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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com    303.668.0717

Originally Published in Building Dialogue/


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

Originally Published in Colorado Construction & Design

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

Glimmering in gold, the dome is easy to spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He can be reached at sean@sokpr.com    303.668.0717

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Challenged to activate an undevelopable parcel, Goettsch Partners delivers

By Sean O’Keefe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Explore the iconic, new US Olympic Museum through the lens of architecture and construction writer Sean O’Keefe

By Sean O’Keefe

construction writer
Construction Manager GE Johnson Construction pushes the envelope to deliver the iconic U.S. Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs

Leaving a legacy often requires a lifelong fortitude of purpose and character that only the best among us can realize regardless of pursuit. In athletics, the pinnacle of success is that of an Olympic gold medalist, a champion among all of mankind. In construction and design, legacies may not be as easily quantified but once the truly spectacular is achieved it’s hard to overlook. When the new United States Olympic Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado opens to the public, it will unmistakably add to the legacies of design architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and General Contractor/Construction Manager GE Johnson Construction Company.

“The incredible architecture we are delivering is challenging all of us to think beyond boundaries,” says GE Johnson Superintendent, Tim Redfern, an industry veteran of more than 25 years. Redfern and GE Johnson Construction’s team are tasked with assembling a structure unlike any other ever built.

DS+R’s design for the US Olympic Museum takes its athletes as inspiration; the design idealizes athletic motion by organizing its programs – galleries, auditorium, and administrative spaces – twisting and stretching centrifugally around an atrium space. Arriving at ground level, visitors are whisked to the top of the building via elevator where they are greeted by a grand view of snow-capped Pikes Peak, an ode to Olympus with its own majestic presence. Circulation unfurls organically, gradually spiraling down through the museum’s series of loft galleries at a pace propelled only by the individual’s own inquisitive nature and gravity. The folded planes of the building’s superstructure create helical volumes of space circling the introspective atrium. Dissected by the structure and connected by a continual downward ramp, perched floor plains filled with interactive galleries will memorialize the accomplishments of U.S. Olympians past, present, and future.

architectural writer

“The dynamic building form defies typical construction. Thinking outside of the box is not an adequate description of what we’re doing to make this happen,” shares Redfern. The design’s diverse elevations  called for fifteen independent concrete slab-on-metal deck elevations, scaling just four stories of construction with no two planes running parallel for long. Structural tolerances are ultra-tight, becoming even less forgiving as the structure goes up – the opposite of most builds. The exterior frame tolerance is two inches, while interior frame tolerances are only a quarter of an inch, with just an eighth of an inch of deflection. Controlling precise placement of every piece of an exceptionally intricate puzzle like the United States Olympic Museum is a process that can only be accomplished through what GE Johnson thinks of as a spirit of continuous improvement.

“Normally, once you have things figured out, construction becomes routine,” says Project Manager, John McCorkle. “I don’t see that happening here. We’re continually questioning how we do things. The ingenuity of this structure demands constant collaboration with designers, builders, fabricators, and installers. Everyone will be learning all the way until the end.”

GE Johnson is pre-thinking and rethinking every move by incorporating a 3D point cloud that provides an accurate digital record of physically intangible space. All subcontractors are required to use the point cloud to develop approvable shop drawings. The point cloud is integrated with the BIM model, which draws from several computer-aided design, graphics, engineering, and manufacturing programs, along with the discipline-specific platforms of a variety of different subcontractors. Integrated work plans developed with subcontractors define every aspect of each construction activity including who, what, when, and where. Most importantly, plans will detail how each piece is assembled, verified, and validated for accuracy against the overall model as tasks complete. Looking beyond typical clash detection, GE Johnson’s fully detailed steel fabrication model allows the clearances of each structural framing member to be independently checked to make sure the design’s distinctive shell of diverging planes and scaled metal skin reads as intended.

“There will be a high-level of scrutiny on a building like this because of the iconic architecture,” says McCorkle of the pressure on GE Johnson to deliver the signature design.

US Olympic Museum Panel Detail

The museum’s unique exterior skin aptly illustrates the intricate precision of purpose and combination of expertise required to succeed at the Olympic level. The facade will be covered in more than 9,000 individual diamond-shaped anodized aluminum petals that interlock to form a single, beveled surface with integrated drainage channels. In total, an estimated 27,000 anchor points will attach the exterior wall sections to the structural frame. The specific details of every panel from backing materials, sheathing, and waterproofing will all be independently analyzed within the model because seemingly every petal is either uniquely shaped, placed, or attached.  GE Johnson brought highly specialized subcontractors who had previous experience with similar configurations onto the team to achieve the use of these unusual building materials and intricate assembly processes.

US Olympic Museum Exterior Mock-up

“Premium-quality construction is always a collaboration,” says McCorkle. “Delivering this design uncompromised means getting out of the comfort zone and seeking capabilities beyond our own.” Early in the problem-solving process GE Johnson worked with design architect DS+R, architect of record Anderson Mason Dale, and structural engineer KL&A on refining the micro-framing system that attaches exterior wall sections to the structure.  To address the complex sub-framing of the skin, through a design-assist collaboration, GE Johnson and the team decided to work with Radius Track, renowned for developing curved, cold-formed steel framing, to develop a buildable system. Through continual collaboration, the team was able to optimize wind-girt supports, which increased certainty and repeatability in installation while also decreasing costs overall.

Even as the structure reaches its highest elevation, preconstruction activities continue. For the specialized subcontractors developing a sequence of efficiently attaching the exterior skin to the structure, nothing is more valuable than the full-scale exterior wall section being erected on-site. McCorkle and Redfern estimate that the 20’ x 20’ mock-up wall section will require more than 1,000 labor hours to assemble and will likely cost in excess of $150,000 to build. Eight different subcontractors must delicately interlace their work through a maze of structural framing, light-gauge framing, waterproofing, drainage, glazing, and aluminum panels. Identifying components within wall sections that can be prefabricated off-site, like the micro-framing system and laser cutting framing plates, increases quality control and supports repeatable processes during construction. Each component is individually numbered indicating where, how, and to what it attaches like a giant model and each placement can be checked against the point cloud to verify accurate alignment.

Thinking outside of the box hasn’t been limited to solving challenges on the outside of the building. Placing the museum’s extremely large, yet whisper quiet, air handling unit has presented a series of sequencing challenges with a ripple effect that will likely continue to reverberate.

“It’s low-speed, high-volume and is by far the largest air handler I’ve ever put in,” says Redfern enthusiastically. “The size dictates a basement placement, which meant installing it before we put in the structural steel for level one.” Once installed, this unorthodox situation left the massive (and expensive) unit unprotected from the weather until the floor above it could be dried in. Complicating matters, structural engineering indicated that the concrete floor slabs across the building’s many elevations should be poured from the top down to deflect loading. Waiting until the museum’s 15 elevations were poured and cured would greatly extend the exposure period for the mechanical system, presenting significant risk, and an extremely difficult situation to rework if the unit was damaged. ‘’We encouraged the owner and design team to install terrazzo on the first level floors in lieu of stained concrete so that floor placement could be moved up in the schedule, increasing protection of the AHU and equipment below.”

Placing the air handling unit first also required fireproofing the basement before setting structural steel, one of several conditions, which make multiple mobilizations of key trades likely throughout construction.

“We have been empowered to use ingenuity to solve complex challenges at every turn on a very, very cool building,” finishes Redfern. “GE Johnson is using anything and everything we can to build this right. Pushing boundaries, gaining outside expertise, and asking more of oneself than others will is the Olympic spirit this museum is being built to honor.” 

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.

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