Planning, Cooperation and Buy-In: The Not-So-Secret Ingredients in a Successful Project

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 5 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

For a brief period, Austin’s burgeoning downtown looked like a scene from the sci-fi classic, “War of the Worlds.”Towering, alien-like “tentacles” reached out of the darkness into a massive crater dug from the earth, moving purposefully back and forth in the earthen hole. Alongside the crater were two rows of trucks, their gigantic mixers tumbling concrete as they waited their turn at the tentacles. Of course, this was no alien invasion; it was the site of the largest mat pour in the Texas capital’s history.

SPW work
The result of meticulous planning and a practiced crew, DPR’s self-perform concrete crew performed a 36-hour continuous mat pour in downtown Austin without a single safety or quality incident. Courtesy of Cambrella Photography

“The mat pour is a significant milestone for us and self-perform work. It’s the ability for us as DPR to build it ourselves. Our entire team played a part,” said Project Executive Andrea Weisheimer.

A Pour as Big as the Lone Star State

Concrete pours are complex, and the 37-story Green Water Block 185 project was no exception. The largest vertical high-rise concrete structure that DPR had built to date, it included many of the complexities found in modern building projects: challenges well suited to workers in the concrete trade.

DPR’s corps of self-perform workers—numbering nearly 3,000 nationwide in a variety of trades—play a huge role in overcoming challenges by virtue not only of the technical expertise gained from extensive training and experience but also of the relationships forged on the job site. Their experience has transformed them into high-performing teams and go-to crews that are called upon to deliver when it matters like it did at Block 185.

“The process of pouring this large mat pour, 9,000 yards of concrete, goes back months, working with the city and working with the engineers—really developing a plan for day one,” said Boomer Daugherty, who served as a superintendent on the project. “For this magnitude of a pour, it takes a lot of trucks. We ran almost 900 trucks over two nights."

SPW work
After months of working with the City and engineers to develop a plan, nearly 900 trucks were called upon to deliver approximately 9,000 yards of concrete for the pour. Courtesy of Cambrella Photography

The mat pour was the result of meticulous planning and a practiced crew. For Block 185, designed by STG Design, this meant nearly nine months of detailed planning and coordination, followed by a mammoth excavation. “We removed 145,000 cubic yards of dirt from the site. We could cover the entire city limits of Austin with an inch-and-a-half of dirt with what we pulled out,” said DPR Senior Superintendent, Forrest Harrison.

With its own corps of workers in the trades, DPR made sure trades associated with critical path items had a seat at the table early on in planning.

Nearly 900 concrete trucks played a part in the 36-hour continuous mat pour of roughly 9,000 yards of concrete. The pour was completed without a single safety or quality incident, but the concrete crews were just getting started. Aided by two giant luffing cranes, crews are in the process of erecting the 590-ft.-tall structure using a self-climbing core wall forming system—an innovative system not used in the city until recently, when tight downtown quarters can make large, multi-year construction projects a bit tricky.

"It’s new, but our crews are fast learners,” said Steve Paredes, general superintendent on the project. “What it means is we shaved time off the schedule with climbing core systems, detailing deck pours to the hour with cycle scheduling. These efforts have proved essential in maintaining the critical schedule.”

With a complex geometry and radiused components that would test anyone’s calculation skills, the epic modeling challenge and coordination effort made use of DPR’s virtual design and construction (VDC) capabilities. Building information modeling was incorporated into almost every aspect of the project and the concrete team made heavy use of VDC and 4-D scheduling to plan and execute what is arguably the most complex and biggest self-perform concrete project that DPR has undertaken.

SPW team
This, the largest mat pour in Austin’s history, presented challenges well suited to DPR’s self-perform workers, who possess extensive training, experience and relationships forged in the field. Courtesy of Cambrella Photography

Said Mark Fowler, Senior Vice President of Block 185’s owner, Trammell Crow, “It’s been a pleasure really just working with DPR, and their attitude day to day. It’s all about the team and the people. To take a project and not put it out to the market, and just sole source it to a company, the biggest project you’ve ever done, it says a lot about their ability and the comfort level that I have with them.”

“We believe that knowing how to do the work of construction rather than just managing it helps projects get built more efficiently,” said Kyle Weisheimer, self-perform leader at DPR. “We can deploy experienced, in-house labor, train them ourselves, and know that the work will be done correctly, up to snuff with a standard of quality expected by everyone in the organization, and have those folks at the table from the beginning of the project.”

In the end, aiming for substantial completion in May of 2022, the team is on track to deliver a striking tower with a unique sail-shaped curtainwall design that boasts some of the best views of the lake named after one of Texas’ favorite daughters.

Familiarity and Collaboration Breed Trust

Why do employers organize team-building events? Because people who know each other beyond the occasional water-cooler chat work better together. Shared experiences forge a bond that builds trust, and when you work with someone you trust, you lean on each other to solve problems and share the load. Craft team members who belong to the same organization, working together on a regular basis, develop a bond and a professional relationship that aids in communication on the ground and the sharing of knowledge not only among the immediate team on the job site but among the larger team cross-regionally.

Exterior view
On this Raleigh-Durham life sciences facility, 400-pound, 30-foot king studs were utilized, enabling adjoining walls to be framed at 12 feet. This allowed SPW finishers to get in early for topping out. Courtesy of Santos Lopez

One example of this cross-regional communication came to light recently on a DPR life sciences facility project in Raleigh-Durham. A distinguishing feature of work on the project is the use of 400-pound, 30-foot king studs fabricated on site that are designed to enable adjoining walls to be framed at 12 feet. These studs allow interior space to be left open for much longer, providing ease of access for all trades, material and equipment so that low wall infills could be framed and hung quickly. The use of these king studs allows SPW finishers to get in early for topping out, improving productivity.

“The first time I used this method was on a manufacturing facility project in Clarksville, TN,” said Bruce Worcester, a DPR superintendent. “By bringing some of the best means and methods and communicating across DPR locations, we can overcome any challenges.”

With studs weighing 400 pounds apiece, hoisting them in place is no mean feat, but the Raleigh-Durham team had an innovative method of doing just that. After surrounding areas were cordoned off with caution tape for controlled access, each stud was hoisted in place by a group of five craft team members. A choker was put in place to connect the stud to the winch, with an additional one connected to the structure as an extra precaution ensuring that if a stud were to break loose, it would still be restrained by the additional choker. This method highlights the importance of trust within a team of DPR craft workers. Cooperation and collaboration play a critical role in construction, and cross-collaboration to share information and learn best practices made this innovative method a success.

SPW stud work
The king studs allowed the team to leave interior spaces open for much longer, providing ease of access for the MEP trades, material and equipment so that low wall infills could be framed and hung quickly. P. Courtesy of Santos Lopez

“King studs are perfect for jobs like this, where space is critical. With a 32-ft. deck height, it would have been a huge challenge to frame our low walls, brace them off to the deck and still have ample room for all the MEP work,” said DPR’s Juan Alvarado, who served as a foreman on the project. “With these king studs, we created more space for the MEP trades, saved time and work in having to frame 32-ft. walls all the way through, and got the opportunity to try something different from the framing we are used to.”

Good Results Build Relationships; Relationships Yield Results

Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” It’s fitting, then, for a project in Orlando, FL—home to Disney World—to bring that quote to mind.

Not long before setting foot on the Florida Cancer Center project, DPR’s self-perform team was wrapping up a project called The Villages for the same customer.

“We performed well there, so they wanted to work with us again,” said Lina Ortiz, who served as project engineer on both jobs. “Knowing that DPR self-performs drywall, specialties, and doors, frames and hardware, the customer was happy that the same self-perform team was going to work with them and execute the project as well as we did for them before.”

SPW crewmember
DPR’s Orlando team showcased their problem-solving skills by deploying a creative solution to accelerate the framing schedule on a recent medical center project. Courtesy of Robert Andrescik

Strong working relationships and collaboration nurture the kind of problem-solving Ortiz has witnessed time and again on DPR job sites. Faced with a challenging schedule, the team created plywood templates to put in place before door frame delivery so they could frame sooner, around the templates, making a critical-path item, non-critical.

Once the frames were delivered, it was a simple matter of removing the templates and replacing them with the frames.

“The drywall foreman on the job, Paul Dooley, was kind enough to explain the process to me, and we were able to save a couple of weeks with it,” said Ortiz.“One of the things that I love is how my craft teammates know each other and can share knowledge more easily because of that.

SPW crew member
Faced with a challenging schedule, the team created plywood templates to put in place before door frame delivery so they could frame sooner, around the templates. Courtesy of Robert Andrescik

The Devil's in the Detail

When a Southern California healthcare provider decided it was time to replace an aging but active medical office building (MOB), they envisioned a modern facility focused on community, wellness and sustainability. They partnered with an architectural firm that views architecture as a means to better the world and came up with a design that aligned well with this vision. DPR was entrusted with putting it together, leaning heavily on the expertise of its SPW corps and the use of virtual design and construction.

Constructed on the same lot as the outgoing facility, which was demolished in phase two of construction—six weeks ahead of schedule—the project is wrapping up with site work and the construction of a parking lot where the old MOB sat. The four-story structure has many wellness-oriented features and is wrapped with a complex, curved façade that features inverse and outward radius segmented glass walls.

Interior view of glass wall placement
With an abundance of unique design elements in this recent Southern California medical office building, extensive up-front planning was an essential component to ensure success. Courtesy of David Cox

Team members who were asked about the success of the project pointed to the extensive up-front planning that was undertaken. With so many unique design elements, dimensions and building shape, including sloping steel above walls, deck-to-deck framing, balloon framing and parapets on a radius, the project team met frequently to work through challenges and potential design issues. The extended project team—including trades, the design team, consultants and the owner/developer—shared their Myers-Briggs profiles to gain a better understanding of individual personalities and to facilitate better communication. All-hands meetings were implemented before, during and at the end of construction to realign expectations, address needs and identify the critical path to success.

To deliver the 90,000-sq.-ft.structure, DPR self-performed a number of scopes, including concrete, acoustic ceiling tile installation, drywall, doors, specialties and equipment installation. The ACT team delivered four types of ceiling systems totaling 68,000-sq.-ft. installed on four levels of the project. One particularly striking feature: a custom 4900-sq.-ft. interior and exterior 9Wood plank system in the main lobby. The ceiling posed many challenges, as it entailed many custom sizes with radiused edging and upturns along the perimeter glazing.

Interior view
DPR’s ACT team delivered four types of ceiling systems, including this custom 9Wood plank system in the main lobby. Courtesy of David Cox

“The schedule was tight for this scope, and our ACT team was able to effectively manage resources and collaborate with the project team and trade partners to finish this assembly on time and under budget. The owner was very pleased with the finished product, which was clearly defined as a focal point,” said James Boissier, SPW project manager at DPR.

Sharing Knowledge Across Regions

Another interesting feature of the build was the use of prefabricated components. Nearly all the exterior and a significant amount of the interior full and ceiling height walls were prefabricated off-site by DPR strategic partner Digital Building Components (DBC). The quantity of prefabricated panels on a complex building with many technical details increased on-site efficiency during construction, with the 15,000-sq.-ft. first-floor tower interior wall panels being erected in just two days. But it also called for extra up-front planning.

While many crew members brought with them experience working with the prefabricated panels chosen for use, many on the construction team required additional training from product specialists to familiarize themselves with the new materials, technology and installation process.

“This was the first project in this city that utilized DBC to this capacity and there was a short learning curve, but with the help of DBC, the project team, and SPW working collaboratively, we were able to successfully install this scope ahead of schedule with minimal issues encountered.  This was a big success and the client was very happy with the speed of the installation and quality of the finished project,” said Boissier.

Prefabricated wall panels
The project included a significant number of prefabricated components, increasing on-site efficiency during construction, with the 15,000-sq.-ft. first floor tower interior wall panels being erected in just two days. Courtesy of David Cox

The drywall team executed best-in-class planning to attach exterior balloon framed wall panels with drift joints in the exterior cold-formed steel walls,leaving½-inch to one-inch gaps that allow the building to move, reducing the risk of breakage and future rework. Precise planning was required to avoid the potential for rework after the walls were welded together. The project team identified critical device locations like outlets, thermostats and data ports earlier than usual in the construction process to coordinate stud locations. The BIM modeler used the design information collected to determine potential conflicts and adjust the specifications provided to the panel manufacturer.

What resulted from these efforts is a unique structure that exemplifies the design flexibility and quality that can be achieved with prefabricated components. The digitally fabricated exterior and interior wall panels made the building process safer and more efficient than traditional construction, while still allowing for design creativity.

A Seat at the Table

We all know the value of good planning. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” wrote Abe Lincoln.

“We’re able to achieve project success because our SPW crews have a seat at the table early on and are involved in the planning process from the start. They develop an ownership stake in the project from early on in the planning phase, and they’re invested in its success,” said Boissier.