons, and this dusty old office space will easily transform into a profitable data center facility. An added bonus: it’ll be up and running much quicker than building a brand-new facility, enabling the developer to move in tenants, start collecting rent and begin making a return on investment that much sooner.
The developer hires a general contractor who specializes in commercial building construction but who recently jumped into the booming data center market and now has a couple of data center projects under its belt. An architect is also brought on board, and together they devise a plan to retrofit the facility. It may not be perfect, but they assure the developer they can make it work – and that the planned retrofit will save the company time and money in the long run.
The purchase is made, and the first shovel hits the ground.
As construction gets underway, the project team quickly realizes the building’s structural capacity doesn’t support the volume of heavy equipment – including racks of servers, chillers and air handling units – that this modern data center requires. In addition, there isn’t enough land around the building’s perimeter to locate the backup generators outside. They’ll need to be installed on the building’s rooftop instead – but it turns out the roof also isn’t designed to support that amount of weight.
It’s starting to look like a complete gut and reconstruct will be required.
And then there’s the matter of the available power onsite. The contractor assumed that since this is a reuse of an existing building, power supply wouldn’t be a major issue. Now they find out it could literally take months to work with the utility company to bulk up the site’s power infrastructure in order to meet the data center’s needs. The anticipated time and cost advantages of this property are quickly evaporating, and the developer is starting to think it has made a big mistake.
The Right Approach: Steps to Success
This fictional scenario may be a bit of an oversimplification and, certainly, it represents a worst-case situation, but it’s not an entirely unrealistic depiction of what can happen when an owner doesn’t properly evaluate or conduct complete due diligence on a property that they plan to convert into a data center facility. How should this process have been approached instead? Let’s examine the steps that owners and their teams should follow to ensure their data center retrofit projects are successful.
The very first step the owner and the design and construction team should take is to clearly define what constitutes success for them on their data center project. Is speed to market most important, or do cost savings or energy efficiency take precedence? Is landing a specific tenant or providing service in a specific area the overriding concern? A building repurpose project may or may not end up being less costly than a ground-up project; depending on the circumstances, it may even cost more. The former “hidden gems” of available building flips in places like Silicon Valley, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Loudoun County and other major data hubs are becoming fewer and farther between. Even in “edge” markets, the number of existing buildings that can be turnkey solutions for data halls are rare.
It is equally important for the owner to set early, realistic expectations of what it expects to achieve on the project and to carefully assess how easily and cost effectively a particular building could be retrofitted to new use. The time to do the homework and thoroughly evaluate candidates for a prospective retrofit/conversion is before the property is purchased, not after. Proper vetting is critical.
And that vetting process applies to selection of the design and construction team as well. While the aforementioned developer was on the right path engaging the contractor and architect prior to purchasing the property, the selected contractor that lacked historical knowledge or expertise specifically relating to the rapidly evolving data center market. As a result, the contractor didn’t anticipate some of the hidden pitfalls and “gotchas” that might have been caught by a more seasoned team. The overly optimistic “we’ll make it work” approach did not serve the owner well in this case either or help the owner to make a fully informed decision about the costs and challenges of retrofitting this property.
Bottom line? Bring a contractor and/or designer on board early in the process. Choose firms with extensive experience in data center construction, including both ground-up and retrofit projects. Ideally, they will have a decade or more worth of data center projects in their portfolio and be ranked among the Engineering News-Record’s top 5 or 10 data center contractors. A qualified general contractor or designer can skillfully guide the owner through the process of assessing prospective retrofit candidates based on a set of clear-cut criteria – and will help the owner make the best decisions.
An Objective Eye: Key Evaluation Criteria
Once the owner has selected the team and they’ve jointly scouted for and identified a few potential retrofit candidates, it’s time to objectively weigh the options. This step means taking an in-depth look at what’s “under the hood” of a given building and considering how well it meets the project goals. Think of it like bringing along a qualified mechanic to inspect the used car you’re considering buying. It may cost more up-front paying for the mechanic’s time but could well save you from making a costly decision in the long run.
There are at least 8 major criteria that should be carefully assessed on every data center candidate. They include:
Roof Structural Capacity. Data centers require roofs with a high structural capacity since equipment and heavy systems are often hung from or attached to the roof. Depending on the building’s former use, the roof may not be up to the task and could be a big-ticket upgrade. For data centers, a roof rating of over 35 lbs./sq. ft. is best; 25-20 lbs./sq. ft. is good; and less than 15 lbs./sq. ft. falls squarely in the “bad” category.
Floor Capacity. The racks and computer equipment that go into data centers demand a high floor capacity, something you typically won’t find when converting from an office building, call-center, multi-story structure or the like. Retrofitting this infrastructure is costly and may require tearing down and starting from scratch. For a rule of thumb, a building with a floor capacity of over 250 lbs./ft. is best; 125-200 lbs./ft. is good; and 125 lbs./ft. lands in the “bad” category.
Structural Code. There have been three major building code revisions in the last 10 years or so, including in 2010, 2013 and 2016. This means selecting a building constructed prior to 2010 may require extensive structural changes to bring it up to current standards. Buildings constructed between 2010 and 2013 are evaluated as “good” and require more minor changes, while the “best” rating in this category are buildings designed to the latest uniform building code standards of 2016.
Structural System. Hand-in-hand with evaluating a building’s structural code is its type of structural system. Post-tensioned or truss systems, found in buildings constructed during the 1980s and 1990s, are poor candidates for cost-effective retrofits, requiring extensive reinforcing and rebuilding. Moment frame buildings are better, while steel frame structures using buckling restraining brace frames (BRBs) are ideal candidates in high seismic zones like California. In addition, know the Importance Factor assigned to a given structure, as it will indicate how much structural redesign will be required to bring the new data center up to the necessary performance standards.
Mechanical & Electrical Equipment and Infrastructure. Two other key evaluation criteria are the age and condition of the existing building’s MEP equipment and its MEP infrastructure. Owners should understand that a former office building’s MEP system typically will not approach what is needed for data center usage and thus will likely require complete replacement. However, conversion of a former semiconductor facility or similar technical facilities may not require such extensive changes, depending on the age of the system. The rule of thumb: mechanical/electrical systems 15 years old or older score poorly in this category; 10-15 years old may be considered good depending on the type of facility it was; and less than five years old falls into the good category.
Watt Density. The power density per square foot of the existing building is another key measurement. The trend is to put the highest load in the smallest space. Current density trends favor more than 150 watt/sq. ft. as the best performance criteria, while 100-150 watt/sq. ft. is considered “good,” and less than 100 watts/sq. ft. is bad and will require major upgrades.
Raised Access Floor. Raised access floors are part of most modern data centers. If the building is an older one, even if it has raised access floors, they are considered obsolete. That’s because modern rolling load capacity of the cabinets require raised access floors to be at least 36 inches high with a 3000-lb. load capacity. Replacement of raised access flooring is a big-ticket item that can run between $40-$50 per square foot on the West Coast, and $20-$25 per sq. ft. on the East Coast.
Bringing it All Together for a Successful Outcome
Armed with realistic expectations, understanding what constitutes success in meeting their project goals, assisted by a well-qualified team, and having thoroughly vetted and attained hard data on what each potential building candidate offers, the data center developer is now ready to make a well-informed decision. The savvy owner and project team also knows that since data center demands are constantly evolving, building flexibility into their project whether new or a retrofit is another essential consideration.
Technically and logistically demanding, the design and development of data centers will always present challenges as well as bottom-line opportunities for the owner. A smart approach goes a long way toward setting your next data center project up for success.
Built by employees, Austin's net-zero office becomes first WELL-certified™ workplace in the city.
Since 1994, DPR Construction has had a home in Austin, growing its scope to projects ranging from tenant improvements to landmark jobs that have dramatically altered the downtown skyline.
Now, it has a new office that even better aligns DPR’s approach to business with the vibrant Austin community.
DPR’s Austin office is now in the up-and-coming East Side. The newly-built office building, located off Comal Street not far from the popular 6th street district, is slated to be the first WELL-certified office in the city while also pursuing Zero Net Energy certification. It proudly reflects DPR’s self-perform work culture and values, as well as the personality of Austin.
In a city where environmental care is boasted just as much as stock market returns, being “green” is no longer good enough when it comes to standing out in this community. Thankfully, sustainability plays a very important role in the way DPR operates. From local community initiatives in the places where it builds to decreasing its own operational environmental footprint, sustainable building operations is embedded in DPR’s DNA.
With the move to Austin’s East Side neighborhood, DPR is strategically positioning itself to be a groundbreaking presence in the area by showing what is possible for sustainability, while being closely integrated in a community with a firm grasp on that value.
“Making the East Side DPR’s new home is special for a number of reasons,” said DPR’s Austin Business Unit Leader Bryan Kent. “Aside from East Austin’s growth, the thriving entertainment district, the eclectic local business and diverse community, the Foundry’s location offers a new proximity to many of our clients, partners and projects.”
Built by DPR employees and designed by Interior Architects, the building marks the fifth net-zero energy office built by the company across the country (DPR recently added its sixth, in Sacramento). Not only does this effort have a positive impact on the neighborhoods they reside in, but systems and sustainable measures tested in these “living labs” allow for replication and inspiration on other projects. It also allows the chance to implement more efficient technologies that may emerge in the future.
“The overall environment of the space is collaborative, inviting, and open. The barn doors at the Innovation Room by Austin-based wood artist Aaron Michalovic are my personal favorite design element,” said Jason Carr, project superintendent. These doors add a striking visual that greets employees and visitors upon entry along with a floor-to-ceiling plant wall and a tribute to one of Austin’s most iconic and photographed features, an 'I love to build so much' mural.
Pursuing LEED® Platinum for Commercial Interiors from the United States Green Building Council
While the building is already targeting LEED Gold certification, DPR's space within it is aiming higher.
In collaboration with IA, DPR designed the office with features that should enable Platinum certification, such as the use of locally sourced materials, a recycling program, energy efficient equipment that complies with Energy Star, and a long-term commitment to the space (a 10-year lease). Skylights bring daylight to interior and limited use of volatile organic compounds in interior paints, coatings, and flooring – avoiding the production of harmful and unpleasant aromas in the office – also help the space go above and beyond.
Pursuing WELL Certification™ from the International WELL Building Institute
Enjoyment is significantly reflected in the new space. And a crucial aspect of daily enjoyment for a progressive community like Austin is the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that a major factor in supplementing or sabotaging that goal is a healthy workplace, designed and built to support the health of its occupants.
The office is designed to give employees and guests a space that will generally enhance, not compromise, their health and wellness.
“Having had the opportunity to work in a WELL-certified DPR office and a non-WELL-certified DPR office, I am surprised and inspired by the impact it has on myself and my fellow employees’ day to day life,” said Lexie Hood, who is a part of the Preconstruction team. “WELL office spaces are brighter, quieter, and overall more pleasant. We spend so much time in our offices, it makes such a difference to feel comfortable, clean and healthy.”
Key features including circadian lighting design, ergonomic workspaces, acoustic planning, healthy eating promotion, activity incentive programs for employees, and visually-delighting art installations celebrating self-perform capabilities and the local community will enable this new space to achieve WELL Certification
“It’s a different energy around the office,” said Nick Moulinet, who sits on Austin’s Business Unit Leadership Team. “You see a greater level of personal interaction and palpable sense of pride in what we have accomplished to get here. We want this to be a place that everyone feels welcome, whether you are coming in from a job site or visiting from another office. I think the consensus is that the entire team nailed it.”
It seemed like a given: renovating a 1980s office space to achieve Net-Zero Energy (NZE) use would require additional insulation. But the team designing and building DPR Construction’s new Washington, D.C. regional office had three prior DPR NZE offices' worth of data to lean on as they worked.
The first estimate of the insulation cost was $130,000. However, deeper examination and a subsequent comparison of energy models with and without insulation demonstrated only a $460 per year savings with insulation.
"The payback was never!" according to DPR’s Chris Gorthy, who helped lead the project. The 20,000-sq.-ft. office is not only tracking for NZE certification, but also achieved LEED® Platinum and WELL™ Gold certifications.
The data meant that, instead of a costly upgrade for a negligible return, DPR made a better investment by buying another solar panel for that cost and more than offset the minimal insulation loss.
Such is the power of data. When it comes to high-performance buildings, DPR is working on more fronts than ever to collect data that can mean returns for customers. For the D.C. office, data was key for decisions, from the best ways to incorporate daylighting to the selection of the mechanical system.
Located in Reston, VA, DPR’s D.C. office is one of many “Living Laboratories” created to push the boundaries of what’s possible. DPR is using data from these projects to inform future projects, both for the company and customers. With billions of square feet of office park space of a similar age, the right data could mean more affordable ways to extend the lifespan of the buildings while also operating at leading edge energy and water efficiency.
"The construction industry has so many metrics, but the overall quality of available data is low," said Kaushal Diwan, who leads innovation for DPR. "We want to change that so we can deliver more value to customers, new possibilities for existing buildings and, ultimately, more predictable outcomes across the project lifecycle."
This is especially true with high-performing buildings and the trend toward healthy workspaces, including those seeking WELL certification.
"During procurement for the new Charlotte office of architect Little [Diversified] in uptown Charlotte, NC, we had to comb through a ton of products," said DPR’s Ryan Poole. "There was an emphasis on locally-sourced wood, as well as materials that met WELL requirements. Now, we have a tool that can expedite that process, combining data from across geographies to streamline procurement."
While there are tools for data on the front end of a project, real-time building performance data can inform decisions for customers.
"Actual data on building operations in a variety of climates could be incredibly valuable," said DPR’s Greg Amon. "There is a big opportunity with live tracking abilities to see where there are spikes in energy usage and how we can mitigate them. That information will be actionable for many of our customers in similar facilities."
That should have near-term benefits for building performance, but the opportunities a few years out are even more exciting. For example, as buildings aim to apply artificial intelligence (AI), those sorts of metrics can help build smarter AI systems.
"There is great potential for data to lead to new ways buildings are operated and maintained," Diwan said. "But building an AI platform that can fulfill ‘intelligent’ decisions takes having good data. The systems we’re starting to implement in our Living Labs provide a basis for that next step."
Building a Data Set
Ultimately, data will change the way buildings are designed, built and used.
"Think about a university classroom building," Diwan said. "If it’s only occupied and used eight hours a day, but lit 16 hours and climate-controlled 24 hours, that’s a lot of inefficient use. Using campus-wide building usage data could show when and how different buildings are used. All of that together could change how we design and build for those places."
https://www.dpr.com/assets/cas...For DPR, those changes start with its Living Labs. Lessons from the D.C. regional office—which built on knowledge from offices in San Francisco, San Diego and Phoenix—have already informed decisions at new spaces for DPR in Austin and Sacramento.
"It’s not good enough to wait for the market to build the data set for us," Poole said. "If we want to truly deliver high-performance buildings at market rates, we need to be the pioneers. The tools we’re putting in place will get us there."
A Living Lab is buildable, usable, sustainable and operable. With its new D.C. office, how did DPR realize each?
Buildable: The team chose to forgo an expensive insulation upgrade—which according to living lab data wouldn’t have penciled out—and instead invested in an extra solar panel.
Employees were surveyed to ensure that features and spaces were configured to meet the needs of the team working in and using the space.
Sustainable: The building showcases dozens of sustainable and cradle-to-cradle materials to demonstrate quality and test their durability over time—like the four different concrete floor finishes used throughout the space.
Operable: Real-time analysis and monitoring systems, as well as dashboards, help users see water usage and energy usage/generation.
To learn more about the sustainable building strategies and office features that helped DPR earn WELL Gold, LEED Platinum, and NZE certifications, click here.
Now in its third year, DPR’s Build Up internship program brought 23 high-achieving, STEM-leaning high school students to the front lines of construction during the summer of 2019. Many of the students, who plan to be the first in their families to attend college, have never had the opportunity to be on a construction site.
Often, Build Up interns begin the summer with dreams of becoming architects or engineers and finish their internships with a new understanding of the many career options in construction.
With a growing labor shortage, there is a critical need to train the next generation of construction professionals, both in the trades and project admin roles. DPR hopes the Build Up program inspires the next steps in interns’ academic careers, as well as helps create the next generation of construction leaders.
“Everybody was very dedicated to teaching me. On the first day, they said, ‘We don’t want you to feel like you’re a high schooler—you are part of the team.’”
Olga Hernandez, Build Up Intern
We also discussed the program and its goals with Diane Shelton, who leads DPR’s philanthropic efforts.
Why a program to target high school students, rather than just one for traditional college internships?
We want to capture student’s attention while they are still forming ideas about their educational paths. Construction Management is a wonderful career outlet for students interested in STEM areas but is rarely included in school curriculum and career events. There are lots of programs to inspire youth to pursue coding, gaming, design and engineering. We have a unique ability to share our love for technical construction, problem-solving, and collaboration. We can provide students with the first-hand experience of being part of a team that makes a building project come to life and affects a community for generations.
What’s your favorite success story of the program so far?
Well, we hope success plays out over the next four to five years, as graduates of the Build Up internship transition from college to career. In the meantime, we’ve already had more than one intern select their college major based on their summer experience and advice from mentors. More generally, it’s been fulfilling to see the interns’ confidence grow throughout their internships. At the start of the summer, Build Up interns are always a bit timid. By the end of the eight weeks, their confidence levels are off the charts. They walk their jobs, ask questions, speak up in meetings and often perform at the same level as the college interns.
What feedback do you get from professionals in the field working with these interns?
People can’t believe how mature and focused the students are as high school juniors and seniors. The interns’ inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for day-to-day activities on the project rubs off on the project team. More than one mentor has said that the experience of mentoring a high schooler reminded them of why they fell in love with construction and that it rekindled their fire for building.
What’s next for Build Up?
Our goal is to continually scale the program as much as makes sense, keeping the right balance between the number of qualified interns, suitable mentors and jobsites capable of providing a meaningful internship experience. The program focus and curriculum will evolve based on feedback from interns, mentors, and from nonprofit organizations we work with to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the students and our industry.
SPW General Superintendent Pete Catalano has a goal: to leave something behind. Getting his start as a carpenter almost four decades ago, he has always focused on doing great work. And over the past nine years he has put this focus to work at DPR, an organization that empowers him to be a more confident communicator and contributor. He has been instrumental in bringing DPR’s New Jersey office online and helping to forge a strong SPW crew in the Northeast. For Pete, it’s not just about building structures, it’s about crafting a great team to strengthen DPR.
Q: What is your role at DPR and describe the path you took to get there?
Catalano: I’m an SPW superintendent for DPR in the Northeast—mainly in New Jersey, but sometimes in Boston and Virginia if they need me. I started out 35 years ago with a union company that self-performed carpentry. I’ve run my own business and worked for a large drywall company. Then, I decided I wanted to be a superintendent who ran the entire job, and DPR put me in that position. I never dreamed the opportunity would turn out the way it did.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to build/type of project to work on?
Catalano: I like when we get into buildings that are already occupied. We go through special measures to get things done and to work with the occupants, and we’re extra careful with how we conduct ourselves. But what I like the best is building from the ground up—starting out with nothing, seeing something come up out of the ground, and leaving something behind.
Q: What do you love about construction/your job?
Catalano: The people and the challenges. We work with people we’ve worked with before, and also a lot of people we’ve never worked with. But we’re all working toward a common goal, and we align ourselves to get to that goal. With DPR, I’ve had the opportunity to work with people in different parts of the country, which was really cool. That’s what I like the most, figuring out who plays where to get the work done.
Q: What are you most proud of/what is your proudest moment at DPR?
Catalano: Bringing an office to New Jersey so everybody here could have a home base. I think that was a huge step for us in New Jersey. I ran that job as superintendent, and my team did all the carpentry work. That’s probably what has made me most proud. Everyone has a home to go to every day. It’s great to be in on the ground floor of SPW here, building the group up from nothing. That’s really my passion here. I want to get the SPW group running strong for DPR so that when I ride off into the sunset, I know that I left something behind.
Q: How have you grown since you started here?
Catalano: DPR has allowed me to learn how to communicate better because of the position I’m in. I’m in the trenches every day, yet I can go into the office and sit down with our business unit leader to figure things out. As a person, I’ve grown a lot. It’s not about the project size, but about understanding how the business works from top to bottom. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in that way. One of the other superintendents told me, “When we first met, you were only about doing your job. Now you’re coming up with ideas about how to do things better.” When you start a job, you’re just focused on doing the job. As you get more confident, you can contribute more. Because DPR is confident in my abilities, I feel empowered to contribute to the success of the company.
Q: To be successful in your role, what skills does a person need?
Catalano: You absolutely must be skilled at your trade, to hone your skills and learn from the more experienced people. Our level of skill tells our customers they are getting quality work on a building. You also have to be a good problem solver. Our jobs are always a little different, so we have to think on our feet and anticipate problems before they happen. Awareness and skill are very important.
Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?
Catalano: First, to learn everything you can about the trade you’re in. Second, to learn as much as you can about the other trades. No matter what your role, you need to get actual boots-on-the-ground, field experience. That’s where you really learn this industry, by getting out in the field and asking a bunch of questions. Experienced people in the field are always willing to help those just getting their start.
As Pete starts his drive home to the Jersey Shore each evening, he takes pride in knowing he is leaving behind great things he had a hand in creating—great buildings and a great team.
Interns show off their impressive photography skills during DPR’s annual Intern Photo Contest. In 2019, nearly 100 entries gave insight into the breadth of experiences they had on projects across the country. The company voted. Following are the top “pics” and a little bit about what the winners did during their summer internship at DPR:
Sydney Buck takes home three wins with photos from a coastal project in San Diego, California.
Buck: Oceanside Beach Resort (OBR) is a two-hotel project right off the beautiful beach of Oceanside, CA. This summer I was able to conduct pricing exercises, write RFIs, manage the model rooms, and help facilitate MEP coordination for the project. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with an amazing team on a dream beach project! The crane photo was taken atop the South Block tower crane which soars 120 feet in the air over OBR. Kyle Christy, the safety manager at OBR, took the photo using a UAV while I was in the trolley car at the end of the boom.
Nabeel Shahid wins second place with a photo called "Man of the Fire's Watch!" taken at a project in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Shahid: It was summer time and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with DPR. I had an opportunity to work for one of our great clients, United Therapeutics, to renovate and upfit lab space. The renovation of 14,000-sq.-ft. space included the addition of a loading dock and freight elevator, various facade repairs, and impressive internal structural reinforcements. The picture captioned ‘Man of the Fire’s Watch!’ is a moment where we are shooting shear studs through the second floor above to reinforce the soon to be clean room floor. Once set and mortared, the studs will transfer force between the steel section and the concrete slab that can hold up to 60 pounds per square foot.
Jasmin Ocampo is the third place winner with a photo from a concrete pour in Sacramento, California.
Ocampo: My name is Jasmin Ocampo, and I am going into my senior year of college at CSU Long Beach as a construction management major. This summer I have been working at the Mira Loma High School Science Building project in Sacramento. I have been working on anything and everything, from As-Builts to BIM coordination to Primavera. There is a great team here in Sacramento and I am glad to have been a part of it.
Congratulations to the winners, and thank you for spending your summers with DPR!
Office Incorporates Material Never Before Used in Sacramento for a Building’s Structure
In an area famed for its fertile farmland, a new type of green initiative has been taking root as DPR Construction puts the finishing touches on its innovative new office space at 1801 J Street in Sacramento. When DPR opens a new office, it aims to forge a new path for sustainability, creating “living labs” to show what is possible in green and healthy workplace design. In Sacramento, DPR is manifesting that by incorporating a material never before used for a building’s structure in the city: mass timber with cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels. A renewable resource, mass timber can be an integral part of a low-carbon development; for this project, it was vital to DPR meeting its goals for sustainable design, as well as achieving LEED® Platinum and WELLTM certification standards.
In a move that itself demonstrates the “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra of conservation, DPR purchased an existing property for re-use, utilizing a design by SmithGroup to transform it into DPR’s new Sacramento home. The existing 28,833-sq.-ft. midtown property’s two buildings are targeting Zero Energy Certification (ZNE) from the International Living Future Institute. To achieve ZNE, the office will offset its energy use via on-site photovoltaic solar energy generation and ban the use of any combustibles, relying on electrical energy alone. Key to DPR’s ability to meet sustainable design goals for this project was the incorporation of mass timber construction with cross-laminated timber panels made up of pressed, dried timber boards stacked at right angles and glued together with non-toxic adhesive—a material not previously used in this manner in Sacramento.
Mass timber products are engineered for loads similar in strength to structural materials like concrete and steel, but they allow crews to build tall, with a lighter, natural, low-carbon and high-quality material. This effort sheds light on the possibilities for the region’s aging building stock, and it showcases how incorporating wood in an exciting, sustainable manner can benefit commercial projects.
Wood Elements Deliver Strength, Resiliency While Reducing Carbon Footprint
From a structural perspective, CLT and mass timber elements provide high-strength, resilient systems capable of long spans and significant wind and seismic force resistance. At the time of design review, Sacramento building codes did not yet recognize these systems for use as lateral force-resisting elements, so design teams reached beyond existing codes to demonstrate equivalent or superior performance with CLT. They made use of the many years of research and testing conducted by organizations such as WoodWorks, FP Innovations, ANSI/APA and Structurlam to navigate code, design and construction issues. It is also the first multi-story shear wall application of CLT in the State of California.
From a sustainability perspective, mass timber offers even more benefit. Because of its use in this structure, the embodied carbon is estimated to be lower by 170 metric tons than comparable structures using traditional materials. Further, it is estimated that US & Canadian forests grow enough wood for this project in only 12 seconds, highlighting the current availability of wood product. And it’s not just the timber; the building utilizes mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems to reduce energy use vs. baseline by 45%, with 424 photovoltaic panels for an annual production of 265,178 kWh/year. In the sunny Central Valley, this is projected to yield 107% of onsite energy needs annually. A 9.8 kWh battery backup system is included for added resiliency during system outages and to serve as a community hub in the event of natural disaster.
Exposed Timber Provides Unique Connection to Nature
Exposed timber also provided DPR with the opportunity to create a high-end, modern office environment that showcases not only its skill but also its environmental stewardship. Wood elements also accomplish something other building materials cannot—they have the unique ability to connect people to the natural environment. This unique combination of attributes provided advantages not offered by other building systems. The challenge was to make full use of these benefits in a manner most compatible with the existing concrete and masonry structure. It is here that CLT framing became the clear choice.
Mass timber also means the application of interior finish materials is unnecessary, helping to limit the amount of toxic materials present. Exposed wood also brings nature into the space by creating a tactile experience and a healthy indoor air quality. The sense of biophilia, the connections humans subconsciously seek with the rest of life, is reinforced by Solatubes® on the roof to diffuse light and bring in anti-glare, natural light, operable windows that highlight the local microclimate’s Delta Breeze, and material finishes with familiar patterns and textures, such as wood, stone, hexagons, bubbles and wool. The second story terrace engages with the community in the “City of Trees” that is Sacramento, and can be accessed through a new communicating stair from Level 1 to Level 2. The stair uses a CLT landing and old growth Douglas Fir treads and risers.
The unusual application of mass timber in this project pushed the boundaries of what is possible with the material and challenged the entire design and consultant teams. When considering the massing, the perception of the structure in three dimensions, the design concept called for the placement of a distinct pavilion atop the historic building to help define the exterior shape. The use of mass timber as a way to distinguish the pavilion addition from the rest of the existing building created a recognizable stark contrast consistent with the design scheme.
A Continued Commitment to Sustainable Design
DPR has long been committed to green building and sustainable design, and this project further demonstrates this. Originally constructed in 1940 and renovated in 1993, this adaptive re-use will house the DPR office, with open office seating areas, an active/addressable seating plan, meeting rooms, break rooms, open collaborative areas, focus areas, a training room, lounge spaces and other special use spaces. This design allows DPR to provide leasing opportunities on the ground level, a move that will not only activate J Street but will also connect DPR to the community at large. While the west building is a two-story structure that received extensive interior and exterior improvements, the single-story east building received a full second story addition constructed entirely of mass timber.
As an active member of the US Green Building Council since 1999, DPR has constructed green/LEED™-certified projects for various customers across the nation. In 2003, DPR completed construction of its 52,300-sq.-ft., high-performance office building in Sacramento, a ground-up facility that was designated the first privately owned LEED™ project in the Central Valley.
Nestled at the edge of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, an area famed for innovation, the growing community of Cary ranks among the nation’s most desirable places for active families. It is here that the UNC Healthcare Panther Creek project team is embracing prefabrication to bring its new ambulatory surgery center online more quickly. By using a robust virtual design and construction (VDC) program along with prefabricated plumbing, electrical and conduit materials and tilt-up walls, DPR Construction is slated to deliver the project one to two months quicker than with traditional methods.
“The real story here goes deeper than the prefabrication itself. It was really about the modeling and coordination efforts done before we even stepped foot on-site,” said Daniel Wrenn, superintendent for the project. “All penetrations, all hangers and embeds were already in place before we poured any slabs or decks. The day after we poured a deck, we were able to start the rough-in. Normally, you’ve got weeks of layout and putting up your hangers before you can put the first piece of material up. Our approach saved a lot of time.”
Modeling was instrumental in streamlining production of prefabricated materials off-site, so when it came time to put the materials in place there was no question of placement or tie-ins.
DPR crews were able to virtually tilt in the wall panels ahead of time, before fabrication, to identify any potential misalignments in the embeds. Additionally, laser scanning allowed for verification of embed placement on site. If embeds were even a couple of inches off, the information could be relayed to the project team and the trade partner for quick adjustment. This created significant time and money savings versus dealing with errors later.
Modeling was also used to map out plumbing, electrical and conduit locations before these materials were fabricated. Hard pipe is typically stick built in the field, with electricians bending pipe on site after boxes are roughed in. At Panther Creek, hard pipe was built off-site according to the model.
Electricians also traditionally install one stick of conduit at a time, but the modeling, coordination, and prefab efforts in this project allowed racks of 12 conduits to be installed at once. Fabrication work being done in the shop rather than on-site cut down significantly on labor, accelerated the schedule, and reduced exposure to safety risks.
“Prefab has been around for years,” said DPR’s Cameron Martin. “But these are new methods of employing it.”
Working under a tight schedule, DPR leveraged its relationships with important trade partners, such as plumbing contractor Environmental Air Systems and electrical contractor Cooper Electric. The team brought their expertise in VDC and BIM coordination to the table to help deliver a quality facility with cost efficiency and improved safety ever at the fore. The 96,700-sq.-ft. tilt-up medical office building, which includes a new ambulatory surgery center, imaging suites, pharmacy and multiple medical clinics, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2020.