Archive for the 'Building Sitework' Category


AGS Case Study: West Side Skate Park, Albuquerque

Who would have thought such an exquisite degree of planning could go into a skate park? The project undertaken by Morrow Reardon Wilkinson Miller (MRWM) certainly proves that collaboration with the widest possible team can pay off in terms of the wow factor. In the Building Sitework chapter of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, Gregg Miller relates every step in the creation of this large-scale in-ground skate park. Here’s the overview:

The majority of the basic elements of the skate park utilize standard construction details and methods. The unique aspect of this project is the modification, application, and combination with these elements that makes them more “skate-able.” …. The arrangement, spacing, and connection of elements was resolved and refined in concert with the grading design. Through this process, the majority of the schematic design remained intact. Modifications were made to establish grades to acceptable slopes and to provide better internal circulation.

Now, what exactly are these elements? They are all standard concrete applications, either flat, sloped, or vertical, but it’s the imaginative way they’re put together that makes this park such a treat. They’re combined into features such as volcanoes, which are transitioned ledges with flat tops, and pyramids, which are multi-banked structures. There’s a thing called a sofa, which is a notch running laterally in a bank, and another called a loveseat, which is a protrusion at a bank’s corner. Since skaters like to jump over things, they have vertical separations and horizontal gaps to jump over.

Everything is grouped into two main areas, a section called the Trenches, mostly made from cast-in-place concrete around a central plaza of brick. This is described as a liner-flow area, replete with walls, banks, ledges, gaps, rails and steps. Separated from the Trenches by a grassy area is the Dogbone, a feature combining three bowls with a ¾ pipe. These bowls are from 8 to 11 feet deep, made to resemble the backyard swimming pools where many skaters learned their trade. The brick area pays homage to the University of New Mexico’s brick plazas, and the Trenches to the city’s system of drainage arroyos. Another part is modeled after a supremely skateable California bridge.

This illustration from Architectural Graphic Standards (from page 726) gives some idea of the meticulous planning that went into this unique recreational facility.

Miller goes into great detail describing the composition and formation of the various parts. The concrete paving, for instance, has to withstand not only skateboards but trucks, in the Trenches area, because they have to get in there for maintenance. So some of the concrete flatwork is six inches thick, reinforced by steel. The four different kinds of joints are enumerated and described: expansion joints, cold joints, cold-keyed joints, and control joints. The concrete retaining walls are of course not just walls, but skateable elements also, and vary from 8″ to 24″ in thickness, while part of the retaining wall is an aggregation of granite boulders with two-thirds of their bulk above ground. Both banks and ledges are composed of numerous variations on a theme, with different heights, widths, lengths, slopes, and connections.

The success of the project is attributed to the expertise of the consultants, namely, professional skateboard maestros who are usually on tour displaying their skills. All their ideas for exciting features were pulled together by an architect into a site plan. MRWM’s implementation of the plan started off with 3-D modeling, and at each step, everything was checked again with the experts who had envisioned the plan. Some changes and improvements were made along the way, but the park essentially came into reality matching the initial dream.

SOURCE: “West Side Skate Park” 2007
photo courtesy of striatic , used under this Creative Commons license


CAD Caveats from a Developer-Contractor

Photoshop and Autodesk Maya

T.K. Garrison, author of Cracks, Sags, and Dimwits – Lessons to Build On, also maintains a website with some great articles on it, for instance this one called “Slaughtered in the Dirt.” Two friends in the industry are swapping tales of professional misery, and the subject of their woes is dirt. On any building site, it’s expensive to handle, especially when you have to do it more than once. One guy advises the other:

You’re usually dollars ahead paying for a topo survey up front and then having your architect check dirt quantities as she designs. Not only does this minimize dirt work, it also helps ensure driveways and lawns aren’t too steep and that the site drains properly.

Like so many other aspects of a project, working the dirt right is the responsibility of humans who can be devastatingly fallible, whether through lack of training or lack of caring. It comes to the same thing in the end — a badly flawed project, in this case a road the engineer put in the wrong place without consulting the dirt.

Though Garrison’s piece is about computer-assisted design (CAD), it applies equally to Building Information Modeling (BIM). It’s funny and, unfortunately, all too true. There’s a strong warning here against the assumption that a lot of pricey software and few buzz words can add up to a technologically competent architectural firm. Training and commitment matter, and so do versatility, and adaptability, and so do machines and programs that can work together harmoniously. As one of Garrison’s characters says,

There are two types of CAD operators… The thinking kind are worth their weight in gold. The I-only-push-buttons-for-a-living-don’t-ask-me-to-think variety are far more common… They can be successful, but only if the boss spends LOTS of time reviewing and correcting their work…. He’s so busy bringing in new jobs, trying to get paid, and training new employees, there’s no time left to manage and maintain the people actually doing his day-to-day workload.

Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition contains a whole chapter on “Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM)” which defines the design technologies associated with the field as ranging from simple two-dimensional drawing programs to the more inclusive and complicated 3D programs that do solid parametric modeling. It’s basically any digital environment where a desired shape is first designed, then interpreted, producing directions that control the actions of a machine tool. While unquestionably unequalled when it comes to laying out and cutting out parts, the further reaches of computer-aided design can create ambivalence in its human users,

As Dan Hanganu points out, the ability to make beautiful pictures alone isn’t enough, and can conceal shortfalls in other areas. He says, “The technology has taken off and there is a generation of people in our offices who know how to manipulate the machine. But the machine has the seductive ability to hide the lack of depth and essential knowledge of the user.” Newly fledged architect Zoe Berman notes in her blog, “For a while, we seemed to forget that the computer can only ever be a tool that we direct, and is not a tool to direct us. CAD creates a veil of perception that can distance us from the realities of a project.” Many voices remind us that technology alone can never replace human intelligence, and even the best tool is only as good as the mind that directs and interprets its activities.

SOURCE: ” Slaughtered In the Dirt – Part 1: Bad CAD” 06/02/08
photo courtesy of ovendelon , used under this Creative Commons license


A High-Performance Building in Texas

UT Nursing

The School of Nursing and Student Community Center at the University of Texas in Houston (pictured) was chosen as an AGS case study for several reasons, according to a very explicit piece by Rives Taylor in Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition. Ambitious high-performance goals were set and met. It began with a holistic approach to design and planning:

These building strategies were developed through a highly defined and premeditated process in a one-year period before design started. A collective team of experts undertook this year of intensive research, seeking the best existing research methods, design, and operational practices to direct the realization of this facility.

One of the greenest things about the School of Nursing is what happened even before the first step toward its creation. The site had previously been occupied by a research building, which was deconstructed so conscientiously that 80% of its materials were reclaimed for recycling and eventual further use.

Building Information Modeling techniques were used to formulate an initial plan, which was then, with the aid of the software, changed and adjusted along the way. BIM helped with the validation of recycled content, the balancing of CO2, and assessment of the buildings life cycle, and in other areas as well. For instance, in the matter of lighting:

The team refined their intuitive ideas using energy and daylight modeling tools with the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs… Actual lighting levels for the alternative design schemes were simulated through a yearly cycle. The measurements were then compared and decisions were made to follow specific strategies based on light quality, quantity, energy performance, costs, and other criteria.

Maximum lighting effectiveness was achieved through a combination of several different solutions including windows, four skylighted atria, sun shading devices, and artificial lighting. Daylighting is characterized here as one of the most simple and powerful strategies, because it doesn’t require a trained operations staff in order to work effectively.

Some recycled materials were used, for instance the multi-layered insulation. All materials were closely scrutinized with an eye to their low volatile organic compound (VOC) content. Once set in place, these of course also continue to perform without further human intervention. For greater energy efficiency, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) equipment was installed with a combination of some undersized elements (pumps and fans) and some over-sized ones (ducts and pipes). Ventilation is treated separately from cooling, and a localized instantaneous hot water delivery system is the solution preferred over the traditional central hot water source. The double-paned window glass is spectrally selective.

Five tanks collect rainwater which, combined with condensation from the cooling system, provide greywater for the low-flow toilets and other uses, while potable water is to be found only in drinking fountains, sinks and showers.

The first two floors contain facilities used by the whole student body: bookstore, auditorium, café, and student services offices. The third and fourth floors are dedicated to the academic needs of the nursing school: classrooms and other learning environments. Then there is a research lab floor, topped by three stories containing offices for faculty and administration, and conference rooms. The service building is a separate structure.

The School of Nursing’s four elevations and its roof were conceived as five unique facades, each a distinct entity, and the detail with which Taylor describes the individual design approaches to the conditions and requirements on the various sides, is the highlight of this chapter.

SOURCE: “University of Texas School of Nursing and Student Community Center” AGS page 495 2007
photo courtesy of JoeBehrPalmSprings , used under this Creative Commons license


Rafael Vinoly Conquers Limitations at UCLA

UCLA Campus

As if there weren’t enough mind-boggling architecture in Los Angeles already, Rafael Vinoly has added to the city’s structural luster with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), at the University of California, Los Angeles. Some of the reasons to salute this building are enumerated by Christopher Hawthorne in a Los Angeles Times article. That story, however, is short on visuals. Fortunately, another nearby website provides a lavish collection of photos and drawings.

Located near the southern edge of the University’s campus, CNSI presents varying aspects. On the side adjoining the Court of Sciences, its façade is low and wide, and a certain amount of red brick lends a subliminal feeling of coziness. From other angles, there are more layers to this cake. This is partly because the site is not flat, and partly because another building, a parking facility, already occupied some of the space.

The land falls away steeply as you move from the Court of Sciences back toward the west, and right behind the site an existing six-level parking structure is built into the slope… Of the nine full-service University of California campuses, UCLA has both the smallest land area (419 acres) and the most built square footage (24 million), making it by far the densest of the UCs…Of those 24 million square feet of built space, nearly a third — 7.6 million — is dedicated to parking structures.

So there the thing was, and it had to be dealt with. Obviously, cantilevering was called for, so a separate wing containing labs juts out over part of it. But another element of the solution turned out to be the network of walkways that criss-cross over a portion of the parking structure like spider web threads. Horizontal pedestrian routes play a key role in Vinoly’s design philosophy as applied to places where scientists work. When all meetings are planned, thought is sterile and regimented.

So, when creative individuals are quartered in the same building, few things are more important than providing for the fortuitous meeting and the serendipitous reunion. These folks need corridors where they can bump into each other, and niches into which they can retire for a few minutes’ collegial chat about whatever is on their minds. This airy, suspended “courtyard” provides all that.

According to local humorists, UCLA stands for “Under Construction in Los Angeles.” And just like the rest of the city, the campus poses a challenge for all new construction: compromised sites, complicated sites, and an often severe set of pre-existing limitations for the architect. To keep things flowing, there is a campus architect, Jeffrey Averill, who oversees all new construction at the University.

Students and visitors are still getting used to the 189,000 square foot building, dedicated at the tag end of last year. The whole building is about three times as wide as its ground footprint, and was also designed with the mitigation of vibrations, and acoustic and electrical noise in mind. Furthermore, the potential for expansion is built in, as Vinoly says three more similar wings could be added along the parking structure’s rooftop.

SOURCE: ” Architect Rafael Viñoly gets inventive for UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute ” 04/27/08
photo courtesy of rdesai , used under this Creative Commons license


Carl Galioto and Paul Seletsky on Building Information Modeling

Freedom Tower

Recently, Bryant Rousseau conducted a joint interview with two Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects, Paul Seletsky and Carl Galioto, about the still-emerging field of building information modeling (BIM), also sometimes referred to as “virtual design and construction.” Galioto, incidentally, was subject editor for the Special Construction and Demolition section (Chapter 6) of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition. Interviewer Rousseau introduces the piece by describing the shape of the discussion:

The pair discuss how BIM facilitated a major redesign of the Freedom Tower; assess the technology’s strategic impact on the profession; address common misperceptions; explain BIM’s potential benefits for smaller practices; point out how BIM can lead to increased compensation for architects; and lay out the potential ramifications of BIM-both positive and negative-on the architect’s overall role in the realization of buildings.

Both Galioto and Seletsky see the advent of BIM as a transforming event whose full impact has yet to be realized or appreciated. They describe the concept of performative design, and the new idea of a model rich with data, that is not really owned by anyone. The exchange, the borrowing, the circular process of swapping back and forth between all the contributors creates a huge database that is, in effect, a virtual building. Building information modeling, they say, is not just about cost-effectiveness or 3D geometry, but about a whole new level of collaboration, and joint ownership of intellectual property, and thus requires a whole new mindset.

Galioto compares BIM to email, as an entity whose beginnings give barely a hint of what it will develop into over the course of time. Seletsky knocks down the mistaken notion that BIM is just for large firms, saying that in his opinion it gives unprecedented opportunities and advantages to small firms and small-scale projects. He says:

As a very good example, take specifications-which is traditionally coming as a post-rational application to something that has already been designed. But what we’re going to see is where the specifications become embedded into the rules of a building information model. We’ll see more and more examples of taking knowledge and applying it at the very early stages of design rather than applying it later.

What is the effect of BIM on architects? Does it take away the autonomy and leadership they’ve become accustomed to? The consensus is that both the responsibility and stature of architects can only be increased, if they get behind the technology and use its full potential. Galioto in particular praises and welcomes the magnified role of collaboration. He gives the example of how the analysis of thermal performance on building envelopes is much richer when architects, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, can have a meeting of minds so much more fully enabled by the software.

In his view, the biggest problem area is interoperability, which has fallen behind the huge gains made by individual applications. He predicts that this difficulty will be overcome due to client demand, which is always the prime mover of the marketplace. This will inevitably happen, he suggests, because clients will realize how BIM is not just something that gets the building designed, and all its systems coordinated, but is an enduring and permanent facilities management tool, much to their advantage.

BIM also brings new legal liability and insurance implications that weren’t factors before. First, there needs to be a universally accepted definition of exactly what BIM is. The technology entails changes in the delivery system, new job descriptions, the redefinition of contractual relationships, changes in compensation to the various parties, and other issues. Galioto explains why he is very pleased with the way the difficulties are being negotiated and how well the shift to a new set of expectations is progressing.

The two architects also discuss BIM in relation to the Freedom Tower, part of the new World Trade Center complex, which is under construction and will be for many more years. It presented the unusual challenge of having to be redesigned after the decision was made to increase the setback from the street to reduce its vulnerability to car bombs and other security threats. A great deal of work had been done and the creators thought everything was pretty much in place, when they learned the building was to be relocated. Seletsky describes the unparalleled usefulness of Autodesk Revit in this regard, enabling them to understand the relationships of subway lines, water mains, conduits and other underground elements to the overall suitability of the site.

The plan includes many features that hark back to the 9/11 disaster, such as a dedicated staircase for the use of firefighters and other first responders. The Freedom Tower project is highly emotionally charged and has been since its inception, with every step being controversial. Only a couple of weeks ago it made news again when a homeless man found sets of schematics in the trash, prompting a public relations uproar.

SOURCE: ” SOM’s Carl Galioto and Paul Seletsky on BIM ” (no date given)
photo courtesy of alvy, used under this Creative Commons license


AGS Case Study: The Genzyme Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Genzyme Center

Genzyme Corporation’s corporate HQ, part of the Kendall Square Redevelopment Project, was chosen as a case study presented in Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition because of the health and environmental challenges overcome by the RETEC Group, a Massachusetts environmental engineering firm. Immediately following the Introduction to Architectural Graphic Standards, Nancy B. Solomon explains the nature of those challenges as met by the building’s creators on behalf of their client, a biotechnology firm:

The fact that the property (once home to a coal-gasification plant) was contaminated was considered an appropriate challenge: Genzyme’s participation in the transformation of an abandoned lot into a vibrant asset was seen as consistent with its corporate mission of improving individual lives through the proper application of technology.

Solomon goes into more detail about this aspect:

An impermeable vapor barrier consisting of a nonwoven geotextile placed over the treated soil, a 12-inch layer of gravel resting on the fabric, and a spray-applied membrane between the gravel layer and concrete floor slab prevents uncontrolled gas seepage into the building. High-density polyethylene piping (running through the gravel and slab penetrations to vertical risers) safely removes any vapors from below grade. When activated, pressure sensors in various parts of the building and under the slab trigger a blower to draw fumes from this internal piping system to treatment equipment on the roof.

One of the building’s innovations, which earned it recognition as a top ten green project from the American Institute of Architects, is the filigree wideslab construction system, which serves multiple purposes in fulfilling U. S Green Building Council standards. In this method, pre-cast, pre-stressed slabs of concrete are placed on pillars, then a reinforcing bar is added, with polystyrene filling in the spaces. Along with lessening the amount of concrete, this method allowed for nearly 400 fewer tons of reinforcing steel, with a resulting reduction of total building weight of 25%. The thermal mass of the structural frame also helps stabilize the building’s temperature, which adds to energy efficiency.

The 12-story Genzyme Center features a central atrium which functions both as light shaft and return air duct. The interior light-enhancement system is meticulously described in Solomon’s article, with explicit diagrams. The exterior features a curtainwall glazing system with operable windows. The evaporative cooling towers and landscaped roof make use of stormwater, and water conservation is aided by automatic faucets, dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals. The lobby contains a water feature, and there are 18 indoor gardens and outdoor terraces. The U.S. Green Building Council presents several very interesting pages on the project, described by one admirer as the “poster child of green building.”

One important mission was not mandated by green standards, but considered imperative by the client in terms of by human needs. Rule 1 was that the building’s form would follow the function of providing openness and togetherness. Everybody working inside would have ample opportunities to see, communicate with, and interact with colleagues.

Conference rooms and open-office areas adjacent to the atrium are separated from the central zone by full-height glass, providing acoustic privacy while maintaining visual continuity. The conference rooms are fitted with darkening drapes that can be employed when needed. The walls of private offices along this inner circle are sheathed with highly reflective anodized aluminum panels below and a combination of fixed panes of glass and operable casement windows above. The windows can be opened and closed manually by occupants, but will shut automatically in case of fire.

An interplay of clients, designers, and builder reinforced Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner’s highly integrated design process, thereby, resulting in a building whose various elements resonate so well together.

If anyone reading this works in the Genzyme Center, it would be interesting to hear how you experience it from the inside.

Photo courtesy of GregPC, used according to its Creative Commons license


World’s Largest Green Building: the Palazzo Las Vegas

Palazzo Las Vegas

Nevada’s governor Jim Gibbons was there, and so was U.S. Department of Energy official David E. Rodgers. Along with many other exuberant well-wishers, they celebrated the awarding of a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certificate to the largest “green” building on earth, the glitzy Palazzo Resort Hotel in Las Vegas. This announcement came via press release from Ron Reese and Mindy Eras, spokespeople for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which is justifiably proud of this recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council. Additionally, the building also received the “Energy Innovator’s Award” from the U.S. Department of Energy. This honor recognizes the successful use of energy-efficient, and/or renewable, technology.

The Palazzo employs such effective environmentally-efficient technologies that it conserves enough water to provide each Nevada citizen with 266 eight-ounce glasses of water for a year and saves enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for 12,100 years. It even promotes alternative modes of transportation by offering valet parking – for bicycles.

Features include showers, toilets and faucets that conserve a whopping 37%, and a watering system for the plant life that uses 75% less water. The swimming pools are solar-heated with enough left over to help out with the hot-water system for the rest of the hotel. In the Palazzo’s 3000 suites, the air conditioning is so smart, it cuts back when nobody’s around, and returns to the guest’s desired level when the room is occupied.

Architect James R. Rimelspach (The Stubbins Associates), developer Sheldon Adelson (incidentally, the third wealthiest man in the United States), and the rest of the team worked closely with consultants from LEED right from the start of the project. The framing used 66,000 tons of steel, averaging 95% recycled content, and the 10,000-yard core foundation pour utilized 26% recycled concrete. There are eight below-ground levels, allowing for a 4,400-space parking garage whose excavation took an entire year, displacing a million cubic yards. It’s interesting to look back to September of 2005 when, at the project’s inception, Las Vegas Sands Executive VP Brad Stone told that the excavation added as much as $60 million to the price tag.

“This was born out of necessity,” Stone said. “We wanted to have a certain size property and we only had so much land to work with. We realized we had to put the parking underground, so we came up with a plan and put it in place. When you look at the cost of an acre of land on the Strip, you need to make your best usage of that land.”

Supported by several hundred pilings 120 feet deep, the structure rises 50 stories above ground and encompasses over 60 luxury boutiques, along with 20 other high-end retail establishments, including the first Lamborghini dealership to grace the Strip. The Palazzo’s Grand Opening was celebrated in January of this year, with festivities that included a Diana Ross concert, fireworks, and an abundance of celebrity guests. That was a great event in its way, but this week’s validation from the U.S Green Building Council was a historically significant event. How long, we wonder, will it be before a new “largest green building” comes along?

SOURCE: “The Palazzo Las Vegas Named Largest ‘Green’ Building in the World” 04/09/08
photo courtesy of Bernardo Wolff , used under this Creative Commons license


STAR Island: Architects Designing Sustainable Communities


Forget about the stereotypical “desert island,” with one lone coconut palm and a ragged beachcomber waiting for a message in a bottle. The tiny, 35-acre Bahamian island formerly known as Cabbage Cay is set to become a stellar example of the art of the possible. Liz Mitchell reports this story in the Bluffton, South Carolina, Island Packet newspaper:

STAR Island, the name of the development, stands for Sustainable Terrain And Resources. It will incorporate everything from environmentally friendly features to organic coffee served at local restaurants. Energy will be generated by solar, wind and hydropower…Solar energy will power the island’s water treatment facility, which processes ocean water into drinking water. To avoid wastefulness, all rainwater will be collected in cisterns and reused. All trash will be recycled and converted into power.

The site of the project is ten sea-minutes from the northern end of Eleuthera. Architect David Sklar and developer Tom Jacoby are sparing no effort to create a community that will include both permanent residents and temporary visitors:

…STAR Island will contain 46 private residences, a hotel, 20 private bungalows and two condominium buildings with 10 units each. All structures are on waterfront property.

Prices for a night’s stay at the resort hotel are expected to range from $600 to $1500, and homes will start at $650,000. But these pioneers have more on their minds than simply selling real estate. They hope visitors will enjoy their STAR Island experience not only for its own sake, but as a living example of the possibilities for self-sustaining communities.

In addition, they seek certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. LEED’s standards for sustainable green building and development practices are expressed in a detailed rating system. LEED certification and accreditation are for professionals whose practices result in conservation of water and energy, reduction of greenhouse gases, less waste, more safety, and lower operating costs. Along with respect and the good feeling that comes from environmental responsibility, LEED-consciousness provides tangible benefits, like more commissions and, in many localities, the ability to qualify for various incentives.

With no existing water supply or power sources, this project defines the concept of starting from scratch. $25 million later, by the end of 2009, it will be what Sklar described to Hotel Interactive as “a showcase for the latest and most innovative technologies, materials and practices,” proving that “uncompromising luxury and Earth-friendly practices are entirely compatible.”

This team has taken on a seemingly impossible task, given the limitations imposed by the environment. In the case of STAR Island, will environmental consciousness and sheer luxury turn out to be a match made in heaven?

SOURCE: “Local developers to build green resort on deserted island” 03/24/08
photo courtesy of tienvijftie , used under this Creative Commons license