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The Museum of Flight explores the unlimited potential of 3D laser scanning with Datum Tech Solutions

By Sean O’Keefe

At the intersection of history and technology, Peder Nelson has found a sweet spot. He is the Digital Engagement Manager at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington where he finds a thrill in blending his love of technology with his expertise in history and museum studies in innovative ways. As an exhibit developer focused on creating interactivity that allows museum users to experience history in new ways, Nelson finds himself on the forefront of what could be the next big thing – virtual archeology.

“My work at The Museum of Flight concentrates on using emerging technologies to create new access points to the museum’s many large, historical artifacts,” says Nelson of his role. The Museum of Flight is a 23-acre complex adjacent to King County International Airport – Boeing Field in Seattle that takes pride in being the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. Hosting more than 640,000 visitors in 2019, the museum showcases a collection of more than 175 different aircraft and spacecraft along with tens of thousands of related artifacts, millions of rare photographs, and dozens of interactive exhibits and visitor experiences within roughly 430,000 square feet of gallery space. As the Digital Engagement Manager, Nelson is on the front lines of merging the digital world of virtual reality and 3D modeling with the large-scale history of human-powered flight in new and exciting ways.

“In telling the exciting and complex story of aviation and space flight, we deal with extremely large, yet somewhat delicate artifacts,” says Nelson of the museum’s work. “Creating 3D models of these planes is an important next step in the process of historical documentation and interactive programming but not something that is easily done on artifacts of this size.”

In the spring of 2020, Nelson and his colleagues at the Museum of Flight were experimenting with ways to capture some of the planes and galleries using 3D technology when an unexpected call came in from Datum Tech Solutions. Led by a team of experts who are passionate about providing innovative solutions in the world of 3D laser scanning, Datum Tech Solutions is on the cutting edge of digital geometric shape-data capture. Commonly employed in many ways throughout the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, point cloud generation involves the use of precision 3D laser scanners to create identically accurate surface data points and high definition images of an object, interior space, or exterior environment.

“Datum Tech uses the very best in high-tech laser scanning and a flexible, solutions-oriented approach to lead innovative reality capture projects of all sorts,” says Co-founder, Amy Lawrence. She and her husband, Stanley Lawrence, founded Datum Tech Solutions in 2014 to meet a growing need for accurate digital representations of the built environment among Seattle’s AEC community, and the business has thrived from the very start.

“We offer fully-integrated 3D laser scanning, equipment sales, training. and support,” continues Lawrence. “However, our main focus is pushing the edge of possibility in this exciting field. The chance to work with the Museum of Flight is an excellent example of what the future holds.”

When the call came in to consider the use of reality capture at the museum, Nelson had some questions but was genuinely excited at the prospect of being able to create a digital twin of some of the museum’s most prized artifacts.

“Datum Tech was invited in to do a proof of concept demonstration,” says Nelson of the initial scope of work, which involved laser scanning two of the museum’s most unique aircraft. “We were not sure of exactly what could be captured in our situation. The museum has massive open-span galleries in buildings made almost entirely of windows and some of the airplanes are made of very reflective metal. We weren’t sure what the lasers would be able to capture, but Datum was certain of their capabilities, so we gave them a shot.”

In giving Datum Tech a shot, the museum allowed them to laser scan two of their rarest artifacts. The first is a Boeing 80-A, a trimotor passenger aircraft made of wood, steel, and fabric that was built in 1928 and is known to be the only one in existence. The second, a Lockheed Electra Model-10A is an all-metal, twin engine-plane with a highly reflective metal skin that is the same model aircraft flown by Amelia Earhart in her 1937 circumnavigation attempt. The plane had been in commercial use for more than 60 years when it was modified to be a near-duplicate of Earhart’s plane and subsequently flown on a similar route around the world in tribute to Earhart’s mission.

With the opportunity to have Datum Tech help create digital twins of the two planes, the Museum of Flight was opening the door to a sort of archival artifact recreation they had never attempted. Using a highly precise Leica RTC360 3D Laser Scanner, the team from Datum Tech spent an entire day capturing data on each of the planes to produce digital replicas of each. Creating a digital twin through premium quality 3D point clouds and high-dynamic-range imaging provides the Museum of Flight with unobstructed access to the digital twins in ways that are not even possible with the actual planes themselves.

“Having a digital twin of these planes allows us to study them in ways we simply couldn’t before,” says Nelson. “In fact, the doors of these planes have very rarely been opened since they got to us. We certainly have not let visitors into the interior of either, because they are so rare and unique.”

Asked about the uses of a digital twin in their work at the Museum of Flight, Nelson shares that the possibilities beyond simply having an archival record are immense.

“The digital twin is an invaluable way to extend public access to these artifacts,” Nelson shares. “We can create a 3D walkthrough of the interiors for educational programming that could put thousands of people through each airplane in a way that simply isn’t possible with the originals. Having a digital replica greatly enhances our capacity to study these aircraft. We are also able to share the digital twin with other museums or air and space researchers around the world very easily.”

Building on the success of the proof of concept phase, the Museum of Flight has invited Datum Tech back for another round of scanning. While the first set of scans focused on just the two aircraft, a second round of scanning intends to capture the overall gallery itself to understand what can be done at a macro-scale. By generating 3D data points of the entire facility, Nelson envisions many possible uses of the larger gallery scans that range from improved facility and event planning, building operation efficiencies, and full-scale virtual tours from remote locations.

“At the Museum of Flight, our work is about inspiring others. We dream big and look to the future,” finishes Nelson. “Datum Tech Solutions has demonstrated the unbridled potential of this incredible technology and we are thrilled to just be scratching the surface on what can be captured and what can be done with the digital twins.”

Author Bio:

Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories for Datum Tech Solutions and others based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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By Sean O’Keefe

Where exactly is the edge of possibility, and how does anyone ever breakthrough? Famed flying ace and former United States Air Force officer, Chuck Yeager, is one name closely associated with pushing the envelope. Yeager was the first person to have exceeded the speed of sound, pushing an aircraft beyond the sound barrier at some 765 miles an hour in level flight as a test pilot in 1947. The ‘envelope’ is a mathematical term that describes the locus of the ultimate intersection of consecutive curves. In aviation, the frank explanation for pushing the envelope is making an aircraft go faster than the speed for which it was designed. Pushing the envelope in architecture would then logically be to rethink what is possible and ask more of design than ever before.


Inside or out, the beautiful Cadet Chapel has never really been seen as intended. A talented team of dedicated professionals intends to redress that wrong with the right stuff.

Walter Netsch was just such a thinker. A leading figure in modern American architecture, throughout his tenure at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and beyond, Netsch developed a signature aesthetic known as Field Theory based on rotating squares to derive complex, strong, repeatable shapes. His most well-known work is the United States Air Force Academy, in Colorado Spring; most famously the iconic Cadet Chapel. Here, in every sense of the term, pushing the envelope was clearly Netsch’s intention.

“Walter was trying to push the limits of technology in architecture and trying also very much trying to push the envelope on people’s expectations for what a religious facility might be,” says Duane Boyle, the Air Force Academy’s Campus Architect. Boyle has been at the helm since the early 1980s in dutiful service to the campus he’s been chosen to protect. Having studied at Air Force Academy High School in the 1970s, Boyle shares that being exposed to the campus’ architecture during his maturation is primarily what influenced him to become an architect. After earning a bachelor’s and master’s from CU Boulder, Boyle took a position at SOM and got to know Netsch personally. A few years later, he signed on with the Academy and has never considered doing anything else.

“Walter went to Europe and studied many different cathedrals, ultimately finding significant influence in four key structures,” says Boyle. “From Chartres, he was inspired by the flying buttresses; at Notre Dame, the 150-foot height; the beautiful quality of light from Sainte-Chapelle; and the idea of having more than one chapel in the building comes from Assisi.”

Combining all these ideas with his own unique design style, Netsch conceived the Cadet Chapel as a series of spires comprised of three-dimensional tetrahedron trusses. The aluminum and glass spires are composed of four tetrahedrons apiece and straddle a building program that originally required three distinct chapels for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths.


The Chapel’s unusual tetrahedron trusses are derived from Netsch’s signature aesthetic, Field Theory.

“The original plan called for 21 spires, but that was going to be way over budget and the design was scaled back to 17 spires,” continues Boyle. After he’d hired on at the Academy, Boyle’s bond with Netsch grew even stronger, the two remaining in close contact throughout the remainder of Netsch’s life. Professional necessity often permeated their conversations as Boyle was charged with caring for the assets Netsch designed, especially the one that had pushed the envelope. Netsch’s design for the Cadet Chapel was challenging to build in the early 1960s and challenging to maintain ever since.

“There are 32 miles of joints on the building,” says Boyle of the Chapel’s many overlapping materials and components. “Netsch designed the Chapel with an internal flashing behind the aluminum skin that was meant to carry water off the building. Ultimately, all of the metal panels were value-engineered out, and they ended up using 32 miles of caulk to seal the joints.”

As a result, the Chapel has been leaking since virtually the day it opened in 1962. The near-constant seepage has destroyed pews, damaged organs, and, in recent years, caused chunks of damp acoustic plaster to fall from the ceiling, a safety hazard that can’t go unabated. Thin sheet metal band-aids have been applied over the years to some benefit. Wired glass installed over the stained-glass panels helped as well but diminished luminosity. However, despite their efforts, the building has been in a constant state of re-caulking since it opened. Unchanged, the deterioration will continue. 

Sean Reish, client account manager for AECOM’s design contract with the Air Force Academy, is charged with leading the development of solutions to the building’s condition. In taking the assignment, AECOM assembled a multi-faceted team of engineering and preservation experts to look holistically at the waterproofing and historic preservation conditions and devise an achievable solution. Key contributors included Hartman-Cox Architects and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates.

“Conceptually, this is a replacement-in-kind,” says Reish of the scope of work, which includes replacing the exterior façade’s skin and sloped glazing and restoring the stained-glass panels to their intended brilliance. Interior efforts include replacing the acoustic plaster and lighting elements and renovating damaged pews and organs.

“The design team had to look closely at what was originally intended that had been covered up to make it watertight,” continues Reish. “A lot of translucency had been lost. Our objective was to peel back these negatives and bring the building back to life the way it was intended to be seen.”


Replacing the exterior skin with in-kind materials is no small order. JE Dunn will erect a temporary enclosure to build in controlled conditions, without obstruction.

The solution to the water infiltration: using the open volumes of space within the tetrahedron spires to insert a new state-of-the-art rain screen system.

“The spires have a lot of open space inside of them, much more than you’d think,” says Reish of the idea to put the Chapel’s primary waterproofing membrane on the inside of the tetrahedrons. “By introducing a new rain screen inside the spires, the exterior cladding will finally look as it was meant to.”

The challenges of delivering the project are also immense. Donny Tennyson is the Senior Project Manager at General Contractor, JE Dunn Construction, the firm responsible for executing the elaborate rehabilitation. Founded in 1924, JE Dunn has a long history of collaboration with the U.S. Armed Forces. Tennyson shares that during World War II, founder John Ernest Dunn insisted on returning profits from Federal work while his own sons served overseas. Community service and giving back has always been part of the company’s ethos. Asked how success will be measured on such a challenging assignment, Tennyson returns to collaboration.

“During the construction kick-off we came together with the client and design resources to draft a project mission statement,” says Tennyson. “Our goal is to return this iconic building to the intended historic aesthetics and integrity without any leaks.”

One of the key issues yet to be fully resolved revolves around the challenge of precisely matching the building’s unusual aluminum skin with identical materials. AECOM, JE Dunn, and almost the whole team have been painstakingly researching the existing aluminum’s metallurgy tolerances and anodizing results to replicate the Chapel aluminum’s particular champagne glimmer. To execute the project, JE Dunn’s site logistics strategy is to build a temporary enclosure around the entire chapel, sealing it off from wind, rain, and snow. This will allow the construction team to control the elements and maintain an uninterrupted workflow. Much of the rehabilitation effort, particularly resealing the joints between aluminum panels will benefit from working in near factory conditions.

“Everyone working on this project understands the importance of this national treasure and the delicate work that must be done to restore it,” finishes Boyle proudly. “As stewards of this building, we must do the very best work we can. When this project is complete, the Chapel will look exactly like it was intended with no more band-aids.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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above the fruited plain, a national inspiration deserves celebration

By Sean O’Keefe

Rising majestically over Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is a cherished emblem of the city, a point of pride for residents, and a virtually must-see tourist stop for anyone visiting the region. The summit is reached by a 19-mile toll-road that was built in 1888 and it’s one of only a few vehicle-accessible places in the world where anyone of any age or disability can see the world from 14,000 feet. One hundred and thirty-one years after the highway first opened, in 2019 through the end of September America’s Mountain had received 527,696 visitors and counting. The City of Colorado Springs took over ownership of the two-lane highway in 1948 under an operating permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service and today manages the route and facilities. As the highway’s year-over-year use continues to grow, the City strives to provide an outstanding experience for everyone who makes the trip.

“Pikes Peak is a national treasure and has been since Zebulon Pike spotted it in 1806,” says Jack Glavan proudly. Glavan is the manager of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, a division of the City of Colorado Springs Department of Parks and Recreation. He has been involved in maintaining the highway and supporting facilities for nearly 25 years. In the early part of his career, as a construction project specialist, Glavan helped lead critical highway maintenance projects around erosion control, paving, and improving sediment channels and basins. In the ten years since becoming manager, largely the focus has been the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex.

Developed through a multi-faceted partnership between the City of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and Colorado Springs Utilities, the new Summit Complex replaces a collection of existing facilities that have succumbed to the effects of time and the mountain’s harsh weather. The need to replace outdated, difficult to maintain facilities and the desire to significantly enhance the visitor experience first prompted consideration in the late 1990s, as Glavan recalls. The plan was revitalized in 2013 and after years of planning, the visitor center project finally broke ground in June 2018. The new complex is composed of the new Summit Visitor Center, which includes a CSU Communications Facility and a consolidated physical plant and the visually contiguous the Army High-Altitude Research Laboratory. Construction for the overall program is expected to take three years to complete.

“When the new visitor center opens in late 2020, this will be an outstanding experience at 14,000 feet,” continues Glavan of the 38,000-SF precast concrete structure. “The program includes interpretive areas, dining, retail, much larger restrooms, but, of course, the main features will still be the views and the world-famous Pikes Peak doughnuts.”

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the view is indeed inspiring. In 1893, American writer Katharine Lee Bates started forming the words to America the Beautiful from atop Pikes Peak; later writing the first version of the poem back in her hotel room in Colorado Springs. The doughnuts are delicious too, but only atop the peak; taken to a lower elevation, their light dough changes in composition and taste.

“Very early on, we realized how special the site was,” says design team leader, Stuart Coppedge, of Architect-of-Record RTA Architects of Colorado Springs. RTA was joined by GWWO Architects of Baltimore, a firm with a strong portfolio of cultural, interpretive, and experientially centric projects in designing the Visitor Center. “This project wasn’t about designing an iconic building but designing an iconic experience.”

From above the fruited plain, the new Visitor Center is sited along the southeastern face of Pikes Peak, wedged into the mountainside to peer over all that surrounds. Long views to the southeast look back toward the route Zebulon Pike traversed on his expedition through the southwestern fringe of the Louisiana Purchase – from the distant peak of Mt. Rosa and up the Arkansas River. Today, visitors regularly arrive at the peak by car, bus, bike, or foot; and by rail again soon when the Pikes Peak Cog Railway reopens in 2021.

“In any space where you have a large number of visitors, the first objective is to disperse them,” says Coppedge of the design’s functional driver. “To do this you give them many choices right at the beginning; here crowds can either head into the Visitor Center or go straight to the actual summit or various views from the peak on a fully accessible route. No matter their fitness level, anyone can tour the entire top of the mountain on easily navigated, well-defined paths.” 

On a site that hosts almost three-quarters of a million visitors a year yet is fundamentally off-grid, practical sustainability is essential to long-term operational success. The Summit Complex was designed to meet The Living Building Challenge; a sustainable design framework focused on regenerative, self-sufficient, healthy spaces. Building orientation takes advantage of enhanced solar gain to trap heat and harvest daylight. Only the second property in Colorado approved to treat blackwater onsite, wastewater from the Summit Complex will be treated and recycled to flush toilets in a closed loop. Importantly, blackwater reuse significantly reduces the amount of water that must be hauled up the mountain and the amount of sewage that must be hauled down.

Both the Visitor Center and the High-Altitude Research Laboratory are largely constructed of precast concrete walls, floors, and roof. The insulated panels are among the thickest ever made. Building a primarily precast structure allowed offsite prefabrication in a controlled setting but also meant trucking the materials up the steep mountain highway. Panels were specifically designed to be no more than 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, no heavier than 30,000 pounds apiece. The upper level of the Visitor Center also incorporates a steel frame to allow for the largest views along the glass-curtain wall.

“We did quite a lot of research on glazing that can stand up to this environment,” says Coppedge. “Our design wind speed is a three-second gust of almost 200 miles an hour, basically hurricane tested. We also studied the angle of the glazing closely to minimize glint. We didn’t want to create a big shiny spot on the mountain.”

Protecting the investment wasn’t lost on designers either. The glazing will be subjected to a constant scouring of wind-blown sand and gravel, scratching across the surface. A shutter system was developed to cover the glass at night and when the wind forecasts indicate the need.

The team building it all is led by GE Johnson Construction Company, a Colorado Springs proud business of more than 50 years. After GE Johnson and the RTA/GWWO team were united by the City of Colorado Springs to deliver the visitor center project under a CM/GC contract, GE Johnson and RTA Architects pursued and secured a Design-Build contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the immediately adjacent, but functionally independent High Attitude Research Laboratory for the Army. Construction Manager Tim Redfern is in his 34th year with GE Johnson so he appreciates the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the Summit Complex and the honor of leading the construction effort.

“This is the kind of job, we’ll all be proud to tell our grandkids about,” says Redfern of the immense challenge of building at 14,000 feet. “It’s an extremely difficult environment to build in for a lot of reasons; physically taxing, slow work but incredibly rewarding day-by-day.”

At 14,000 feet, significantly lower atmospheric pressure means the air has 43% less effective oxygen than air at sea level, which is difficult for people, heavy equipment operations, even fuel consumption. To account for the impacts of altitude and the environment on the men, machinery, and time, GE Johnson initially de-rated productivity by 25 percent in their critical path scheduling. After a year and a half since starting the work in July of 2018, Redfern says devaluing manpower by 60 – 70 percent and all running equipment by 50 percent is more realistic.

As the work has progressed thus far, GE Johnson has blasted and excavated roughly 33,000 cubic yards of rock from the top of the mountain to deep set the building into the peak. Much of the blasted rock was crushed and stored onsite for reuse as backfill around the completed buildings. On November 12, 2019, GE Johnson and the team celebrated the project’s topping out, placing the highest beam of steel on the Summit House, as this decade’s long dream finally starts to see the finish line.

“Coming into this winter, we’ve been very successful in completing foundations, roofing, all the precast on both buildings, and getting the Summit House dried in with temp heat,” says Redfern of his team’s approach to the project’s summit. “When we started, crews were only able to go about six hours at a time. People are acclimated to it now and crews are working ten-hour days. Everyone has stepped up because these buildings, this mountain, and its history are worthy of the effort.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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from scope to scale to magnificent detail, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center stretches the imagination

Over a 27-year career with national construction powerhouse Mortenson, Brett Sisco has seen a lot of change, learned a lesson or two, and put together an impressive collection of buildings across Colorado. As the project executive overseeing construction for the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, which is expected to open in December 2018, Sisco and his team have their hands full. The massive 1501-room hotel is joined by 485,000 square-feet of convention center space and an extensive indoor/outdoor water park on a sprawling 85-acre site, just south of Denver International Airport.

“This is definitely the largest job most people on this project have or ever will work on,” says Sisco with a great deal of pride. Sisco’s last major project was the DIA Westin. At 519-rooms, the sleek glass hotel linked to the airport above the light rail line was also large and complicated. Yet that’s just a third of the Gaylord Rockies’ room count, with none of the convention spaces or water park features. “There are very few projects bigger than this.”


Among the details, an actual reclaimed train caboose sits before a pedestrian trestle crossing a mountain stream through a fireproof forest of aspen and pine.

The scale of the project, of course, necessitates a lot of manpower. 1,600 craft personnel were on site at the project’s peak workforce. A lot of manpower necessitates a lot of manpower management and in order to lead the show, as project executive, Sisco has been working from the job site trailer for approximately 90% of his time since early 2016. Far from the creature comforts and corner office in downtown Denver, out at his trailer compound on the prairie, Sisco’s team includes some 60 supervisory positions drawn from Mortenson and joint-venture construction partner WELBO, of Orlando, FL.

“WELBRO has a more than 20-year relationship with the developer and was asked to come to Colorado to find a partner capable of building something this incredible,” continues Sisco. Project developer, RIDA Development Corporation, originating in Houston, TX, has forty years of experience and is one of the most active conference hotel developers in the U.S. At their behest, WELBRO interviewed a number of possible local partners before selecting Mortenson based on similar cultural compatibilities and corporate values. Joint construction management efforts are divided along a 70/30 local split, but Sisco insists that the management is structured such that you would never know who works for who.


Earth tones and textures define deliberate, modern furnishings, which are joined by city, mountain, and open-prairie views to embody Colorado.

Colorado has long been established as a major tourist draw by the beauty of the Rockies, arid climate, and 300 plus days of sunshine annually. Guest feedback at Gaylord’s four preceding properties in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington D.C, reveals a Colorado location is something the brand’s patrons have been clamoring for. Denver as a city has always been a convention contender at the mid-size level behind bigger draws like Orlando, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Atlanta. However, since DIA opened in February 1995, the fastest route to the downtown convention center is 25-miles of industrial ugliness that makes the airport feel remote and detached for attendees. The Gaylord Rockies is less than ten minutes from DIA’s curb and offers a unique convention center experience that goes well beyond the boundaries of a typical hotel.

“The design here is a collaboration of architecture, interiors, and landscape architecture in the truest sense,” says Richard Johnston, the design principal for HKS Architects, the firm chosen to lead design services from their Dallas office. Johnston has been in hospitality design for 28 years and is now on his third hotel project with RIDA. He shares that the Gaylord experience is about transfusing a proven convention hospitality design model with regional environmental aesthetics and suggests Colorado certainly offers more than a little inspiration. From the endless views of snowcapped mountains stretching the length of the state to the year-round awesome weather, and rugged material culture, Colorado doesn’t disappoint. The Gaylord Rockies’ façade is designed to imbue a high-alpine aurora, reminiscent of a slope-side mountain lodge with steep-pitched roofs, stout stone base, and stucco surface.


With much to see, plenty to do, and many ways to escape, the Gaylord Rockies extends a destination-invitation to the business traveler’s family and friends.

The centerpiece of every Gaylord Hotel is the Grand Atrium, a locality-themed galleria of dining, entertainment, gathering, and retail space surrounded by an outdoors inside environment on an other-worldly scale. In Colorado, a crystal clear cascade of water plunges over a rock walkway into a mountain stream leading to a lake surrounded by hand-made Aspens – real Colorado trees, harvested as juveniles, sprayed with fireproofing, and revegetated with artificial branches and leaves. Life-like grasses, prairie flowers, and succulents fill patches of growth between stone walkways. Warm earth tones, abundant in the wood, rock, and vegetation, blend with southwestern textile and graphic influences to create an energetic, and seemingly organic atmosphere. Views of the Denver skyline in front of the Front Range, are purposefully framed in the grand window. A small ski village, an actual train caboose, a steel-truss bridge, a grand fireplace, and a cave passageway are some of the unique moments that make the Gaylord Rockies a wonderland enticing business travelers to bring the whole family.

With eight food and beverage outlets throughout the facility, there is sure to be more than something for everyone when the family does tag along. Like everything else, the water park is also colossal. The expansive indoor, outdoor aquatic playscape stretches across the southwest corner of the property and includes multiple pools, and water slides, a lazy river, family lagoon, private cabanas, and a Colorado ‘hot springs’ experience with ever-present city and mountain views as the backdrop for a perfect family getaway. 

“Construction of any scale is really about the people doing the work,” says Sisco confident in the quality his team is delivering. Mortenson/WELBRO joined HKS and RIDA as the Construction Manager/General Contractor before the end of schematic design, just a month after HKS was selected. This early entry into the project was immensely beneficial over nearly two years of preconstruction services. Integrating the hands-on expertise and technical knowledge of design-assist subcontractors in mechanical, electrical, and structural steel at 60 percent design completion helped increase constructability, efficiency, and value in important systems during design. It also enabled Mortenson/WELBRO to lock-in critical-path subcontractors, which decreased schedule risks during delivery. The team’s estimating group ultimately produced five full-scale construction estimates on route to the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contract in December 2015. “On a mega-project like this, everyone is super committed and proud because we all know this project is going to have a significant positive impact on the entire region economically.”

Putting 1,600 people into motion simultaneously on scopes spread over nearly 5 million +/- manhours of work is no small task. Account for the critical precision that must be insisted upon around dangerous construction situations and the concept of coordination simply can’t be sufficient to describe the process Sisco and his team are managing.


Denver is a fan-friendly sportsman’s paradise, and like everything else at the Gaylord, the massive TV in the sports bar stretches from end-to-end.

“From a size and scale perspective, we focused on dividing the project into smaller chunks,” shares Sisco in regard to effectively overseeing the vast multitude of subcontractors, vendors, equipment suppliers, deliveries, and inspections. Mortenson/WELBRO’s execution strategy involved breaking the project into four primary segments – Convention Center; Hotel Room Build-out; Public/Retail; and Pools, Parking, and Site – each with their own unique challenges, methodologies, and measurable productivities. Duplicate resources in trades like drywall, paint, and roofing were subcontracted independently to cover area-specific scopes of work and reduce labor risks in Colorado’s ultra-tight subcontractor market. Making work areas smaller has kept teams on track for the most part. The redundancy has been advantageous in the areas of roofing and drywall when additional resources were needed to keep up with the schedule.

 “Getting an enclosed, dried-in structure was the early objective,” says Sisco. The Mortenson/WELBRO team reached deep into the bag of tricks to keep an army of labor moving forward sequentially across the hotel’s 15 stories of cast-in-place concrete and structural steel and the convention center’s structural steel slab on metal deck frame. Prefabrication was essential to extending efficiency beyond the manpower and the focus was strategic. “We developed a panelized, metal-stud framing and sheathing system that is fifteen-feet wide and two-stories tall,” continues Sisco. “We fabricated complete panel sections on the ground, stored them onsite, and then flew them into place with tower cranes.”

The prefabricated panel system was the first step in allowing Mortenson/WELBRO to take the building’s enclosure off of the critical path. The second was building a temporary roof above the seventh floor of the hotel. This allowed interior mechanical, electrical, framing and finish trades to begin working in dry conditions below the seventh floor while the exterior above level seven continued to climb exposed on until the real roof could be placed.

“Opening up the lower levels to the trades faster greatly increased the workflow continuity as they moved from bottom to top,” finishes Sisco with quiet satisfaction. “Everyone here is putting their best foot forward, and it’s evident in everyone you pass. Their eyes are as big as saucers looking at what we’re building. Every day it is incredible, even to me.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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the horizon is relentless in markets fueled by high-end appetites

By Sean O’Keefe

Mai Olaussen loves her work. She is the Director of Development for Greystar, a global blue-chip leader in multifamily rental housing that focuses on developing and operating beautiful living environments tenants are happy to call home. After 10 years on the operations side of the business, Mai convinced Greystar’s leadership that she’d be a good fit for development. Five years later, she is leading multiple projects across the country just as the finishing touches are being put on the first project started when she took the helm.

“Parq on Speer is my golden child. The quality of the living experience will be exceptional,” says Olaussen confidently. Located on the east edge of Speer Boulevard just north of 8th Avenue, Parq on Speer will be a 16-story residential tower that seeks to set itself apart from an abundance of competition by targeting the upper end of the rental market. The luxury units will range from 546- to 3,478- square feet and are designed and finished to for-sale condominium standards. Quartz countertops, hardwood floors, rain showers, and soaking tubs are joined by KitchenAid/JennAir cooktops, and walk-in closets to making these apartments live lux. Units also feature Lutron smart home systems that provide integrated voice-activated control of temperature, audio/visual, security, and lighting.

To stand-out as luxury on the rental market, like the units, the amenities package must be next-level. The building will boast 24/7 lobby concierge services, a sky lounge and private dining area, an elevated dog park and grooming spa on level three, and a well-appointed fitness center. The anchor of the building and center of resident community gathering will be the resort-inspired sixth-floor outdoor pool lounge. A covered outdoor kitchen, a collection of cabanas and fire pit lounges and the pool deck combine to offer 14,275 square feet of entertainment space facing Rocky Mountain views to the west.

“The project team has been amazing, great teamwork and communication the whole way,” says Olaussen. “From the high-end design to the smooth execution through two years of construction so far, everything is coming together beautifully.”

Putting the project team together, Greystar selected Ziegler Cooper Architects of Houston and local General Contractor, Milender White, to execute the project through a Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) delivery model. Unifying the design and construction team during preconstruction services is a proven way to decrease construction complexities and increase speed to market without jeopardizing design intent or finished quality. While Greystar’s office proximity to Ziegler Cooper in Houston facilitated the design relationship, ironically it was Milder White’s proximity to the property through a competing product that started the relationship on the construction side.

“When Greystar bought this property, Milender White was building a similar multi-family high rise on the next block,” says Shane Fobes, Construction Executive and Senior Vice President of Milender White. “We were delighted to give them a tour and the relationship blossomed from there.”

Parq on Speer, like the project Fobes was working on, sits just a hundred yards or so from Cherry Creek, which cuts a swift path along downtown Denver’s southern edge. One of the earliest preconstruction conversations Milender White had on the project centered around the commonalities in purpose and proximity of the two properties and reaping the benefits of lessons learned on the previous job.

“This close to the creek there will be a lot of groundwater,” says Fobes. “Going below-grade with the parking would be typical in a building like this but dewatering this particular site made doing so cost prohibitive. Putting parking in a podium reshaped budgeting early and influenced design substantially.”

At roughly 800,00-SF, Parq on Speer will be nearly double the size of what many would consider a large, single-building multi-family development in Denver. With the parking going vertical through the center of the block-long development, Parq on Speer’s design emerged to position the sixth-floor roof-top amenity deck as the focal point of the 302-residence apartment community. Looking out on the Front Range from a perch above Speer Boulevard, the pool deck is circled by units in the ten stories of tower rising above on three sides.

“Greystar is developing the building around a lifestyle that hits the upper threshold of the market,” says Fobes. “One of the advantages of the CM/GC process is it gives us a deep understanding of the owner’s vision for the finished spaces and their expectations for quality. This sets us up to secure the right subs for the work.”

During a year of preconstruction services, working with Greystar and Zeigler Cooper, the team dissected challenges large and small, typical and uncommon. On the common side, Fobes points out that the cost and criticality of a building’s structure are impossible to ignore on any project. In the case of Parq on Speer, post-tensioned cast-in-place concrete floor plates allowed the design great flexibility and readily accommodated the building’s curvatures. The Milender White team scrutinized the design documentation and solicited the support of several local structural subcontractors in a design-assist process to help ensure the solution would meet local means and methods. At 60,000-SF, the concrete pour sequencing for each floor plate had to be balanced with available manpower. To facilitate the swarming workforce required to build at the anticipated speed, a pre-cast redi-stair system was incorporated into the design that allowed construction labor walkable-access to the level two deck while at-grade work progressed at full speed.

“The focus has been building condominium-quality homes at apartment-quality speed,” says Fobes. “A simple thing like adding two flights of pre-cast stairs eliminated hundreds of workers climbing up chutes and ladders every day to get to and from the main construction deck for six or seven months.”

Though the cast-in-place concrete structure is typical for high-rise multifamily construction, the cladding system chosen has been a bit more of an adventure. Using Aluminum Composite Panels, known as ACM, the high-performance exterior panels interlock to form a sleek metal shell of skin that must be precisely aligned.

“The building is immense, the reveals along the panels have less than a half inch of variability, which has to be consistent vertically for 193 feet,” shares Fobes of the complexity of the exterior. “At this square footage, we believe this is the largest residential project ever clad in ACM and the manufacturer required us to guarantee panel production sizes eight months out from delivery.”

As construction approaches the final stretch, the clatter of men, machinery, motion, and anticipation of something big seems feverish on the job site. Fobes and Olaussen are both eager for the finished product but continue to relish the process.

“We were in preconstruction for a year and we’ve got a thirty-month construction schedule,” says Fobes with a smile. “We build a lot of great relationships on a project like this, between ourselves, with our clients, the design team, and subcontractors. It takes a lot of committed people working together to build something like this and when it’s done, everyone will be very proud.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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Looking ever toward the horizon, Shea Properties’ The Quincy typifies a development legacy

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
– Winston Churchill

Affable and understated, Peter Culshaw is a hands-on leader who understands why there is no “I” in team. As Executive Vice President of Shea Properties, he oversees more than two million square feet of commercial space along with roughly two thousand apartment homes in Colorado. While well-known sustained successes like the Denver Technological Center, Meridian Business Park, and Village Center have already cemented his status among the best to ever do it in Denver development lore, for Culshaw the horizon itself remains the thrill.

Shea Properties’ latest reveal, The Quincy located at 1776 Curtis Street, is a 28-story residential tower offering the best-in-class amenities expected of high-end, downtown living delivered in the premium quality of a build-and-hold, legacy asset. 359 luxury homes composed of studio, one- and two- bedroom units are expected to stand out for their generous proportions, extensive glazing, and the amenity plaza on level 8. A large community room, cyber café, and game room are joined by fitness facilities and an exposed rooftop lounge featuring multiple hot tubs, grilling areas, and fire pits. The property’s signature element will clearly be the pool, featuring a fully transparent exterior wall visibly perching swimmers eight-stories above Denver’s Central Business District along Curtis Street.

The amenity deck sits atop eight levels of parking, totaling 550 spaces, which is joined by ground floor retail to round out the mix of components. The Quincy represents Phase I of a two-phase site build-out. To complete the block, Phase II (now underway) will deliver Prism, an office cube in glass boasting a unique sculpturally cleaved prismatic exterior along 17th street. Combined, the two properties will offer a live, work, play lifestyle while also brilliantly illuminating Culshaw’s absolute conviction that conscientious people applying proven processes is ultimately what makes projects successful.

“The secret sauce is in getting it right,” says Culshaw when asked to consider how he measures success on The Quincy or any other development. Multi-family and office projects tend to be build and hold assets for Shea Properties, so building with high-quality materials and minimizing long-term operational costs are the basis for decision making rather than economizing development. “This opportunity is a ground-up high-rise, on a tight site in sensitive surroundings,” continues Culshaw thoughtfully. “Success in development is a team effort. We rely on in-house professionals, financial partners, and, of course, creative architects, smart contractors, and an awful lot of skilled craftsmen on the site to make it happen.”

While on-time, on-budget is a universal expectation among clients, few design and construction teams are ever tasked with delivering a single building over more than a decade from first draft pricing to ribbon cutting. Led by architects Davis Partnership, and, construction manager, GE Johnson Construction, the team working on The Quincy and Prism has been engaged continually since 2007. The site master plan, initial designs, and estimates were presented just before the 2008 recession compelled Shea to put the project on the shelf. Scott Miller, the Construction Manager at GE Johnson reflects back on what a long strange trip the project has been.

“We started the project in late 2007 during an economic peak, which shapes pricing. Then we entered big recession and market uncertainty,” says Miller. “Denver comes out of the downturn relatively quickly and enters a booming building market and suddenly there is a significant subcontractor and skilled labor shortage. Fortunately, our relationship and genuine friendship with Davis Partners is very strong. The collaboration between our firms allowed us to work through the details and manage challenges rather than problems.”

Miller notes that GE Johnson’s acutely detailed estimates accounted for as many exact quantities as possible, which increased Davis’ ability to keep the design on track. Managing many very small detailed changes rather than a few big ones were the focus of design-to-budget and market alignment when it was clear the project would finally break ground in 2015. To make the best use of a very limited site and maximize construction cost efficiencies, GE Johnson engaged a number of Lean construction strategies including pull planning and pre-fabrication.

“We’ve got a cast-in-place structure supporting a pre-cast exterior skin,” says Miller. The combination allows a lot of design flexibility for varying floor heights and minimizing column locations to create large internal spans and open units while also contributing to a cost-effective, buildable solution. Since GE Johnson self-performed the cast-in-place concrete they were able to control the critical path through the project using their own labor force and equipment, reducing the impact of subcontractor shortages on cost, schedule, and quality. For the pre-cast components, GE Johnson and Davis readily engaged key subcontractors in a design-assist capacity to ensure on-site efficiency in limited operational space. “We worked with the precast and glazing contractors to figure out ways to pre-assemble complete exterior wall panels on the ground before hoisting them up as ready-to-install sections. This saved time, money, and space to everyone’s benefit.”

Miller reports with pride that at 28-stories, The Quincy will be the tallest building completed in GE Johnson’s 51-year history. With the limited footprint and tightly controlled regulations related to vertical and overhead movements, early construction logistics centered on tower crane placement. The crane had to be able to pick materials up from two different ground locations and lift and swing them across the top of the site to the rising structure. Public safety and efficient egress for large truck access including setting up a site-internal throughway down 18th street were closely coordinated with the City of Denver.

“My job is to manage the healthy, necessary tension between the designer and the builder,” says Culshaw thoughtfully while acknowledging that despite the long road to fruition, The Quincy was relatively complication free in actualization. Shea Property’s original pro-forma was adjusted up to account for current market conditions when the project was ready to resume, but Davis’ design and GE Johnson’s estimates essentially moved in tandem with the recalculated budget. The Quincy adds a thoughtful, destination living environment for Denver’s downtown renter. When The Prism is complete in the fourth quarter of 2018, the completed vision will finally take its place in the Shea Property portfolio.

“Getting it right means conceiving a high-quality, market-appropriate asset, delivering it on-time and on budget and then stabilizing and refinancing it for the long-term,” finishes Culshaw. “However, it also means repositioning surface lot parking as a vibrant, new mixed-use microcosm of what makes Denver great. The credit here goes to a team of true professionals who stuck to it and made good on their commitments. That’s what success in development is always about.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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DTC’s sparkling new node emerges from an ensemble voyage like none other

“Architecture is the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods, and men.”Frank Lloyd Wright

Shimmering in glass and granite and inspired by the experience of sailing the open ocean, 50 Fifty rises in DTC.

The combination of exceptional design and premium quality always emanates a certain sense of luster that’s hard to deny and easy to appreciate. In 2018, 50 Fifty, a new 185,000 SF office building joined the DTC skyline hoping to establish itself as a premier property among the area’s abundant competition. Conceived as a 12-story office tower about a block from I-25 and Belleview, building’s name is a clever double entendre. The street address also eludes to the functional dichotomy of six stories of parking capped by six floors of Class AAA office space skinned in an unusual mixture of shimmering glass and speckled granite. Two additional levels of parking reside below-grade; city/mountain views and plentiful access to daylight are accentuated across more than just four faces of 50 Fifty.

“Great architecture is an investment, a worthy one indeed,” says Michael Komppa, president of Corum Real Estate Group. Komppa’s 32 years of experience with Corum have been about putting together commercial development investments that turn a profit by carefully managing the process to create value well in excess of costs. The firm’s portfolio includes more than three million square feet of office space, five thousand apartments and five million square feet of industrial properties in both Colorado and Chicago. Komppa, however, doesn’t mind admitting the thrill of developing speculative office buildings is his favorite part of the job. “50 Fifty, in particular, offered a high-visibility opportunity to express a strong sense of style, and to produce a completed building with a value significantly greater than the sum of the costs.”

Expecting the investment to deliver substantially more than merely leasable office space in a desirable location, Corum hoped to set course for something special and took a bold tack in choosing their architects. Enter Clutch Design Studio, a young Denver design practice ambitious to create the incredible and whose largest-completed commission is the one you are reading about right now.

A curtain wall entrance of floating glass joins the deftly illuminated porte-cochere in welcoming users with a sense of bespoke elegance.

“We’re proud to share 50 Fifty as the studio’s largest-completed commission to date,” says principal Robin Ault, who previously spent 18 years working at Fentress with Denver starchitect Curt Fentress. There he worked on everything from airports and offices to laboratories and academic buildings. Ault ultimately rose to the Associate Principal level while learning a great deal under Curt’s tutelage before embarking on establishing his own legacy in 2013. “The design brief was direct,” continues Ault. “Corum asked for a product that feels extraordinary at an affordable cost. Our job is to translate that into a market-ready solution that joins its surrounding with a sense of prestige.”

Asked what 50 Fifty adds to DTC, an edge-of-urban and edge-of-innovation office park more than 40 years in the making, Ault smiles and nods confidently before answering.

“Where land is more plentiful, suburban office buildings are typically supported by detached parking structures or surface lots,” Ault says. “We’ve seamlessly integrated the parking structure within the frame of the building envelope. Externally both office and parking components read as a single-profile without distinction.” This integrated envelope strategy is common in denser urban areas where below-grade parking structures often go down several stories in deeper, high-rise foundations. Ault believes 50 Fifty will be the first such property within DTC. The building’s dynamic exterior combines curtain wall glazing covered with a high-performance, low-E coating selected specifically for its level of reflectivity and hand-selected sierra white granite from a quarry outside of Fresno, California.

With ambitions of an evaluated experience for premium suburban office space, 50 Fifty was designed to wow both users and investors. 

Inspired by nautical nuances, looking at 50 Fifty from a distance, a pixelated pattern emerges to reveal a spray of sea foam lapping against the bow of a yacht cutting across the deep blue wild of open ocean. To add contrast, depth, and dimension, raised aluminum caps spaced strategically across surfaces provide shade and cast ever-changing shadows as the sun traverses the sky. Select fins with integrated LED illumination will add sparkle and response to the building at night. A line of black metal paneling skims the edge of an internally illuminated cabin in the form of a transparent porte-cochère, tucked beneath a series of elegant v-shaped structural members. The exterior’s subtle suggestion is further developed within, as interior treatments represent slightly more deliberate translations of a refined sailing experience.

Merging the parking and office profiles into a single envelope required extending the office floorplates beyond the preferred 45-foot lease span to match the wider dimensions required by vehicular movements on garage levels. This was a challenge the Clutch team quickly turned into an opportunity.

“45-feet is about as far as natural light can penetrate into a building before spaces become dark and kind of lifeless,” says Ault. To account for the additional floorplate widths on the garage levels, the six floors of office space feature dual 20’ x 30’ open air lightwells joining lavatories on each floor and elevator cores as the tower’s spine. “The lightwells allow for the natural animation of interstitial spaces deep within the floorplates, daylighting restroom banks and core-facing spaces on every floor.”

Two lightwells within the core of the building bring natural light and the elements deep into the building’s office floorplates and add accessible courtyards to tenant amenities.

The challenge of assembling the design was awarded to Hensel Phelps, a firm that began in Greeley, Colorado in 1937 and has since grown to become a national leader in commercial construction. Project Manager, Thomas Dooley, who has been with Hensel Phelps for 18 years enjoys the physicality and mental agility required to assemble complicated structures like 50 Fifty.

“Best-value decision making required engaging specialized subcontractors to pre-think the building envelope,” says Dooley. Curtain wall engineering, manufacturer, and installation subcontractor Harmon was brought in during the preconstruction process to help develop a specialized clip system capable of supporting both glazed and granite panels equally. Five unique granite panel patterns were developed so when interspersed among glazing, the panels read as harmonious yet distinct rather than static and redundant. Mechanical and electrical integration were also early action items. Hensel Phelps engaged Mtech Mechanical and Hunt Electric in a design-build capacity to help develop holistic solutions to the constructability challenge posed by the unusual dual-surface curtain-wall.

“Countless hours were invested during preconstruction in planning the configuration and assembly of this exterior skin,” says Dooley. “Five different panel types; two different floor-to-floor heights with sloping elevations on the garage levels; making it all align correctly on the outside; and work functionally on the inside has all presented a lot of fun challenges to figure out. In a lot of ways, this is going to be a landmark project.”

As 50 Fifty joins the DTC office market, Komppa, Ault, and Dooley each take special pride in what they have developed together as a team. From the visionary engagement of an emerging design practice and the practical wisdom of entrusting the execution to an established industry giant, with the launch of 50 Fifty, Corum Real Estate Group establishes elevated expectations for exceptional office space in suburban markets.

About the Author:
Sean O’Keefe writes architecture and construction stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen.

He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com    303.668.0717

Originally Published in Building Dialogue/


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having a hand in the restoration of the Colorado State Capitol is more honor than obligation

Originally Published in Colorado Construction & Design

First opened for use in 1894, the Colorado State Capitol Building has stood sentinel over the legislative affairs of the people of Colorado for the last 125 years. Designed by architect, Elijah E. Myers, and constructed of Colorado white granite, the Capitol Building is intentionally reminiscent of the United States Capitol. Its distinctive, shimmering dome is covered in real gold leaf, which was added to the original structure in 1908 to celebrate the Colorado Gold Rush. On the interior, the building incorporates white Yule Marble and an abundance of Colorado Rose Onyx, an unusual rose marble. Taken from a quarry near Beulah, CO, the Rose Onyx is so rare, the stone used in the building represents the world’s entire known supply. From the precious, time-worn building materials to the intricate details of design and craftsmanship that went into construction, protecting The Colorado State Capitol’s historic integrity for generations to come is worth the investment.

Glimmering in gold, the dome is easy to spot.

Lance Shepherd is the Manager of the State’s Capitol Complex Architects, a team of dedicated professionals committed to overseeing the preservation, restoration, ongoing operations, and future rehabilitation of the Capitol and associated complex assets. He has been with the state for 20 years and the challenge of preserving the state’s most important piece of architecture is more of a thrill than a chore.

“It’s a dream job,” says Shepherd. “This is the most important building in the state. When it was built, construction started new industries in Colorado. Granite and marble mines opened, railroads pushed further out, and all of Colorado benefited from increased connectivity and commerce.”

Unfortunately, the building’s legacy hadn’t always been held in such high regard. When Shepherd started working for the State in 2000, the Capitol’s longevity had seemingly been taken for granted. A hundred years of service over a century of significant change with little investment in the building’s preservation led to a litany of critical building needs that would only continue to compound if left unchecked.

“Preservation was almost a dirty word in the 80s and 90s,” says Shepherd with a grin. “Back in 2000, a proposal to restore the Capitol in the hundreds of millions of dollars was turned down by the state legislature. That left us to fund rehabilitation projects independently in competition with other state agencies. Step-by-step, we’ve moved incrementally through many different phases to get where we are today.”

The first step was taken when multi-phase life safety upgrades were made to make the Capitol more compliant with modern code and ADA accessibility standards. A fire suppression system was installed and many of the building’s mechanical, electrical, security, and other systems were thoughtfully improved over seven years of work, led by GH Phipps Construction and Fentress. Just as the upgrades were reaching the final push, the building suffered a setback. After more than 100 years in Colorado’s punishing weather, water infiltration and decay had taken a toll on the Capitol’s dome. In 2006 fasteners holding a cast iron piece on the inside of the dome failed and the large piece fell onto the public observation deck, fortunately without incident. It was another four years before a funding mechanism was developed and the state could begin addressing the issue in 2010.

On the design side, the State selected a multi-faceted design team that included local and national experts. Led by Denver-based structural and civil engineering firm, Martin/Martin, architectural and historic preservation expertise from both Quinn Evans Architects and Humphries Poli Architects (now RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects) was united with Historical Arts & Casting, Inc. among others to assess the structure and develop achievable solutions. Two years of intense forensic analysis and preconstruction planning with GH Phipps took place before the team was ready to begin the restoration in earnest in 2012.

Iconic inside and out, the People’s House stands for all of Colorado, past, present, and future.

“The dome was a complex project. We repaired the damage, restored the tower, and re-gilded the gold dome without closing the building,” says Shepherd of the construction process that stretched into 2016. The gold leaf used to restore the dome was derived from the same Teller County, Colorado source that produced the gold used in 1908. The generous material donation from the AngloGold Ashanti’s Cripple Creek & Victor Mining Company was estimated at $125,000 including the cost to mine, refine, and transport approximately 65 ounces of .999-pure gold. The dome project itself stretched over four years, through multiple phases of funding, finally wrapping up in 2016. In the meantime, Shephard and the Capitol Complex Architects have had their hands full with several other restoration efforts running concurrently.

Noteworthy for being the nation’s first LEED Certified Capitol, in 2013, the building became the first state Capitol in the country to be cooled by geothermal power, when wells were installed. Three-phases of restoration on the House and Senate Chambers began in 2014. The building’s library, Senate and House committee rooms, and the old supreme court chambers have all been meticulously restored, contract-by-contract, area-by-area, meeting-by-meeting. Always working around, among, and in delicate consideration of ongoing governance. 

Today, the biggest scope of work consuming Shepherd’s team, their time, and the building is a comprehensive Window and Stone Restoration project. Being delivered through Design-Build contract with GH Phipps and RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects, the project involves a full restoration of the building’s exterior stone and each of more than 300 windows.

“It’s vital to understand the importance of the Capitol as a mile marker in our history,” says Melanie Short, an architect, and preservationist with RATIO | Humphries Poli Architects. Short is managing design services on the Window and Stone Restoration project and shares that she loves the hands-on necessity of her work. “Restoring the windows, the stone, and the whole building as close to original condition as possible is what preserves a sense of place for future generations. We can’t do it from behind a computer, we’ve got to get out there and get our hands on the parts and pieces of the building.”

In the case of the Capitol’s exterior, the parts and pieces are many. Consisting of four phases over five years, all the work is being completed between mid-May and the first week of January, while the legislature is out of session. Restoring the exterior means accounting for everything seen and unseen within the stone. A mortar analysis conducted on the original materials ensured replacement mortar matched in color, hardness, and texture. Iron interior fasteners embedded in the stones a 125 years ago in many cases have long since deteriorated; the rusted material migrating through the stone around it. Precise selection of appropriate cleaning agents involved a lot of trial an error, continually striving to do no harm while finding solutions that effectively address a consistent set of circumstances across all four faces of the building. Reoccurring issues in ancillary items include lead abatement in the joints between the granite blocks and asbestos abatement under pigeon deterrents installed on the building through the years of unconsidered use.

Care and craftsmanship combine to preserve one of the state’s most cherished assets. 

The Capitol’s window restoration program exemplifies the spirit of historic preservation in hoping to make-like-new what has already been in use for more than a century. Restoring the 300+ windows means removing each window along a face and shipping sets of roughly 40 at a time to a restoration shop in Kansas City. There the original wood is sanded, patched, repaired, and repainted to a dark blue color that was forensically matched to a hue of existing paint used previously. Some six to seven weeks later, the refurbished windows return and are and reinstalled in their original openings.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for sure,” says Blaine Dodgion, Manager of Special Projects for GH Phipps Construction. Dodgion has been actively involved at the Capitol for a significant portion of his 14 years of experience. As a guy who has lived the restoration in detail through estimates, CPM schedules, BIM models, subcontractor meetings, and the daily grind, he’s still somewhat in awe of the ionic structure. From the initial survey of existing conditions to the many hearts and minds that fight the battle for funding, to the coordination and execution of the work, everyone who touches it feels special energy from the building.

For all who work on it, the opportunity is special.

“GH Phipps is a proud Colorado builder of more than 67 years, so we have a personal investment in the state’s success. This is the people’s house and we are the people. More than any other, this building deserves the extra level of commitment and attention it inspires.”

About the Author:
Sean O’Keefe writes architecture and construction stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen.

He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com    303.668.0717

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thought leadership from the front lines of smart building technology, implementation, and long-term performance

Smart technologies of every sort continue to seep deeper into our lives, putting information, services, comfort, and convenience at our fingertips where ever we are. In today’s smart buildings seemingly, anything and everything can be automated. From individualized thermal comfort to supplemental lighting that responds to ambient daylight and increasingly untethered global connectivity the limits of technology are all being integrated to the point of becoming conventional. In a Round Table conversation, Colorado Construction & Design was delighted to discuss the amazing present and super bright future of Smart Buildings with a group of dedicated professionals committed to smartly engineering, efficiently building, and acutely commissioning technology-infused facilities in Colorado and across the country.

Our Panel

Renée Azerbegi, Ambient Energy

President and founder of Ambient Energy, Renée Azerbegi loves making a positive impact in the commercial building industry and on the environment through personal determination and her firm’s collective depth of experience. Ambient Energy offers a suite of services focused on building and system analysis to optimize new construction projects for operational efficiency and longevity; evaluate and improve the performance of existing buildings; or commission either as a third-party engineer. Utilizing fault-detection diagnostics and monitoring-based commissioning, Ambient Energy strives to ensure buildings operate as efficiently as possible through the whole of their lifecycle.

Bret Roberts, P.E., Control Solutions Inc.

Co-founder of Control Solutions Inc. Bret Roberts relishes the thrill of making things work, planning and seeing a complex building together from start to finish is both his business and his gratifying reward. Along with partner, Ed Welch, Roberts established Control Solutions, Inc. in 2007 by merging a wealth of experience in building automation service and installation. Gary Bales became a partner in the practice in 2013. Control Solutions Inc. contends for smart system installation projects from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and works with clients to update and retrofit existing buildings with more advanced systems as buildings age. The firm represents Honeywell Building Automation products such as Tridium/Niagara, Honeywell WEB’s, Spyder Controllers including the new CIPer product family of controllers and I/O Modules.

Ryan Sobeck, Siemens

A Territory Sales Manager at Siemens, Ryan Sobeck began his career in electronics working on M1 Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the Army before getting into building automation systems implementation, design, and products 24 years ago. Today as a representative of Siemen’s Building Technologies, Control Products and Solutions, Ryan’s territory spans from Colorado north through Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and up to Alaska. Siemen’s showcases technology that integrates HVAC, lighting, shades, and plug loads from a single, ethernet-connected, terminal controller. Within the Building Technologies division of this global giant, Siemens is using integrated smart building technologies to optimize space and improve people’s lives.

Our Conversation

While integrating systems and technology to enhance the user experience is fundamental to smart building design, bells and whistles alone aren’t enough to make a building smart. What does?

“It starts in design,” says Roberts. “If the design is well thought-out, the rest of the project will follow that path, but if you start with a poor design it’s almost certain the finished building will underperform.” Roberts and his firm Control Solutions Inc. are among those responsible for installing the systems that have been selected and as such often feel the brunt of any bad decision making related to systems chosen in design. The technology of controlled systems has changed significantly, and everyone involved needs to be thinking holistically about smart systems, smart design, and smart installation.

“Having an owner who is driven, experienced, and knows what they want in terms of building performance almost always sets the stage for success,” adds Azerbegi, whose firm, Ambient Energy, can find itself in both pre- and post- construction roles depending on the project. “Smart design isn’t just technology, it’s holistic strategies like envelope modeling and commissioning to determine if the building is well-sealed. If it’s not, the best systems in the world won’t make it a smart building for long.”

Azerbergi points out the need for better documentation on the intended sequence of operations from mechanical and electrical engineers in the design stage to eliminate the possible risks of misinterpretation during installation. Ambient Energy likes to incorporate a series of controls integration meetings both in design and during construction to ensure efficient systems are being implemented and everyone involved is speaking the same language. Roberts is excited to share that common language has arrived.

“ASHRAE’s newest guideline, issued in July 2018 establishes a set of standardized advance sequences of operation for common HVAC systems,” says Roberts with a copy of the new standards proudly at the ready. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or ASHRAE, has been devoted to the advancement of indoor-environment-control technology since it was formed in 1959. ASHRAE Guideline 36-2018 provides uniform sequences of operation for HVAC systems that are intended to maximize energy efficiency and performance, provide control stability, and allow for real-time fault detection and diagnostics. “I’ve been wanting something like this for a long time,” continues Roberts. “We need more of a common language around buildings systems and this guideline establishes a starting point that will still allow for individual and situational customization.”

The advantages of high-tech digital connectivity, functionality, and comfort have been realized in office environments and homes for some time. Where are we going next?

“Individualized controls and data harvesting are starting to be integrated into smart-phone platforms,” says Sobeck of Seimens, a technological pioneer of electrification, automation, and digitization systems and products. One such system called Comfy Comfy allows users to request heating or cooling changes, via a smartphone app, directly to the building automation system. This data can then be used to tell individuals which spaces in the office best suit their needs at any given time, ideal for free-address offices on the design desks today.

The ability to gather an immense volume of data on a smart building is what allows it to be customized around the user experience. However, analyzing and appropriately reacting to that same abundance of information is central to ensuring a smart building operates effectively day-to-day. The ability to detect, identify, and individually correct faults within a smart building system is an advantage that is easily mitigated if the building’s operation team isn’t actively monitoring and fine-tuning the system. Operators have to wield the building’s technology to save effort, expense, and all three of the Round Table participants agree there is definitely a cost of doing nothing.

“Buildings will drift upwards in energy consumption by some 2- to 3- percent a year if they aren’t actively managed,” says Azerbergi, whose role in commissioning buildings has her firm on the front lines of evaluating long-term operational expectations as the building comes to life. Though commissioning is generally required by code, most owners would probably be surprised to know that typical commissioning processes actually only test a sampling of unitary equipment rather than 100%. Perhaps more importantly, commissioning of a new building does little to account for the building’s performance once commissioning is complete unless the building operator actively monitors and controls it. “Monitoring-based commissioning integrated with fault-detection diagnostics is what we recommend,” continues Azerbergi about the need stay on top of what is happening as users occupy and make spaces their own. “Continual monitoring has been shown to save 5 to 15 percent on annual energy costs, eliminating energy drift, improving performance, and increasing user comfort.”

The average building is estimated to drift upwards in energy consumption every year unless it is actively managed. Monitoring-based commissioning put the pulse of the building at the operator’s fingertips at all times.

What does the integration of all these technologies mean for designers and builders?

The answer, it seems, is the need for yet more and better integration among the industry’s diverse range of professionals to match the requirements of changing technologies.

“For the last forty years or so, controls were the responsibility of the mechanical and lighting was the responsibility of electrical engineers,” says Roberts of a dichotomy that feels needlessly siloed, occasionally detrimentally. In today’s smart buildings’ just as systems need to talk to each other and be monitored holistically and individually, the design, implementation, commissioning, and operations processes also need to be more seamlessly integrated.

“Investing an afternoon in making sure the sequence of operations meets the owner’s objectives and the designer’s intent is essential with the systems going into today’s smart properties,” says Sobeck. Azerbergi agrees, adding that a commitment to collaboration on the technology choices and expectations will greatly reduce issues found during the commissioning process. Pre-thinking challenges together focuses the whole team on developing the best possible building for the owner’s investment. 

As user expectations of workspaces have grown beyond simply hot or cold and on or off, product manufacturers have continued to push toward integrated solutions. Siemen’s DXR Controller is a single-source, remote-monitored control unit for the building’s temperature, lighting, window shades and electrical loads. On the building side, more complicated systems don’t necessarily mean more complicated construction, as long as advance coordination and an appetite for new knowledge are fundamental to the builder’s goals.

For Siemens, preparing buildings for tomorrow’s digital innovations has led to total-room automation systems like the DXR Controller capable of controlling shades, lights, loads, and comfort in response to changing conditions.

“Owners have been installing two, three, and sometimes four different control systems in a single building,” continues Sobeck, adding depth to the need for better integration in all aspects of the industry. “Single-system solutions mean one product, one installation subcontractor, and a more integrated, informed understanding of systems for optimal performance.”

Control Solutions Inc. competes for systems installation opportunities and also represents Honeywell building automation products including the CIPer product family of controllers and I/O modules. As a subcontractor helping designers understand smart systems, install, program, and start them up, Roberts sees a commitment to continuing education as essential for his firm and staff

“You can’t have too much education on all of this,” says Roberts of the continued trend toward more integrated systems requiring highly specialized and multi-faceted experts. “The systems are getting so complicated that finding enough skilled people capable of putting these systems together is my biggest challenge.”


Control Solutions Inc. is proud to represent Honeywell Building Automation products including Niagara 4 software and the new CIPer product family of controllers and I/O Modules.

Roberts nudges the green ASHRAE Guideline 36-2018 on the table forward as a next step that can be taken, immediately, industry-wide to facilitate better communication and collaboration. The complexity of systems and what is required of the professionals who design, sell, program, install, commission, or operate them will continue to increase as smart buildings and smart people get smarter out on the edge of technology and convenience.

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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Challenged to activate an undevelopable parcel, Goettsch Partners delivers

By Sean O’Keefe

The City of Chicago lives a legacy of architectural excellence derived from an insistence on pushing boundaries through experimentation and innovation. Long viewed as a design laboratory, Chicago’s unique architectural heritage owes much to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which left the decimated city ripe for redevelopment. Chicago has also had the fortune of being home to more than a few 20th Century architectural giants including American-icon Frank Lloyd Wright; father of skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan; and modernist pioneer, Mies van der Rohe.

Famous for what he called “skin and bones” architecture defined by a minimal framework of structural order to achieve open unobstructed space, van der Rohe established his Chicago practice in 1938. Today that practice lives on as Goettsch Partners, a firm more than willing to take on some of the world’s greatest design challenges. Among Chicago’s latest legacy assets, one of Goettsch Partners’ newest additions to the cityscape, 150 North Riverside, stands out as an immediately obvious example of the incredible made possible.

150 North Riverside is located along Chicago’s famous loop on a fantastic site where designing something buildable was considered next-to-impossible,” says Erik Harris, an Associate Principal with Goettsch Partners. Hemmed in by a combination of barriers including the City’s set-back zoning requirements along the Chicago River and a bustling, seven-line Amtrak right of way spanning more than 140-ft, the developable parcel offered only a small sliver land just 55-feet wide upon which to build. “Meeting the challenge of building a cost-effective high-rise on this site came down to delivering the required floorplate area with a 45-foot lease span supported by four-story trusses on either side of the 39-foot-wide core.

While the striking geometry of 150 North Riverside will always make the perched structure remarkable to the passerby, the site’s incredible landscape is an almost equally impressive engineering accomplishment that will likely go largely unnoticed.

“From the hard edge of the building, we were able to secure the Air Rights over the Amtrak right of way,” says Harris. “We decked over it to create two and a half acres of public greenspace that conceals the parking structure, lobby area, and loading dock enclosing about 28% of the site. Though the building is extremely vertical, the site is quite horizontal – both presented equations to solve.”

Filling the horizontal void and creating beneficial pedestrian connections to the urban fabric surrounding 150 North Riverside was a multi-disciplinary effort involving every aspect of civil, structural, and mechanical engineering integrated within the unique landscape. Craig Soncrant, a Principal with Wolff Landscape Architecture led the firm’s work on the project, relishing the challenge.

“Complicated green roofs and innovative plaza design is where we thrive,” says Soncrant, relaying that Wolff had some 21-such projects under construction in 2017 in Chicago alone. Soncrant himself led 15 separate high-rise landscapes last year and believes that providing effective green space for tenants is a must-have amenity in Chicago’s post-recession development. “150 North Riverside is a showstopper, an incredible building with a wonderful investment in city beautification that repositioned an inaccessible, eye-sore site as a convenient pedestrian thoroughfare, entry plaza, and river walk.”

The investment was certainly significant and stretching every dollar to improve pro forma is rarely a waste of time. Goettsch Partners originally planned to employ hollowed slab-on void construction to build-up the site topography, but when value engineering analysis revealed the complexities of that much site concrete was cost-prohibitive a new solution was sought. Wolff Landscape Architecture’s experience with an alternative, lightweight, structural-fill was extensive, and Soncrant proposed Geofoam as a very workable surface substrate substitute.  

“EPS Geofoam has been a go-to product in our designs for many years,” says Soncrant. “We use it whenever we need a light, strong, durable material to fill voids and make architecturally-contoured surfaces.” Bringing the design strategy to Goettsch Partners meant providing examples of previous Chicago-area, decked plazas successfully built with Geofoam and introducing the design team to ACH Foam Technologies.

“We only work with materials that we know will perform,” says Harris regarding the Geofoam value engineering proposition. “Performance, in this case, means supporting the pounding it will take from heavy pedestrian use in Chicago’s harsh weather; being easier, faster, and less expensive to work with; and, most importantly, feeling confident in the material’s capacity to meet loading requirements.” Wolff Landscape Architecture’s previous projects with ACH Foam Technologies have included a lightweight rooftop amenity deck on the eleventh floor of Chicago’s Prudential Plaza and at 222 South Riverside Plaza Renovation, also located over railroad tracks and along the Chicago River. Geofoam has also solved technical challenges beneath highways, bridge embankments, levees, and other large civil infrastructure applications where loading requirements are substantially greater than anything required by 150 North Riverside.

Developing a pedestrian-friendly site solution meant responding to elevations as low as the river and as high as the roof of the parking structure, a transition of some 15 vertical feet. Animating the long, horizontal site meant creating a multi-level green space connecting 150 North Riverside and the parking structure immediately to greater Chicago in many different directions.

“Building with Foam-Control Geofoam allowed us to create a two-tier park system that addresses vertical movement on site through a combination of ramps and stairs,” continues Soncrant. Since single blocks of Geofoam can be large enough to fill sections eight-feet long by four-feet deep, they make building multi-level terraces, ramps, stairwells, and planter boxes easy. As importantly, working with Geofoam enables designers to create a custom contour of substrate material in the exact depth need below specific panting areas. Since a tree may need a soil depth of several feet, a shrub some 18 inches, and grass just 6 inches, building a Geofoam base that accommodates appropriate soil depths decreases the overall dead load on the structure and supports controlled, positive drainage across the site.

The task of installing the overall landscape and the Foam-Control Geofoam blocks was won by Twin Oaks Landscaping, Inc. a Chicago-area firm with a national practice dating back to 1983. Steve Jungermann was the man responsible for overseeing the firm’s efforts.

“The project was a challenge simply because of where it’s located,” says Jungermann in relation to the complexity of the surrounding cityscape and the site’s abundance of elevation changes. “On something as complicated as this it’s imperative to get expert guidance.”

Jungermann details the challenges of developing material Take-offs that account for the quantities of Geofoam required to respond to the site’s many grade changes, soil depth-profiles, and architectural contours. Working with ACH Foam Technologies’ product representative Twin Oaks was able to develop an accurate purchase order and devise a finely-tuned delivery sequence for the material. With limited lay-down space and intense coordination required between site work, electrical, plumbing, and landscape construction, maintaining constant communication and just the right amount and types of Geofoam on hand was critical. Though large, the lightweight Geofoam blocks are easily maneuvered by two laborers and can even be customized to virtually any shape with a hand-held hot wire cutter.

“Though this building is both bold and dramatic, when it comes to material selection we are not looking to be risk takers,” finishes Harris. “Like the design for 150 North Riverside itself, Foam-Control Geofoam provided a confident approach to a unique engineering problem and contributed greatly to an overall wonderful building solution.”

About the Author
Sean O’Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and content based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com.

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