Viewing posts categorised under: Construction

safety, accessibility, and aesthetics shape pedestrian suspension bridges

There is something wonderful about a walk in the woods. The nearness of nature, the wind rustling through the trees, the magical light almost any time of day, and never knowing what’s around the next bend. For Gus Smithhisler, PE, it’s an adventure that never gets old. Smithhisler is a Natural Resources Engineer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), where he has worked since graduating from Ohio State University in 1994 with a degree in Civil Engineering. ODNR’s mission is to ensure a balance between the wise use and protection of natural resources for the benefit of all; an ambition Smithhisler and his colleagues live every day.

“I love connecting people with nature. My role with ODNR gives me firsthand experience with the joy and beauty of the natural world surrounding us. There is no greater reward in my work than opening that up to others,” says Smithhisler of his career. Within natural resources, ODNR segments its services into several divisions: the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves, Division of Wildlife, Division of Forestry, and the Ohio State Parks & Watercraft. A licensed Professional Engineer with a civil concentration, Smithhisler is ODNR’s road, bridge, and trail expert, and he has made getting the public closer to nature his life’s work. Over his 28-year tenure with ODNR, Smithhisler has led the development and maintenance of many miles of trails through the state’s parks and preserves and overseen the construction or rehabilitation of dozens of different bridges along the way.

“In the realm of the physical infrastructure we introduce into natural environments, there are a few musts in everything we do,” says Smithhisler. “The first is sensitivity to context; it has to fit in. Public safety, of course, is critical. Next is low-maintenance durability; it must last. And certainly, it has to positively enhance the experience of nature in a meaningful way.”

Of all the assets Smithhisler and ODNR are responsible for maintaining within the state’s expansive parks and preserves, the most dramatic have to be Ohio’s pedestrian suspension bridges. Generally located deep within a less-than-accessible wilderness, suspension bridges are making a resurgence in parks across the country. Smithhisler is delighted to have a hand in bringing these one-of-a-kind engineering marvels to the public’s attention.

“ODNR has built several different suspension bridges throughout our state parks system in the last few years,” he says. “A bridge suspended over a river in the middle of the woods embodies the adventure and untamed spirit of nature in a way that is accessible both literally and figuratively.”

ODNR’s first new pedestrian suspension bridge was built in the Hocking Hills State Park, located about 60 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio. Recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Special Purpose Bridge Award from the Association for Bridge Construction and Design, the Hemlock Pedestrian Bridge has a suspension length of 100 feet and a walkway length of 64 feet. Suspended 10 feet above the bottom of a stream, the bridge features a deep V configuration that is 42 inches wide at the handrails and 16 inches wide at the walking path. The thrill is two-fold. Located deep within the park, getting to it is a challenge in itself, and once there, the swinging sensation while crossing is unmistakable.

“There is a cave on the far side of the site that we wanted to reopen access to. When we conceived the idea for building a bridge at the Hocking Hills site, we originally considered suspending it from some very large, live trees,” says Smithhisler. “That proved unworkable for a variety of reasons, but the sense of adventure in that idea never left us.”

While considering more traditional options for building a bridge, ODNR quickly realized standard solutions simply were not going to work. The site’s remote location and the inability to get any heavy equipment made off-the-shelf solutions an impossibility. That’s when ODNR put out a Request for Qualifications for engineering service. They selected Woolpert, an architecture, engineering, geospatial (AEG), and strategic consulting firm specializing in solving infrastructure’s most compelling challenges.

Tom Less, PE, SE, is a Senior Associate and Discipline Leader at Woolpert who manages Transportation, Aviation, and Water Resources Design teams. Less played a crucial role in designing the Hocking Hills bridge and several other pedestrian suspension bridges that the firm has recently developed in remote locations.

 “One of the things I enjoy most about my work is Woolpert’s willingness to take on challenges that are outside of the norm,” says Less, who earned both a B.S. and an M.S. in Structural Engineering from Ohio State University and teaches part of the University’s Senior Engineering Capstone program. “These suspension bridges are an excellent example of a non-conventional situation that pushed us to go back to the fundamentals of engineering: sound analysis, following the load path, and proper material application.”

On the Hocking Hills bridge, the difficulty of site accessibility exposed a series of situational challenges that are rarely considered on a vehicular bridge. The planned crossing was in a relatively shallow flood plain. Heavy rains routinely flood the site. The fear of a flood’s impact on a pedestrian bridge made of cable and wood members was not necessarily damage from the rising water but damage from debris floating downstream. If water levels are high enough, a small tree or a clump of branches floating downstream could snag on the bridge and damage it. A large tree could destroy it.

“Scrutiny of the site and the potential for damage in a storm event led us to develop a unique floating foundation system,” continues Less. “When the water rises, the lower deck attachments can rise as well, allowing the walkway to lift out of the way of debris being swept downstream. It can then be reset by park staff after the flood subsides.”

Accessibility and the delicate nature of the bridge were not the only particulars at Hocking Hills. Once the bridge was designed and ready to build, ODNR and Woolpert were not able to find contractors interested in building it despite their best efforts.

“Typically, on bridge projects, we get between 3 and 10 competitive bids from general contractors who are eager to do the work,” says Less. “On the Hocking Hills bridge, we got none – literally zero bids.”

Less explains there are various reasons contractors won’t bid on a project, all of which boil down to perceived risk. When the design is non-standard and in a relatively inaccessible area, contractors see the cost, effort, and profitability equation as disadvantageous, which generally increases the price. Furthering matters, given the unconventional nature of a bridge built in the woods that is subjected to routine flooding and potential damage, long-term safety concerns can put the project beyond insurability for some carriers. Without qualified bidders, ODNR was left to their own devices on Hocking Hills and ended up building the bridge themselves through the skill and ingenuity of parks department employees.

With the first pedestrian suspension bridge receiving a very enthusiastic reception from the visiting public, ODNR decided to expand the program and commissioned a second suspension bridge for Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio. Building on the lessons learned from the no-bid environment of the Hocking Hills bridge, this time, ODNR decided to solicit Design-Build services rather than Design-Bid-Build, as attempted previously.

“The Mohican bridge is a 120-foot suspension bridge that traverses the Clear Fork River,” says Smithhisler. “Up until the late 1960s, there was a bridge there that the oil and gas industry had put in. It used to be sort of a pilgrimage for local teenagers and adventurers. However, that bridge was destroyed by a flood in July 1969. ODNR wanted to build a new bridge because it makes the existing trail system a loop and opens up access to some more challenging hiking terrain.”

For the Mohican bridge, general contractor, The Righter Company, Inc. elected to team with Woolpert as their engineering partner for the Design-Build execution. Completed for roughly $840,000 in 2020, the bridge was designed and built in less than a year. From a foundation of experience, Less shares some design insights that illuminate the behind-the-scenes thinking that shapes a buildable solution.

“Understanding site-specifics goes beyond accessibility,” shares Less. “Geotechnical conditions at the bridge’s connections points and a detailed hydraulic survey of the waterway below are imperative pieces of information from which design begins. Those relate to structural stability, but as with any infrastructure, the asset’s anticipated use is also quite significant.”

Though the need to accommodate foot-traffic on a hiking trail is obvious, Less points out that in some cases, that could mean people walking exclusively single file, in others a person pushing a stroller, a wheelchair, or even the need to account for something as wide and heavy as the ATVs used by park maintenance staff. The wider the bridge, the more loading it is subjected to and the stronger all the members must be. Less shares that the three pedestrian suspension bridges designed by Woolpert in recent years have all accounted for pedestrian loading of between 65 and 90 pounds per foot. After the Hocking Hills bridge was open, the local high school football team reportedly tried to see if they could overwhelm it and found they could not.

“Choosing contextually-sensitive materials is also essential to a finished product,” Less says of the considerations shaping specifications. “Generally, we are specifying weathering steel that will turn a rust-brown for the tower members or built-up timber sections. In addition, the cables and concrete used are coated with matte, earth-tone finish sealers, and we specify low-shine, galvanized steel connectors.”

Sensitivity to the site in material selection can’t overlook environmental factors that cause materials to degrade over time. Long-lasting, low-maintenance choices are even more important than aesthetics.


“For the wood, we specify white oak,” says Less. “This is the same kind of wood that was used to build the historic covered bridges in this area that have been standing for generations. White oak is unique. It is a closed-pore timber with self-sealing properties that resists the elements in exposed conditions.”

Since the successes at Hocking Hills and Mohican, Less and the Woolpert team have completed a third pedestrian suspension bridge in Ohio, the Stillwater Prairie Connector Bridge, which recently won an American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) 2022 Engineering Excellence Award. At 170-feet-long with a deck width of 32 inches, the Stillwater bridge is the longest of the three. Built for the Miami County Park District, the Stillwater bridge connects the Stillwater Prairie Reserve and Maple Ridge. What stands out to Less as unique about this project wasn’t the application or materials, but the mathematics required to deliver it.

“We had an interesting situation on the Stillwater bridge during construction,” he shares. In this case, after the primary cables were affixed to the towers and the contractor began adding the decking across the 170-foot span, the bridge seemed to drop dangerously low as the first few feet of flooring were installed. “We went to the site, took a lot of measurements, and went back to work in our modeling software. We did a full construction stage camber analysis to reveal that the uneven load of starting the decking on one end gave an impression of excessive deflection. Once the decking passed the center point, the bridge began pulling back up toward the other end and straightened itself out.”

Unlike bridges designed to accept the live loads of vehicular traffic moving across them, pedestrian suspension bridges don’t fall under the National Bridge Inspection Standards, which requires they be formally inspected every two years.

“We recommend clients like ODNR conduct an inspection of the entire bridge using their staff at least once a year. In addition, they should schedule a professional inspection and analysis every two to five years,” says Less of the need to always keep public safety front of mind. Meanwhile, Smithhisler says the public’s response to the suspension bridges ODNR is responsible for could not be more enthusiastic.

“Both the Hocking Hills Bridge and the bridge in Mohican State Park have become destination amenities for the public,” he finishes. “People are coming from near and far to see these signature structures in Ohio’s parks, and they are enjoying a wonderful walk in the woods along the way.”


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. You can reach him at

Read more

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

Read more

For many, the story of a career in construction is about seeing an opportunity, taking hold and making it your own. Sadly, socially prescribed gender roles and constricted perceptions of construction as physically demanding, low-intellect work have combined with a lack of accessible entry points to largely keep women out of the industry. In this round table discussion, Colorado Construction and Design was joined by an esteemed panel of construction professionals who are eager to see change and make an impact. Covering the state of the industry; the unseen opportunities for the next generation of builders; and the difference a day can make in the lives of young women, read on. Then tell a little girl you know; she can do it.

Events like GE Johnson’s Build Like A Girl empower Girl Scouts to experience a hands-on approach to building and problem solving as a team.

Meet the Panel

Dana Scoggins, President

National Association of Women in Construction – Colorado Chapter

Dana Scoggins has been in construction her whole life. Born into the industry, her father was a general contractor and she was raised in the workforce. Today, she is the President of the Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, whose core purpose is to enhance and promote the success of women in the construction industry. She is also the Controller for Heggem-Lundquist, a painting and drywall contractor in Denver. She also co-owns a California-based Fire Sprinkler Company with her husband and has worked as an independent contractor for both Intuit & Sage, consulting on Sage 100 Contractor software. She is a certified trainer, coach, and speaker through the John Maxwell Group.

“I love the Construction Industry!  This industry has afforded me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. You have an amazing sense of accomplishment when you are a part of building something from the ground up. Women have a place in this industry and the NAWIC is here to help them find it by offering professional, educational and business opportunities, and awarding undergraduate and construction trades scholarships.”

Leela Rajasekar, Director of Construction

Douglas County School District

Leela Rajasekar earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado Denver and has spent the last 20 years helping to build Colorado’s infrastructure. Her career includes an extensive tenure with the Colorado Department of Transportation where she has had her hands deep in traffic safety and identification and prevention of hazards on state highways. Currently, the Director of Construction for Douglas County School District, Leela enjoys the student reactions to facility improvements and the sense of excitement small changes can bring.”

“Construction offers a chance to improve people’s lives. Studying a traffic situation and coming up with a solution that reduces the number of accidents at an intersection is a feeling of accomplishment that never fades.”

Keller Hayes

HOYA Foundation / Transportation & Construction Girl

Keller Hayes comes to construction through life experience. She grew up on a ranch, 50 miles from anywhere, and when a road needed to be repaired the family had to figure out how to get it done. At the HOYA Foundation, Keller manages a program focused on empowering people to succeed in construction. The HOYA Foundation mentors small businesses, provides training and resources on construction issues, and sponsors a series of innovative programs focused on increasing the number of women in the transportation and construction workforce.

The girls in our programs are exposed to an incredible range of opportunities they didn’t know existed. Transportation and Construction Girl opens their eyes to the possibilities and builds self-confidence in young women that can last a lifetime.”

Stella Hodgkins, Corporate Citizenship Manager

GE Johnson Construction Co.

Stella Hodgkins’ path to construction began after she had already started toward a career in science and medicine. She returned to college in her late 20’s to earn a degree in interior design and joined an architecture practice shortly after. She then transitioned from design to sustainability consulting and eventually joined GE Johnson as an in-house sustainability specialist. Today, she is enjoying a new role with the firm, Corporate Citizenship Manager, a many-faceted position intersecting people, process, and performance.

“I love seeing a building come to life. It’s one thing to see it on paper, but quite another to see it rising out of the ground. There is a lot of problem-solving and innovation happening every day to make it come to fruition. GE Johnson is committed to being a positive force for women in the industry. We want more women to feel the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes from being a builder.”

Where does the Advancing Roles of Women in Construction conversation start?

“Advancing the role of women in construction for me starts with the fact that only 9.1 percent of American women work in the construction industry,” says Keller Hayes, of the HOYA Foundation. “There are lots of ways to bring more women into the industry, and right now more than ever the opportunity is there.” 

Exposure this job sites empower young women to see a career in construction as both interesting and advantageous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hayes is more than right, there is an immense untapped job market for women that seems ripe with opportunity. The Bureau’s 2016 general construction statistics reveal that approximately 9.3 million men worked in construction professions compared to just 939,000 women nationally. It also reports that while women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1 percent of what men make, in the construction industry that gap is nearly closed, and women earn on average 95.7 percent of what men do.

“Many people, men, and women alike including educators and guidance counselors don’t understand the wide range of roles, responsibilities, and technologies that exist in construction,” says Dana Scoggins, who has held a wide breadth of responsibilities over her 30-year career. For most non-industry people, construction looks a lot like field labor – hard hats, jeans and work boots, swinging a hammer. Those in it know there are more desk jobs than day jobs and more math than muscle. In construction, difficult challenges are rarely solved without collaboration and multi-faceted analysis and they are never almost never solved by physical strength. In 2019, general contractors of every size and specialty are engaging the leading-edge in three-dimensional building information modeling, critical path management scheduling, IT, AR/VR, and drone technology as part of their everyday lives.

“Meeting W/MBE criteria has been the industry’s primary reaction to the need for greater diversity in many regards,” says Leela Rajasekar, Director of Construction for Douglas County Schools. “Women represent half of the population, so there is a huge opportunity for growth here, but we have to provide the industry with tools to help.”

What is being done to bring more women into construction?

“Companies and individuals being proactive is what makes changes in this industry,” says Stella Hodgkins, Corporate Citizenship Manager for GE Johnson. In partnership with the Girl Scouts of Colorado, GE Johnson hosts a program called Build Like A Girl. This first-hand, day-long construction experience introduces 100 scout Cadettes and Seniors to the complexities and opportunities of big-time commercial construction. Working alongside GE Johnson employees, Scouts build little free libraries; learn about the many roles in construction and tour an active construction site. The September 2019 group got a behind the scenes look at the new U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs, seeing up close the inner workings of the building process.

One of the biggest challenges the construction industry will soon face is the wealth of knowledge leaving the industry as senior leadership retires. Many analyzing industry workforce projections predict a significant labor shortage and likely skills gap if more young workers don’t follow a career through construction. The HOYA Foundation’s Transportation and Construction Girl program strives to prove the potential of the construction industry through hands-on introductions.

“Transportation and Construction Girl is focused on opening young women’s eyes to the possibilities of construction” shares Keller Hayes. Committed to making a dent in the 9.1 percent, Transportation and Construction Girls hosts an annual lunch event and summer career days for young women between 13 and 20 who are interested in learning about the industry and its opportunities. Many of those who lend their time and expertise to the program’s success are, of course, professional women from Colorado’s booming construction industry. Having role model examples on hand is critical to eliminating common misperceptions. “We had over 600 participants at the last Transportation & Construction Girl event. One girl remarked that she’d never seen so many professional women in the same room.”

In both programs, observers routinely note how much more involved and engaged young women are when all the participants are females compared to mixed company. Shedding the idea that construction is only for boys is the first step for these young women. Recognizing that construction is still very much a male-dominated profession is the first step for the industry.

What challenges are there for women in construction?

“There are still issues to overcome, especially for women in the field,” says Scoggins, whose role as President of the Colorado Chapter of National Association of Women in Construction keeps her keenly informed. Unfortunately, as many in the industry are aware, women are still subjected to remarks, harassment, isolation, job insecurity, and even Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is typically designed for men. There needs to be change in the workplace culture. This speaks to the importance of men in fostering the development of women in construction.

Hodgkins nods in agreement. Though somewhat new to her role as Corporate Citizenship Manager, she is invigorated by the responsibility and realities in equal measure.

“Leadership in any workplace initiative has to be modeled from the top down,” says Hodgkins. “Corporate diversity programs may be authentic, but the attitudes and actions of the firm’s leaders are what makes the difference in the way other employees behave. Incorporating behaviors that empower women is an important first step.”

Women need allies. Let’s go guys.

“Public entities, heads of companies, leaders of industry all need to step up and support advancing women’s roles in construction and many other fields,” says Rajasekar, whose perspective is informed by more than 30 years in the public sector at CDOT and now Douglas County. “We also need men to raise awareness, look for ways to increase inclusivity. Don’t ask women to be note-takers, instead show that you value their input in key decisions.” “Seeing women in leadership roles makes a big impact. We enjoy career days with the RTD, whose leadership is 38 percent women,” finishes Hayes of one of the Transportation and Construction Girl programs long-time supporter. Indeed, 9 of the RTD’s 15-member board are women. “When the General Manager of RTD comes down to talk to these young women and says if you’re ready to work, we want you in this industry, that has a big impact.”

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

a round table discussion on training today’s workforce for tomorrow’s challenges

By Sean O’Keefe

By necessity it seems that to be successful, today’s construction professional has to be a hands-on, multi-tasking, go-getter whose curiosity to improve performance is only surpassed by a commitment to doing things the right way. Educating a workforce across a diverse multitude of roles, both in the field and in the office, is an ever-changing challenge as new systems, new software, and new technologies continually come into play. In a round table conversation, Colorado Construction and Design sat down with a group of industry leaders to take the pulse of progress and shed some light on the future of Education Today’s Construction Professional.

Meet the Panel

Michael Gifford, President
Associated General Contractors of Colorado

As President of AGC Colorado, Michael Gifford is at the helm of Colorado’s leading professional association for the commercial construction industry. With 640 members composed of general contractors, specialty contractors, suppliers, and industry partners, Gifford has broad exposure to the pressures and opportunities that drive change in Colorado. Advocacy in public policy, economic- and workforce- development, and member participation and networking are all fundamental to the AGC’s mission.

“What gets me up in the morning is trying to move Colorado’s construction industry forward. Positive change takes time and commitment.”

Dave Davia, Executive Vice President, and CEO
Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors

Proud to be a fifth-generation Colorado native, Dave Davia is the CEO of the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors (CAMPC). As the Colorado leadership of four distinct national trade organizations, CAMPC represents the interests of more than 200 members in the state legislature. Davia is particularly passionate about helping the industry prepare today’s workforce for tomorrow’s challenges. CAMPC hosts an average of 90 training days a year focused on career advancement and continues to build strategic partnerships with educators at every level.

“CAMPC doesn’t teach people how to do their job, we teach people how to advance in their careers.”

Carl Goodiel, Corporate VDC Manager
Hensel Phelps

Over more than 20 years in design and construction services, Carl Goodiel has been intimately involved in leading several firms through the transition from two-dimensional plans to the virtual construction realities being rendered in illuminating detail and depth today. As the Corporate Virtual Design and Construction Manager for Hensel Phelps, Goodiel sees a tremendous array of work being built across the country and around the globe. While technology is at the center of his services, people remain at the center of his work and corporate systems and process are only as effective as they are practical and applicable.

“A focus on technology has allowed me to operate in a lot of different realms within design and construction. A technology-trained workforce is essential to meeting tomorrow’s construction challenges.” 

Ian Roth, Director of Specialized Services


From his beginnings as a licensed architect to leadership roles in Building Information Management and workflow development for both designers and builders, Ian Roth has made a career at the intersection of technology and people. MG.aec is an Autodesk premier partner offering clients a 360-degree perspective on software integration across multiple platforms. As the Director of Specialized Services for MG.aec, Roth combines a robust understanding of design and construction management software with client workflow analysis to recommend integrated solutions that foster employee growth and productivity. With offices and training centers located in 12 states, MG.aec is connected to the design and construction industry across the U.S.

“MG.aec provides me with an opportunity to see what many different clients are doing with technology and training,” says Roth. “We observe the best practices of many to help our clients better leverage the technology they already have and fill in gaps where needed.”

What is the first thing that comes to mind on Educating Today’s Construction Professional?

“Educating today’s construction professional for me is about sharing practices across a large company, developing roles, and training both internally and externally,” says Carl Goodiel of Hensel Phelps. Employing a global workforce and efficiently organizing their efforts around structured roles requires a company-wide commitment to structured processes. Goodiel points to the four pillars of the Hensel Phelps Way – people, process, partnership, and technology – as essential to success. He believes that training the construction workforce of today is fundamentally about managing change. “We have to have consistency from job to job. We can’t constantly change technology or the way we do things. We have to make a commitment to processes and systems that work and look for ways to increase workflow efficiency within that system.”

Ian Roth, a construction technology specialist at MG.aec, agrees. He adds that documenting processes, seeing ways to improve and effectively incorporating lessons learned into training are the things that come to mind. Dave Davia, CEO of CAMPC works with 160 member firms from four national trade organizations (Mechanical Service Contractors of America, Plumbing Contractors Association of America, Mechanical Contractors Association of America, and National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau) and has broad experience with the hands that do the work.

“When we look at the impacts of the recession on construction in Colorado’s construction, we know a lot of middle-tier professionals left the industry and haven’t come back,” says Dave Davia, CEO of CAMPC. As knowledge, leadership, and hands-on know-how were forced to find new careers during the recession which began in late 2008, a slight, then unnoticed gap began to form in the workforce. Compounding matters, demographics across Colorado’s construction industry suggest that senior leadership will be retiring in the next ten years and the gap will continue to grow. To ready the industry, CAMPC has partnered with other trade associations to create the Specialty Contractors Institute (SCI). “This is modularized training, for contractors by contractors. We offer four different tracks designed to enhance the transfer of knowledge from the more experienced to the less experienced.”

What are the concerns in workforce development for you?

“I want to talk about productivity,” says Michael Gifford of AGC Colorado. “Somehow, in Colorado, we are doing a higher volume of construction with a flat number of employees.” With his finger on the pulse of the industry through AGC Colorado’s 640 member firms and their employees, Gifford applauds the improved performance of the workforce but struggles to sufficiently explain the stagnation in employment.

Indeed, in November 2018 the construction industry in Colorado employed 170,900 people according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This figure is relatively unchanged in the last five years though everyone in Colorado’s Construction industry acknowledges the long-standing labor shortage. Surveyed AGC Colorado members feel they are continually expected to do more work with the same workforce. Year after year, the lack of labor is reflected in project delays and higher costs.

“We’re doing more with less these days,” says Goodiel of his experience at Hensel Phelps. As an internal exercise, Goodiel took the time to compare two projects of similar size and scope. The first taken from the old school drafting days and the second engaging a modern BIM workflow. “The first job employed 17 design and production staff. The second was done by five and was delivered six months faster with more effective coordination in a more collaborative environment, fewer field changes, reduced risk, and improved quality.”

As a software solutions provider, training today’s workforce to use tomorrow’s technology is an important part of what MG.aec offers. Ian Roth’s role in the firm puts him in contact with the front lines of educating today’s professional and he shares that challenges are not limited to construction.

“In training and professional development, drastically reduced attention spans and the ability to stay on track and focused is causing a shift in training structures,” says Roth. Where 20 years ago, on the job training could entail three days of class time, today’s training must be broken down into compact segments. From modularized training courses to bites as small as 30-second videos to be reviewed immediately prior to tackling a task, shortening the learning curve and increasing retention remain central to educating today’s construction professional.

Where are we today on addressing these challenges?

“The Specialty Contractor Institute’s program is designed around smaller blocks of time and applicable learning,” says Davia. Along career-oriented training tracks – Project Management, Professional Service, Field Leaders, and Leadership – the SCI’s training program is segmented into three levels based on experience. The tools acquired in each module are designed to be immediately applicable to the participants’ daily responsibilities and reinforced through practice. “We archive each training session so there is a resource to review and also a training record that follows the person through their career.”

AGC Colorado continues to see an increased demand for professional leadership training from members and now offers several different single-day training and a two-day leadership academy. All 15 of the AGC Colorado’s committees have been reworked to include leadership-level professionals and committees are intended to act as training grounds for how to take ideas from initiative to fruition.

“At Hensel Phelps, training for each role has annual goals that must be met,” says Goodiel. “This includes specific classes, field training, and importantly, training the individual who replaces you to do the job just as well as you.”

Passing knowledge from one generation to the next isn’t a new idea but documenting workflows and establishing segmented training that corresponds sequentially to the work being done is an effective strategy for improving retention.

“I don’t think one size fits all in training, nor should it,” says Roth, whose firm routinely trains both design and construction professionals across the country on technology implementation and workflow management. Roth sees great value in creating just-in-time training modules tailored to the activities at hand and encourages clients to leverage today’s technology to the fullest. “Knowledge transfer through mentorship is huge. We have the capacity to capture that transfer in many ways and share it with new hires, people in other locations, and next generations.”

Prefabrication programs are also fertile ground for on-the-job training. The repetitive motion, assembly line process of fabricating specific building components in a controlled environment allows builders to implement watch, do, teach learning strategies. Free from the demands of a job site schedule where ancillary trades are impacted by a specialty contractor’s production, prefabrication workflows make an ideal situation for bite-size, one-on-one, hands-on training right down to the nuts and bolts when needed.

What is on the horizon?

“For the 175,000 construction professionals in Colorado what is on the horizon is more and better training,” says Gifford. “Like the current prevailing wage language in contracting, in two years the U.S. Department of Labor will have similar language around mandatory, in-person training requirements as a percentage of labor. This will be a big change for the entire industry.”

“Construction’s future is so bright,” says Davia. “Sadly, construction was once considered a fallback plan, if you couldn’t make it to college. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a dynamic, intricate, workforce collaborating through leading-edge technology to build increasingly complex, globally connected architecture in Colorado and around the world.”

“The opportunities for educating and re-educating yourself on the job, are massive in construction,” says Goodiel. “From safety to development, VDC and BIM, LEAN construction workflows, the most successful people in our industry take advantage of a tremendous opportunity to learn new skills, apply it to their work, and then mentor others as part of their career approach.”

“Training programs need to be intentional, organized, and captured,” sys Roth. “It takes a little preplanning, but today construction professionals are leveraging technology and training to great effect in their careers and lives.”

“The industry is moving. We are integrating technology, prefabrication, and training into professional responsibilities and that makes construction more attractive as a career for the next generation or any generation,” says Gifford. “Everyone here is very proud of today’s construction professional and we are all excited to keep training them for tomorrow’s challenges.”

Read more

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

Read more

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    303.668.0717

Read more

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

Read more