Ask Houston General Foreman Jose Rubio what he values most about DPR, and he’s quick to mention the countless learning opportunities offered to DPR team members. It’s fitting, then, that he should be working on the renovation and expansion of a center devoted to hands-on learning—the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership at the University of Houston (UH). As the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in a full-service hotel, students learn while on the job, just as Rubio has done at DPR.
Q: What is your role at DPR and describe the path you took to get there?
Rubio: I’m a general foreman working on the Hilton College renovation at the University of Houston. I’ve been at DPR for 10 years. I started as a carpenter and really applied myself to work efficiently and responsibly. Four years later, they gave me the opportunity to take on this role with more responsibility and an expanded focus.
Q: What are some interesting aspects about the project you are working on right now?
Rubio: One interesting feature of the building is its structure. It doesn’t have conventional columns in the corners; it’s supported by Y-shaped columns in the center. It’s a total of about 64,000-sq.-ft.—70 rooms on eight floors, along with the hallways and a five-level sky bridge that connects the new tower to the existing tower. Another interesting aspect is that it’s an occupied facility with students and university staff on-site while we work. We’re careful to maintain their safety. It’s limited space, so we check the site, fence, streets and gates frequently.
Q: What have you learned from your team members?
Rubio: I’ve learned how to communicate with my team members with respect. I’ve also learned practical building skills—how to operate different types of machinery, from scissor lifts, boom lifts and forklifts, to Bobcats. I’ve learned how to read blueprints and taken OSHA 30-hour training courses to learn how to avoid safety risks on site. If you want to learn something at DPR, you have the opportunity.
Q: What is one thing you think everyone can do to make the industry as a whole safer for everyone?
Rubio: There are a lot of things we can all do, from physically making sure handrails are secure to operating machinery and tools properly. Don’t take shortcuts when performing a job. Always use the proper PPE and safety equipment. I also think it’s important to take time early to walk the job and check that everything is safe, and then do the same thing when the team is about to leave.
Q: If there was a language barrier, how did you overcome it? What were some things you did to help others overcome that barrier?
Rubio: I haven’t overcome it 100%, but I am still learning. DPR provides ESL classes online, and I use a phone translator when I need to. If there is someone who needs help, I step in to help when I can. You’re never alone here; there’s always someone to support you.
Like me, there are many people who don’t speak English well. In an organization like DPR that supports you with training, classes and great communication with people of all experience levels, if you have a drive to get ahead, you can advance in your career and achieve your goals.
Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?
Rubio: If you aspire to be a superintendent or project manager, go after that goal. It’s an excellent career. It not only helps you financially; it helps you grow as a person. And if you oversee a team, instill in them that safety comes first. Communication is so important, too. Perhaps most importantly, proper training and good communication make for a better workplace.
Q: What do you love about your project/your job?
Rubio: DPR has helped me have a better position, both economically and with my family. Having a job with more responsibility and security positively affects your home and your family. It changes the way you see things.
Today on Earth Day, during Earth Month and beyond, DPR is committed to creating a more sustainable work and built environment. An imperative part of those efforts happens through the action and aspiration of our teams on jobsites and in offices, who operate at the local and global level to advance DPR’s commitment to the planet through the projects we work on and within our own business operations. Read more from those who go above and beyond as sustainability advocates about what excites them about their roles as we advance on the pathway to a more sustainable future.
Liz Owen, Project Manager
Sustainability has been a passion of mine since college. I started my career with DPR in the Bay Area, but when I moved to Florida in 2016, I was disheartened by the lack of “green” infrastructure and regulations, especially coming from California where state regulations on waste management and pollution were more stringent. At that time, I found that there was limited demand in the southeast for sustainability efforts beyond the occasional LEED project, so I focused on my roles in operations, and organically became known as “the girl who is passionate about sustainability.” I took opportunities within my role to make small changes on my projects, and just share my passion with others in the office.
We have set up water refill stations on select project sites and encouraged the use of reusable bottles. We substituted our standard jobsite and office supplies with eco-friendly alternatives when reusable is not feasible. We purchased more reusable dishware for the office and asked that food vendors stop bringing in disposable products when they deliver food. These changes alone are small, but they have provided the opportunity to begin educating others, which is where the small changes start to create a bigger impact.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve helped lead DPR’s Southeast Environmental Advocate group as a way to connect the region and initiate incremental changes at our jobsites and in our offices. This has provided the opportunity for us to share resources, challenges, and success stories. It has sparked new recycling initiatives in offices and jobsites and prompted the birth of a soon-to-be regional PPE recycling program in partnership with OES.
I am very proud to be a part of this company that defines it’s “Most Admired” goals in part by our progress towards a sustainable future. Although we have a long journey ahead of us, it excites me to see the momentum being built within DPR and in the southeast. I believe that we have the power and influence to lead changes in our industry, and I’m grateful to be a part of that, no matter how big or small!
Praseedha Subramanian, VDC Sr. Project Engineer
As a VDC Engineer, I’m always on the lookout for being able to mesh my Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) side with my Earth Warrior side. Just as my role goes beyond technology and tools and focuses on building it right the first time, practicing sustainability is not to be treated just as a need of the hour, rather a way of conducting everyday life and how each individual approaches the impact they leave on our world. This belief allows me to challenge myself and my colleagues at everything we do, both at home as well as in the workplace.
Having gained a broad understanding of key sustainability challenges through my post graduate studies, I chose to add my advocacy for sustainability to my VDC role to help ensure sustainable and energy-efficient materials and practices are being integrated from the ground up. The biggest challenge in our industry has always been ‘re-work’ that accounts for missed productivity and exhausted resources. By promoting an increase in sustainable building practices and dedicated collaboration, we can eliminate the potential risk of having to restart projects and reduce the percentage of construction re-work by fixing issues that may occur down the road due to oversights during the design development and installation phases. Thus, creating a green future one building at a time!
Stepheni Dougan, Project Engineer
One of my favorite things about DPR is that the things you do aren’t limited to your role—you have the opportunity to plug in and get engaged across many different peer groups, work groups and with our family of companies. I enjoy exploring and championing sustainability initiatives, working with different folks across the company to make it a reality. Pooling our resources between different teams like Global Social Responsibility, Innovation and our strategic partner OES (among others), empowers us to create a strong alliance to make visions into reality.
My favorite thing is going out to a jobsite and seeing the initiatives that folks have been working on behind the scenes being utilized! Water refill stations with the vision of eliminating single use plastic on all DPR jobsites, jobsite waste signage to educate and promote informed disposal, cleaner jobsite power alternatives to challenge the way we have always done things—this is only the beginning! I look forward to the ways we continue to revolutionize jobsites in an effort to propel ever forward for our people and our planet!
TJ Cyr, Integration Manager
Sustainability gives me a great sense of purpose—it’s where my passion for construction and love of nature coalesce. In my current role as an Integration Manager, I work with our project teams to align their project goals with DPR best practices before construction starts. This early engagement is a prime opportunity to influence the decisions our teams’ make with guides, like DPR’s own jobsite sustainability best practices. These concepts are not limited to green certified projects, they are suggestions for better environmental stewardship on every job. It’s about being conscious of the impact that everything we use will have on our people, lands, air and water, and to broaden our perspective of entire product lifecycles.
Ecological restoration takes much more time than it takes to mine or harvest material or destroy it with our pollution and waste. I am personally motivated as an outdoorsman and conservationist to operate sustainably. Healthy habitats and natural areas are important for my own recreation and for the future enjoyment of my kids and the generations to come. Aldo Leopold once wrote, “There is a limit to the number of lands of shoreline on the lakes; there is a limit to the number of lakes in existence; there is a limit to the mountainous areas of the world, and in each one of these situations there are portions of natural scenic beauty which are God made, and the beauties of which of a right should be the property of all people.”
I’m excited to be a part of this organization on our path to regeneration. With our talented and innovative people, we will prove how to build with minimal environmental impacts. We’ll shift the paradigm of construction and inspire the industry to follow suit. To me, that’s how DPR Construction will change the world.
Zeke Salvo, Project Engineer
As the project engineer on a 55,400-sq.-ft. amenity building for a blue-chip technology client, I’m truly excited about the use of sustainable building materials on my project.
For example, the building structure consists of glulam and cross-laminated timber sourced from Northeastern Canada in lieu of structural steel framing, and the building façade includes exterior framing with 24% post-consumer and 9% pre-consumer recycled content, as well as insulations with 20% pre-consumer recycled content. The Interior finishes include acoustic baffles made from about 60% post-consumer recycled plastics, door frames with 20% pre-consumer recycled content, interior storefront with 13% post-consumer and 6% pre-consumer recycled content, gypsum wall board (GWB) assemblies containing insulation with 60% recycled content and framing with 30% recycled content, ceilings with 60% recycled content, and zero VOC paints.
I believe these sustainable, high-end products coupled with quality construction will create an awesome space for the occupants who will soon inhabit the building!
Approaching a complex repositioning of a dated office building into an experiential, urban destination in Capital Hill, DPR’s team engaged in a collaborative design and preconstruction phase to plan how this transformation would unfold. In the bustling neighborhood adjacent to Union Station and three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the team implemented alternative solutions to traditional construction sequencing to minimize construction disruptions, enhance quality and ensure the safety of the local community and workers.
The existing 300,000-sq.-ft. building is being extended both vertically, adding three floors, and horizontally, increasing its total size to 427,191-sq.-ft. The mixed-use property will offer 183,515-sq.-ft. of Class A office with dramatic views, 14,500-sq.-ft. Penthouse amenity floor, 274-key Royal Sonesta Hotel, and 13,832-sq.-ft of ground-floor retail. A new curtainwall and panelized facade will be installed, two atriums will be cut into the existing structure, the building will be structurally enhanced and reinforced, and the roof was demolished in preparation for the new addition.
“During our initial preconstruction phase, we established that prefabrication, SurePods and DPR’s Self-Perform Work (SPW) team would enable the project to stay on schedule and minimize disruption to the local community,” said Matt O’Malley, Preconstruction Lead.
Prefabricated SurePods Ensure Consistency, Quality and Schedule Enhancements
As the team dug into the details of the project they saw an opportunity to engage SurePods, a prefabrication vendor, to build 211 bathrooms for the hotel. The factory-built custom bathroom pods, complete with high-end finishes, were manufactured simultaneously with the hotel’s construction phase, reducing the schedule by 10%. SurePods enabled the team to deliver predictable results by fabricating the repeatable, high-end bathroom design in a controlled environment. The fabrication process in factory setting took 42,700 hours, 100 hours per pod, enabling the team to take that time to focus on other scopes within the building.
“When issues have been discovered on the project, DPR has been a fantastic partner, coming to the table with multiple options to resolve with the pros and cons for each,” said Chris Cotter, Sr. Project Manager for The RMR Group. “This has been especially helpful during such a complex major building renovation where existing conditions differ from record drawings. Using these prefabricated bathroom pods helps with this effort to provide additional logistical control and ability to maintain the schedule and deliver on time for our clients and tenants.”
“To prepare the building for the SurePods installation, you need a clear space for the pod with MEP connections roughed in, but most importantly the floors have to be perfectly level,” said Kurt Sandberg, DPR Project Executive. “The DPR team employed virtual design and construction (VDC) to assess the floor levelness through heat mapping. Together our VDC and SPW teams analyzed the levelness, evaluating two options—leveling by floor or by individual rooms.”
The team concluded that leveling by room would allow the most flexibility for sequencing and allowed the team to address specific levelness issues in each room, along with a faster installation timeline. SPW crews installed concrete pads in each room, ensuring floor levelness creating the ideal conditions for setting each pod.
SurePods utilizes a nationwide installer but scheduling conflicts rendered them unavailable for this project. As a result, DPR’s SPW team stepped in to help, enabling the project to maintain its delivery and installation schedule.
“SurePods has been there throughout the installation to guide the SPW team through the installation, inspecting the quality and accuracy of the team. They’ve done a great job and kept the project on schedule. Using SurePods prefabricated bathrooms reduced the project schedule by almost 10%,” noted Charles Best, SurePods onsite supervisor.
20 Mass is SurePods’ entry into the Washington, DC market. As such, they invited the local community onsite to understand the benefits of implementing this unique solution on future construction projects. Nearly 50 industry partners and customers from various markets have toured the project and watched the installation of the pods. Vincent Ng from JLL commented, “Our industry needs to do more of this. This is changing how we work.”
SPW Innovates Solutions to Logistics Challenges
In addition to the SurePods installation, SPW has been instrumental in developing alternate solutions to accommodate public access to areas adjacent to the site and the challenging logistics of the urban environment. During preconstruction the team was planning for the façade replacement with a new curtain wall and metal panels, and they realized a significant challenge on the west elevation of the building which faced a narrow alleyway with an active loading dock and garage. Stick framing the west elevation, the traditional way to build this scope, would have significantly impacted the alleyway and other work being conducted simultaneously.
“We recommended prefabricating the panels,” said David Huff, DPR’s DC-Baltimore SPW Lead for this project. “VDC was engaged to model the west elevation panels and provide a visual depiction of the construction sequence to verify the feasibility of this approach. The model allowed the team to visually understand just how repetitive the process would have been if they had opted for the traditional stick build, and the efficiencies that prefabrication had to offer. The model was then used to produce shop drawings, expediting the ordering of materials.”
This meant all parties involved saw the value of prefabricating the exterior cold-formed metal framing (CFMF) panels, including the sheathing, air barrier and miscellaneous steel plates, to ensure safety, quality, and most importantly allowed the team to immediately mobilize and stay on schedule. The team used the site for laydown which allowed the SPW crews to prefabricate the panels on-site, and then immediately install them. This is the first time DPR’s local SPW crews have been involved with prefabricating any component of a project to this extent, let alone designing, assembling, and immediately installing on-site. The crew has now set all of the exterior metal panels, with multiple trades worth of work encompassed in one shot.
The construction at 20 Mass continues with the team now shifting their focus on the curtainwall installation, cutting the atriums into the center of the building, and constructing the demising walls between guest rooms. The project is expected to deliver Spring 2023, around the same time the iconic cherry blossoms are in bloom.
Partners from Baystate Health, LifePoint Health (Kindred Healthcare), The Sanders Trust—an organization that specializes exclusively in the development of healthcare projects in partnership with leading health systems and physician groups—and DPR Construction were in attendance for the Baystate Behavioral Health Hospital groundbreaking ceremony. The largest construction project in Holyoke, MA at the time of groundbreaking, the facility will provide critical behavioral health programs to Western Massachusetts residents, enabling them to be treated locally and supported by their families.
The campus includes three buildings:
A four-story, 95,000-sq.-ft.building, which will house 120 semi-private rooms and be used by the Joint Venture (JV) partners of Baystate Health and Lifepoint Health
A one-story 23,000-sq.-ft. building with 30 private rooms for the Commonwealth of MA Dept of Mental Health Continuing Care Program.
A 4,000-sq.-ft.gym dedicated to therapy services.
The grounds will feature multiple courtyards, three half basketball courts, and picnic tables.
“We’re excited to continue our relationship with Baystate Health and bring mental health, developmental, and substance abuse programs to Western Massachusetts. It will not only provide valuable services to the local residents, it will also bring specialized jobs and opportunities for the local construction trade workforce,” said Steve Sheahan, Northeast Healthcare Core Market Leader.
The groundbreaking was attended by local officials including Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia and State Rep. Patricia A. Duffy. Speakers touched upon the need for mental health facilities, especially after the constant changes brought on by the pandemic and closure of several local facilities. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health’s president and CEO, said that “the facts tell the story.” A quarter of adults and a third of children are going without needed mental health care, he said, and 681 behavioral health patients across the state were boarding in emergency rooms, waiting for the kind of beds the new facility will provide.
“I understand firsthand the critical importance of proper healthcare for these bright, intelligent individuals having had my own family members deal with behavioral health issues,” shared David Rojas, Senior Project Manager. “Being an integral part of the construction of this new ground-up facility that will offer programs to both children and adults in the area is a truly rewarding opportunity for me.”
While behavioral health facilities have many of the same general concerns as other medical facilities–they also require a high attention to the design and installation of the details to address patient and staff safety in a healing environment. A team of experts from across the US is using virtual design and construction methods to collaborate and verify details, including a drone for weekly progress updates.
The drone runs a programmed route that takes 1,200 to 1,300 photos each flight. These images are massed into a 3D model that the team will use to share project status information, track and verify site work progress, and collect inspection data normally done by someone physically walking the site. It also provides the owner and members of the team access to visuals of project progress.
The next major milestone the team is working towards is structural steel topping out this summer. The project is aiming for completion in Summer 2023.
A customer-focused approach to a schedule-driven project turns “can we?” into “we can.”
A recent relocation and full renovation project for a prominent financial services company’s new regional office in the Dallas suburbs achieved success through the partnership between DPR and EIG Electrical Systems™, who turned challenges into triumphs and customer feedback into innovative solutions.
EIG is a member of DPR’s family of companies developed to help streamline projects for more predictability, efficiency, and higher quality. EIG is comprised of highly technical specialists that provide a variety of services including direct procurement and supply chain management, installation, low voltage systems, and power storage solutions. Their precise insights and actions on the DFW office relocation project were instrumental to completing and turning over a high-quality renovation weeks ahead of schedule.
DPR originally engaged EIG during the project’s design when, in working through the requested scope, the team identified the need to procure generators and related emergency power equipment. EIG’s knowledge and responsiveness resulted in not only a reliable direct procurement resource but also showed the expertise that would affect other aspects of the project.
“Given the fast-paced schedule and anticipated quick start, procurement of the generators was a challenge as they are items with significant lead times,” said EIG Dallas-Fort Worth general manager Luis Hernandez. “We aligned our solutions with customer goals, and as a result, we were able to extend our other services to the full project approach.”
After securing the full scope, EIG dove in right away with DPR and the HOK design team to address the first phase’s five-month construction window, a challenge in and of itself as the scope would traditionally have taken up to 12 months.
“Preconstruction on this project was unique,” said DPR estimator Lexie Hood. “After we submitted our first budget, the customer decided to split the job into two phases in order to hit the target schedule, which meant twice the number of deliverables in the same amount of time.”
Open communication with DPR’s self-perform team that was being utilized on the project was also a key to alignment early. This pattern allowed for teamwork from the start and eliminated confusion that could arise between the trade partners, and kept crews working through the scope efficiently.
Another non-negotiable challenge: quality. To address this, the project team committed to a disciplined approach. the team created shared goals: to HAVE FUN & fill all seats at the table every time; quickly share all news, good & bad; and ensure all finishes & installations would do nothing less than impress. Using these team-supported goals, their drive to quality assurance was referenced daily in site walks and tracked in progress reports.
Quality was no small task on a project that covered the second floor of an existing building. Phase one included 89,000-sq.-ft. and phase two 64,000-sq.-ft., phasedin order to allow for occupancy. As a complete fit-out of open office space, private offices, conference rooms, huddle rooms, reception, kitchen/lounge areas, amenity space, six IDF rooms, one MDF room, eight electrical rooms, two AV closets, and 640 poke-throughs,
Despite the scale, early interactions with the customer and design teams left EIG feeling prepared for potential obstacles by determining the right solutions from the start.
“We asked for preferences upfront when it came to electrical and low-voltage work,” said national EIG low-voltage leader Robert Ramirez. “We asked, ‘on your previous project, what mistakes or common issues did your other contractors have’ so we could address them upfront and make sure we didn’t run into the same things.”
One challenge for everyone was the supply chain and getting what was needed in time to keep the project moving. Key items like electrical panels had a last-minute delay in delivery, which meant an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking.
“I had a contact with a salvage vendor that buys and sells used panels on standby, to get what we needed from him in order to meet the installation dates in case the panels did not arrive on time and continue progress on the project,” said Hernandez.
EIG installed a manual bypass switch in place of the ATS switch since it did not arrive on time and was later changed out upon its arrival.
“Even with installing temporary light fixtures just to achieve inspections, there were a lot of creative approaches to this project to keep it on track,” said Hernandez.
“This was the first project that we really started to see the impacts of supply chain pressures,” said DPR project executive Eric Barnes. “We had to develop and communicate strategies to procure the custom products for this project. The owners quickly took to the term “direct procurement” and that allowed us to help show all the benefits of using as many of our internal teams as possible and gain their confidence.”
The effort not only turned into project delivery ahead of schedule but also positively impacted a customer that had past electrical/low-voltage contractor woes, and as a result, created a raving fan of EIG and DPR.
“We asked ourselves many, many times – is this even possible?” said Ramirez. “How are we going to pull this off? And we did it, and to me, that’s the biggest takeaway of all.”
DPR starts construction on a new facility to house the College of Science and Engineering.
DPR Construction, San Francisco State University (SF State), and SmithGroup gathered to celebrate the start of construction on SF State’s new Science & Engineering Innovation Center (SEIC).
“At DPR, you ‘Exist to Build Great Things’ and it feels like I know you’re going to do the right thing for us,” said Jason Porth, SF State Vice President of University Enterprises.“I can also tell you that as a campus, we exist to serve our students. So, this is a perfect melding of your purpose and ours coming together. You’re going to be building this building that I know is going to be extraordinary to serve our extraordinary campus.”
This design-build project began with a series of collaborative planning sessions with faculty, staff, students and alumni. Construction began with demolition of the 1950s addition to the existing Science Building. This first step ensured student safety and minimized impacts on the campus during this complicated phase of the project. With demolition complete, construction on the new 5-story, 126,000-sq.-ft. SEIC will now begin.
“Our team has been working together over the past two years to build trust and it’s really coming to fruition right now,” said Lewis Liu, DPR Project Manager. “We are breaking ground and building for the next two and a half years. We are producing a facility that everyone will be able to enjoy for a long time.”
The SEIC will support the instructional and teaching-related research needs of the College of Science and Engineering, which has 7,000 students, and the College of Extended Learning. From day one, the design-build team has rallied around student success as a priority in the design and function of the building.
“Students matter, their persistence matters, and we’re going to put our all into achieving that,” said Rosa Sheng, Vice President, Higher Education Studio Leader for SmithGroup. “Not only the design of the building but the original programming, the visioning, universal access and supporting underserved students in STEM fields, [it] was part of the original vision of this project. This is going to be a premier place where strong learning communities will form and solve the current and future challenges we have in this world.”
The new SEIC represents the future of STEM teaching and will provide a strong hub that highlights science and engineering innovation in teaching with studio-style lecture/lab environments that reinforce applied learning models. The Innovation Center will feature a state-of-the-art 120-seat flexible learning space complemented with undergraduate and graduate teaching/research labs and lab support; large-scale engineering applied project space with smaller scale maker spaces for prototyping and student projects; a student success center along with ample study and collaboration space to support holistic learning that reinforces belonging and persistence. It will also include interdisciplinary faculty workspaces for chemistry and engineering with meeting and seminar rooms and the college’s Dean’s Suite.
Located on 19th Avenue, San Francisco’s connection to the innovation hotbeds of Silicon Valley and South San Francisco, the SEIC is featured prominently and will serve as a welcoming entrance from the community to the University. The site design strategically addresses many challenges including proximity to neighboring buildings, existing utility easement, and mobility/accessibility requirements from all sides given the location at a prominent threshold at the intersection of campus and a noisy transportation thoroughfare.
During design, DPR planned all construction activities collaboratively with SF State and SmithGroup. The result is the morphing from one continuous project into four distinct phases. This new phased approach aligns with the University’s academic calendar and helps ensure campus resources remain available to accommodate temporarily displaced classes during construction. Following the construction of the SEIC, DPR will retrofit and renovate the existing 54,000-sq.-ft. Science Building. This renovation will celebrate the history of the building and preserve the history of SF State’s innovative spirit.
Meeting the goals of the campus for sustainability, this design will be the first all-electric building on the SF State campus with an ambitious energy-efficient envelope and mechanical design. The SEIC has been designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. Sustainability goals include:
100 percent electric building with an active mechanical heat recovery system
25 percent reduction of stormwater runoff from the existing site
Water source heat pump to control the temperature inside the building
High-reflectivity cool roof
Low-flow plumbing fixtures
Advanced lighting controls
When the SEIC welcomes students and faculty in January 2024, this highly anticipated facility will serve SF State as a driver of innovation and increased representation in the Bay Area’s science and engineering communities.
As extreme external pressures have become the new norm, not just in the construction industry, but across all industries, expectation for degrees of predictability, efficiency and quality continue to rise. In response to these challenges, DPR, members of the design community, sub-contractors and strategic partners have come together to provide integrated expertise and services, looking for ways to build smarter, move faster, and achieve predictable outcomes and great results.
In testing new approaches and continuing to apply successful existing methods of project delivery, we revisited the history of the master builder and started to explore what a modern master builder might be. In this undertaking, it is important to consider not just the known tools and approaches of the AEC industry, but also to identify lessons learned from other industries and consider the influence of new technologies.
The result? Design-to-build, an approach to project delivery borne out of our efforts to address the challenges of today and better meet the needs of our customers. The approach applies our industry experience, the principles of manufacturing, and the data of a digitally driven process.
Bridging the Gap
The distance between a complete set of design documents, by professional and legal standards, and what is required to build in today’s technologically complex world is sometimes known as the “means and methods gap.” Once the purview of master craftsmen and material experts in a small number of materials, this gap today is filled with complex multi-system problems and is often where handovers, translations and interpretations (or misinterpretations) happen. Leaning in with both construction expertise and creative design thinking enables DPR to close the gap with unique solutions that help projects to proceed with greater confidence and predictability.
Commonalities Point to Opportunities for Improvement and Efficiency
The industry has historically focused on the uniqueness of each project instead of the common factors. But identifying the commonalities enables projects to hone and refine repeated elements, such as a framing detail, to improve performance and predictability in delivery. In focusing on the often-repeated components of most buildings, we can leverage the concept of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA).
DfMA is a two-step approach to design that can maximize offsite fabrication and simplify field assembly. The first step, design for manufacture, fine-tunes components or parts of a design to make them easier to fabricate, optimizing efficiency and effectiveness. This is delivered through a process of prototyping, fine-tuning and refinement that results in optimized components. The second step, design for assembly, focuses on the simplicity and speed of assembly. Here, the process benefits from removing the detail required for manufacture and showing only what is needed for assembly so that installation teams can focus on the essential information. Together, these processes can inform each other and improve speed and safety in the field.
A Digitally Driven Approach to Deliver More Certainty
A design-to-build approach is not just enabled by technology, it’s driven by it. While technology alone can’t solve everything, a digitally driven approach supported by a rigorous and consistent process is powerful. The emphasis on unique characteristics that we see in the physical aspects of a project also often influences the industry approach to process. Pairing data analysis with experience makes it possible to identify actions that consistently improve project outcomes. The resulting benefits are two-fold: One, more projects can implement these lessons learned, and two, it can help eliminate customary actions that do not demonstrably add value. In doing so, a design-to-build approach helps enable the AEC industry to move beyond approximations and vague definitions of success and instead deliver predictable, repeatable successful results.
Fine-tuning the Method of Developing and Delivering Projects
A design-to-build approach offers the industry an opportunity to re-examine the standard parts and assemblies that make up most buildings, challenging the notion that every project is different. That shift in thinking, along with leveraging the application of technical expertise and the principles of DfMA, creates the opportunity to rethink the process even further. Shifting away from the conventional phased process of development and information handovers allows teams to leverage collective knowledge and experience and work in a single integrated process. Imagine working from a single source of truth that is transparent and shared; that process puts the right information in the right place at the right time and leads to predictable success.
While far from a magic bullet, design-to-build is an option for project delivery that DPR is using to deliver more certainty and raise the standard of quality for all types of projects, regardless of size, building type or contract. A design-to-build approach takes the best from the lessons above and assembles those actions into a rigorous, outcome driven process that can be consistently delivered. As we continue to learn and adapt the approach for further improvement, we are fine tuning not just physical buildings, but the entire method of developing and delivering them.
Written by DPR’s Laurel Harrison, design-to-build strategist.
From the field to the office, DPR is focused on finding the next generation of builders.
The years of work Alex Buscher, a DPR Construction project manager, put in as an ACE Mentor came full circle when he got the news.
“One of my ACE mentees here in Houston got involved in DPR’s Build Up High School Internship program,” Buscher said. “He was a rock star and he did well on his project. Then, he got accepted to Washington University in St. Louis. That’s when it really hit home. I realized why I do this. I want to develop the next generation of builders.”
Buscher, recognized as a 2020 ENR/ACE Outstanding mentor, is one of the more visible people at DPR leading efforts to attract the builders of the future to not only DPR, but also to the construction industry itself.
Construction has been struggling with a labor shortage for years and a new report from the Associated Builders & Contractors estimates the industry must add 650,000 workers above normal hiring to keep pace with construction demand.
Last fall, DPR led a consortium of contractors in offering support for the U.S. Department of Labor and its workforce development programs. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh encouraged that consortium to lead the effort, not waiting for government action. Even then, DPR was answering the call in a variety of ways to recruit more skilled workers into the trades or for roles in project management and support. Programs like ACE have been mainstays of many firms throughout the years, but it’s especially relevant in the current market.
“Some of the mentees over the years, when they think of building, they only think of engineers or architects,” said Scott Kubiszewski, a DPR EHS leader in the Northwest and an ACE Mentor. “We have to show the possibilities in construction and, honestly, we need more young mentors who recently joined the workforce and can relate especially well to students.”
“Traditionally, we pushed for college internships,” said Diana Eidenshink, President of the ACE Mentor Program of America. “As the pandemic took hold, we realized a lot of our students didn’t have the same experience with ACE in a virtual environment and, at the same time, they were having trouble finding jobs. We called DPR to understand the Build Up program and have scaled some elements of it with our industry partners.”
ACE’s summer job experience program had 276 students in 2021 and is hoping to hit 400 this year.
“We’re competing for these students compared to other industries,” Eidenshink said. “When we can get them into the field and they see the technology we use, they get excited about the industry and change the way they think about it.”
Meanwhile, DPR’s Build Up program continues to expand. Since starting with four interns in 2017, the program has grown to 50 this year.
“We really want to show what the career path looks like,” said Diane Shelton, DPR’s community initiatives leader who spearheads the Build Up program. “A key thing is, we want to pay our Build Up interns well enough so that they don’t have to get a second job. We really want them to explore the career.”
Build Up is yielding tangible results. Mason Maddox, a graduating senior at the University of Maryland, first encountered construction via the Build Up program, which he was connected to via his local high school’s ACE program. This summer, he will be a full-time project engineer with DPR.
“Honestly, I first got involved with ACE because there was free pizza at every meeting,” Maddox said. “I had been interested in engineering and didn’t know much about construction. But I enjoyed ACE and my mentor, Ryan Audy [a DPR superintendent], mentioned DPR’s Build Up program and that I might want to apply.”
“I was hooked the first day,” Maddox said. “Everyone is so passionate about what they do and it’s incredible seeing people from different trades like concrete and electrical work together to collaborate. It’s always interesting seeing these different minds working together and even better to be a part of that work.”
Finding people like Maddox also reflects the realization that a larger pool of workers won’t come from focusing on the same pool of students. This has changed the way DPR interacts with colleges.
“Simply, we have to change the way we recruit to change the face of the company,” says Alison Tripp, who serves as DPR’s national recruiting leader.
A focused effort is on widening the net, especially in places the construction industry has often overlooked.
“We have dedicated recruiting champions helping build conversations at several historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions,” Tripp said. “It’s about making real connections on campus and long-term commitments. That’s going to take time, but it should result in a sustainably larger pool of talent.”
This effort also includes a focus on engaging with professional organizations serving traditionally-underrepresented groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. Additionally, DPR’s college recruiting team was recently part of the annual Associated Schools of Construction Competition in Reno, NV, which is always a recruiting hot spot.
“Things like ASC are great because there are students from parts of the country outside our footprint,” Tripp said, “and we get to see them under the pressure of problem-solving a construction problem inspired by the real world.”
College – and office-based jobs – aren’t for everyone, though. Plus, without the craft hands to put work in place, nothing gets built. The need for recruiting into the skilled trades is nothing short of existential for the construction industry.
In many markets, DPR’s union partners run robust apprenticeship programs and these workers make up a significant share of the firm’s 5,000 trade employees. But in open-shop markets where DPR operates, such as Texas and the Southeast, there’s a training gap.
“When training is aligned, you get benefits across your work,” said Chris Bell, DPR’s self-perform work leader in the Southeast. “When everyone is working from the same baseline, you’re going to have safer job sites.”
To address that and create a pipeline of people coming into the trades, DPR partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research to launch a 2- to 3-year apprenticeship program focused on the trades DPR self-performs including concrete and drywall. Workers who graduate will carry a certificate from NCCER that will enable them to obtain transferrable credentials that are recognized nationwide. The program has about 50 participants and is growing.
It’s not just DPR feeling the need. Major construction owners are pitching in in places where the need for craft workers is especially acute. DPR and Meta, for example, are partnered in Gallatin, TN with Meta’s “Hardhat in Hand” program. The paid program offers participants four weeks of classroom work before another four in the field learning a trade. Upon completion, these workers are integrated into the existing project team.
As Bell sees it though, it can really be just the beginning for workers entering the trades. After all, today’s apprentice could be the next foreman, superintendent or self-perform work leader.
“Society has been pushing college for 30 years,” Bell said. “Let’s make construction glamorous! We’re launching a foreman training program that focuses on developing these craft leaders. We’re showing workers the full chain toward leadership. There are plenty of steps in between the two, but it all starts with getting people in the fold so they can continue learning.”
DPR Construction completed a series of renovations for the Milagro Center, a nonprofit organization supporting underserved youth in Delray Beach, FL.
Between the old floor tiles lifting and becoming a safety hazard to the deteriorating popcorn ceiling caused by roofing issues, the Teen Center was in dire need of a refresh. The project scope for the facility addressed those issues and included additional touch-ups.
“Our Teen Center hadn’t been renovated or improved in 15 years, so it’s incredible to see the way these facility updates have lifted the spirits and self-esteem of our staff and students, all thanks to having a clean, safe and welcoming space for our programming,” said Barbara Stark, president and CEO of Milagro Center.
Facility construction and renovation projects support DPR’s philanthropic vision of Building possibilities for the under-resourced, particularly through skills-based volunteering. Philanthropy is one of the company’s fourPillars of Global Social Responsibility, which also includes People, Planet and Partners.
The first round of facility updates tackled the popcorn ceiling, which took place over the course of a few weekends during Service September, DPR’s annual monthlong focus on construction and renovation volunteer projects for its community partners.
“What made this a unique experience was the mix of DPR craft and admin volunteers working together on the ceiling component of the project,” said Sarah Santangelo, a DPR preconstruction manager also serving on the board of the Milagro Center. “Renovation projects like these give us a greater appreciation for what we do as builders on a daily basis, but adding in that teamwork and camaraderie element pushes us to build better for our community partners.”
In January, the second portion of the renovation focused on floor replacement, which involved collaboration with two local trade partners, The BG Group LLC and Professional Flooring Contractors LLC, who each donated materials and labor at reduced rates.
The Milagro Center is one of DPR’s longest-running community partnerships, with more than 12 years of partnership that has also included annual grants from the DPR Foundation.
“Milagro Center cherishes the relationship it has with DPR and everything they bring to the table, whether it be through career exposure for our students or the outstanding improvements their trades people have done for our Teen Center and Junior Teen Center,” said Stark.
Santangelo adds, “This year marks the Milagro Center’s 25thanniversary, so it’s pretty amazing for DPR to have been part of half of that journey and we look forward to supporting them as dedicated partners on their mission to changing the lives of underserved youth in our community.”
At first glance, the scope of the Arizona State University Health Futures Center (ASU HFC) canopy project seemed straightforward. Originally included in the buildout of the new medical learning center, the giant shade covering was designed to offer shelter from the desert over the facility’s courtyard and main entrance and was to be erected over an unoccupied environment. Budget constraints arose and the canopy project was indefinitely put on hold. Meanwhile, the team progressed, fully completing the building sans canopy in early spring 2020.
Just as students, teachers, medical professionals, and staff started to flow into the new facility in April of 2020, so did the delayed funding allocations for the canopy. Collaborators from DPR Construction, designers CO Architects and DFDG Architects, steel fabricator Able Steel, and steel erectors Pro Steel Erectors Inc. and ASE Steel Erectors now faced a major challenge: building this major component over what was now a bustling main entry, congregation space, and thoroughfare.
“For so many logistical reasons and objections from external partners, we heard over and over that the canopy would be impossible to build,” said project manager Casey Helburg. “The ‘Wall of No’ grew higher as our list of challenges got longer.”
In the now-occupied environment, building the canopy as originally designed looked increasingly unfeasible. The original custom-made structural steel members were not only extremely expensive but also, because of the delay, now faced procurement challenges. And at an estimated 500 tons, the canopy was essentially too heavy to manage in the tightly constricted courtyard now that the HFC had been fully built and occupied. Use of the necessary machinery by workers elevated on a complex scaffolding 40-60 feet in the air, over an open foundation with exposed rebar seemed all but impossible – and dangerous – in the constrained space. The team considered altering the canopy design itself to accommodate the mounting list of challenges in order to incorporate structurally acceptable yet aesthetically pleasing solutions. Alternative options, however, proved to be too far removed from the original design and didn’t address the issues presented on-site.
Closing the courtyard wouldn’t solve every issue, either. The risk that flying massive steel beams by crane over the specially designed hardscape below would cause damage to the intricately sandblasted concrete was too great.
The team was also careful to consider that if they closed the courtyard and redirected newly ingrained wayfinding and flows of traffic around the side of the building through covered walkways to a loading dock, the shift would create not only an irritating and confusing obstacle but an ugly pathway for the HFC tenants and visitors. And those inside during working hours would still be subject to noise and fumes from welding and paint, right at their front door.
To continue the canopy build as originally planned, not only were there multiple logistical non-starters to overcome, but those challenges pushed the canopy buildout to roughly $200,000 over budget and an estimated additional 10-month timeline – not an option for this team.
“When it really came down to it, we realized we were going to have to do this using prefabrication,” said project engineer Ben DeBorde. “But what pieces are we going to assemble? And where are we going to assemble them?” While their solution wasn’t exactly right in front of them… it was in the greenfield adjacent to the HFC.
At first mention of prefabrication of the canopy in conversation with Able Steel, there was a collective chuckle at the tongue-in-cheek suggestion.
“We all thought, ‘no one is going to agree to this,’” DeBorde said. Yet despite the bold idea, wheels were immediately turning, and in response to the off-the-cuff comment the subject matter experts began considering if this innovative option could actually make sense. After two weeks in conversation and contemplation, Able Steel told the DPR team, “We think we can prefab this. Let’s take the next step.” Soon thereafter it was time to put pen to paper and bring together the design teams, trade partners and structural engineer to have open, honest discussions about exploring realistic options for making the prospect of prefab a reality.
While it seemed that the team was finding ways up, over and around the initial Wall of No, they still faced barriers to success on the other side, as prefabrication alone wasn’t the simple solution to every problem. Where would prefabrication take place? If they prefabricated the entire canopy, could they find an adequate and available crane to intricately rig and properly pick just one piece on such a short haul job? Furthermore, there was still the issue of the customized steel members. For the sake of its immense weight, would the team need to prefabricate the canopy in sections and complete construction over the courtyard?
“Every partner on the team had to explore our comfort zones and knew we needed to push the envelope with our design decisions,” said Helburg. The teams got deep into working sessions, talking about limiting factors of equipment and negotiable and non-negotiable design components, as well as brainstorming ways they could reduce cost, weight, and schedule. In these discussions, it came up that ACE Steel Erectors had been using a proprietary carbon fiber application system mostly in the aeronautical industry in making repairs and weighing connections, and the design teams had used previously carbon fiber on large industrial complexes. Again, the wheels were in motion.
“We depended on ACE to inform us of how the carbon fiber system could actually work in this application,” said DeBorde. “We asked tons of questions. Where else has it been used? How do we need to apply and treat carbon fiber? What kind of timing will it need and how long does it take to dry? What kind of weather can it withstand?” The team asked question after question, learning about expectations, finishes, protection, environmental requirements, treatments, distinguishing features, and more.
“In all of my years in construction, I’ve never seen this done before,” said Helburg. The carbon fiber solution that ACE had suggested would allow the team to procure more readily available, standard-sized structural steel members, cutting procurement time exponentially, thereby reducing schedule, securing a major cost savings, and significantly lowering the tonnage of steel while maintaining its integrity and tensile strength through use of the supplemental carbon fiber.
With weight, cost, and timeline challenges addressed, the team began to overcome the rest of the challenges as well, one by one. The greenfield area adjacent to the HFC was approved for prefabrication space by ASU. The steel embed plates to attach the canopy columns in the courtyard concrete were chalk-lined and reproduced in entirety in the greenfield. Prefabrication virtually eliminated high-elevation work and allowed the team to use ladders and tie-offs, come-alongs, scissor lifts, and pieces of essential machinery that would have been impossible to maneuver in the courtyard, let alone from scaffolding 40-60 feet in the air. Working on solid earth rather than an elevated platform allowed them to focus on the job and achieve quality welds and installation.
The prefabricated solution proved to be a success. There were zero safety incidents on the project. The team achieved an approximately 50 percent reduction in project lifecycle from 10 months to approximately five months. And despite a limited availability of specialty equipment in the area, the team secured a crane to handle the pick of the entire canopy structure, which took approximately 30 minutes. The HFC courtyard was only closed for one day while the canopy was picked and placed, and the project was completed to the satisfaction of every stakeholder. The Wall of No had become the canopy the team had hoped for.
“What we learned here is to keep digging and asking, to be relentless. Don’t give up on finding solutions and don’t be deterred by hearing ‘no,’” said DeBorde. “With so much technology and the opportunity to innovate and incorporate out-of-the-box-ideas, we really can give it a shot and make something successful. It’s all about leading and moving forward and being able to provide a safe work environment and the right solutions to help our clients achieve their goals.”