Search results for "skanska"

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Design for Dementia

IKEA and the Queen of Sweden update the retirement home for dementia
IKEA and Queen Silvia of Sweden are teaming up to rethink housing the elderly. The project, called SilviaBo, is an offshoot of the furniture giant’s affordable housing arm, BoKLok, and extends its same principles of wooden, prefab architecture for the masses to the world’s aging population.  These days, architects and designers are being challenged to create inclusive spaces that not only offer shelter for the elderly but also promote healing and are physically accessible to people with a range of mobility and emotional energies. When choosing retirement housing, many families have anxiety over the cost of living and the often lack of social support or physical care staff available at lower-cost institutions. BoKlok and SilviaBo aim to squash that fear and claim to be at the forefront of a movement that addresses sustainability, economics, and physical well-being in elderly care. The flatpack-style SilviaBo homes are manufactured in partnership with another Swedish company, construction firm Skanska. The original units that have been in production since the late 90s still serve as the base for the new customized homes. They are assembled as prefab parts in a factory and delivered to the construction site where they are set up as one unit. Made mostly of wood, the homes feature a minimal, clean design. Currently, the units are available via BoKlok in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the UK.  The result of BoKlok's work is a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive model for the future of retirees. The company claims that only 1 percent of its materials go to landfill and that it has a carbon footprint of less than half of a standard building project. Sensitive design choices derived from the most recent research on dementia include kitchen appliances with physical buttons rather than digital screens to bathrooms without mirrors or dark flooring, two factors deemed aggravating to individuals suffering from dementia. 
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Accident Free

How can new technologies make construction safer?
Construction remains one of the most dangerous careers in the United States. To stop accidents before they happen, construction companies are turning to emerging technologies to improve workplace safety—from virtual reality, drone photography, IoT-connected tools, and machine learning. That said, some solutions come with the looming specter of workplace surveillance in the name of safety, with all of the Black Mirror-esque possibilities. The Boston-based construction company Suffolk has turned to artificial intelligence to try and make construction safer. Suffolk has been collaborating with computer vision company Smartvid.io to create a digital watchdog of sorts that uses a deep-learning algorithm and workplace images to flag dangerous situations and workers engaging in hazardous behavior, like failing to wear safety equipment or working too close to machinery. Suffolk’s even managed to get some of their smaller competitors to join them in data sharing, a mutually beneficial arrangement since machine learning systems require so much example data; something that's harder for smaller operations to gather. Suffolk hopes to use this decade’s worth of aggregated information, as well as scheduling data, reports, and info from IoT sensors to create predictive algorithms that will help prevent injuries and accidents before they happen and increase productivity. Newer startups are also entering the AEC AI fray, including three supported by URBAN-X. The bi-coastal Versatile Natures is billing itself as the "world's first onsite data-provider," aiming to transform construction sites with sensors that allow managers to proactively make decisions. Buildstream is embedding equipment and construction machinery to make them communicative, and, by focusing on people instead, Contextere is claiming that their use of the IoT will connect different members of the workforce. At the Florida-based firm Haskell, instead of just using surveillance on the job site, they’re addressing the problem before construction workers even get into the field. While videos and quizzes are one way to train employees, Haskell saw the potential for interactive technologies to really boost employee training in a safe context, using virtual reality. In the search for VR systems that might suit their needs, Haskell discovered no extant solutions were well-suited to the particulars of construction. Along with their venture capital spinoff, Dysruptek, they partnered with software engineering and game design students at Kennesaw State University in Georgia to develop the Hazard Elimination/Risk Oversight program, or HERO, relying on software like Revit and Unity. The video game-like program places users into a job site, derived from images taken by drone and 360-degree cameras at a Florida wastewater treatment plant that Haskell built, and evaluates a trainee’s performance and ability to follow safety protocols in an ever-changing environment. At the Skanska USA, where 360-degree photography, laser scanning, drones, and even virtual reality are becoming increasingly commonplace, employees are realizing the potentials of these new technologies not just for improved efficiency and accuracy in design and construction, but for overall job site safety. Albert Zulps, Skanska’s Regional Director, Virtual Design and Construction, says that the tech goes beyond BIM and design uses, and actively helps avoid accidents. “Having models and being able to plan virtually and communicate is really important,” Zulps explained, noting that in AEC industries, BIM and models are now pretty much universally trusted, but the increased accuracy of capture technologies is making them even more accurate—adapting them to not just predictions, but the realities of the site. “For safety, you can use those models to really clearly plan your daily tasks. You build virtually before you actually build, and then foresee some of the things you might not have if you didn't have that luxury.” Like Suffolk, Skanska has partnered with Smartvid.io to help them process data. As technology continues to evolve, the ever-growing construction industry will hopefully be not just more cost-efficient, but safer overall.
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Passive Progressive

Harvard’s HouseZero is a live-in lab for sustainable renovation

The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) has completed the conversion of its 1920s-built home into a live-in living lab that offers a perpetual post-occupancy evaluation. Designed by Snøhetta and energy engineers Skanska Teknikk Norway, HouseZero, as the building is now known, requires zero energy for climate control, zero energy for daytime lighting, and releases zero carbon emissions. In addition to generating more energy than it will ever use, it will also generate extensive data about its own performance.

The renovation combines low-tech changes like larger windows to let in more light, concrete slabs to store thermal energy, and a solar vent that looks like a glass chimney, with high-tech solutions such as hundreds of embedded sensors and computer- controlled actuators that automatically open and close the aforementioned larger windows to maintain the optimal internal temperature. Manual operation is also available for those times when individual comfort levels don’t fall within computer-controlled optimum, and a combination of geothermal and solar heating will ensure the house stays warm during even the coldest days of a Cambridge winter.

HouseZero’s sensors aren’t just being used to adjust internal temperature; they’re collecting millions of points of data on the building’s performance daily, which will be used to analyze the effectiveness of its energy-saving features. The valuable data collected by HouseZero will inform “further research that demystifies building behavior,” said CGBC director Ali Malkawi.

Because the building is located in the Mid-Cambridge Conservation District, the designers were limited in how they could impact the exterior of the building. This limitation ultimately benefits the project, not only by making the design more innately interesting, but also because it invites people to imagine how they could transform their own home into an energy-efficient version of itself. Like Coke Zero, which promises the same great taste with zero sugar, HouseZero promises the same great place, with zero energy. While average homeowners probably aren’t going to add hundreds of sensors and a basement supercomputer to their 1923 Sears Roebuck mail-order bungalow anytime soon, they might consider adding on some larger thermal windows and maybe even some custom-designed sunscreens if they’re feeling inspired. As the CGBC aims to prove, these changes are good for the pocketbook and the environment.

HouseZero is about challenging building conventions and finding new solutions to old problems. In time, the research collected by this smart house may help us building smarter towns and smarter cities across the country.

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Say Cheese

Skanska puts 360-degree photography to work on New York job sites
Three-sixty-degree photography on construction sites is sort of like Google Street View at a smaller scale—a worker walks through a job site with a monopod or sometimes even with a helmet-mounted set of cameras and captures the sights and sounds at all angles. And the technology has become a boon for Skanska, especially for projects like the Moynihan Train Hall and LaGuardia Terminal B in New York. “The resolution is just phenomenal,” said Tony Colonna, senior vice president of innovative construction solutions at Skanska of the new photography techniques, which increasingly can be done with off-the-shelf consumer products. “You can basically take anyone on a walkthrough without being at the site.” The 360-degree video is almost like being there, he reports. “You're in complete control. You can stop, look around, look up, look down. So you're not limited let's say with traditional photographs or traditional video to just see maybe where the camera was pointing. With the 360 you have complete flexibility.” It’s helped teams collaborate more fluidly and accurately across cities. “We might run into some sort of challenge on a site, and hey, you know what, the expert's at the other side of the country,” Colonna explained. “You can bring them onto the site. We give them this kind of experience and have that engagement to help solve a problem.” “These photographs are game-changing," said Albert Zulps, regional director, virtual design, and construction at Skanska. “You capture that space and then later you can actually look at versions of those photographs, go back in time, peel back the sheetrock and go into the wall.” Three-sixty-degree photography can also offer a tremendous time savings and improve worksite safety, he said. The photos integrate well with other tech, including software like StructionSite and HoloBuilder as well as mobile apps that allow people to locate themselves within a floor plan while taking a 360-degree photograph. In addition, it plays well with other emerging technologies Skanska is using, including models generated from 3D laser scans, VR headsets, and tech for making mixed reality environments. “What we've started to do is take that footage, and take those pictures, and you overlay them with the model,” said Colonna. “If you really want to think about how everything ties together, it is all about collaboration,” Colonna said. “When you look at the construction industry, you're trying to effectively manage a lot of different entities, from the design team, to the owner, to the builder, to all the contractors. What Skanska is doing as a construction manager is finding new ways to collaborate with all those teams. It's really about, how do we use more visual technology to help us work better together?”
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Set Lasers to Scan

How Skanska is putting 3D scanning to work in New York City
The Swedish multinational construction and development company Skanska is responsible for many of the world’s biggest building projects. Right now in New York City alone, it is overseeing two massive infrastructural and architectural undertakings: The Moynihan Train Hall and the LaGuardia Terminal B redevelopment. The design and construction of these projects are being reshaped by the latest technology, particularly when it comes to “reality capture”—laser scanning, drones, 360 photography, virtual reality, and other technologies that are all becoming powerful, scalable, affordable, and interoperable. AN and Tech+ Expo spoke with Skanska’s Tony Colonna, Senior Vice President of Innovative Construction Solutions and Albert Zulps, Regional Director, Virtual Design and Construction to get their insight into how technology is shaping projects today. Skanska's 3D laser scanning has been especially useful on projects like the Moynihan Train Hall where there is existing construction. “At Moynihan, we went down into the catacombs, into the tunnels below, the train tracks below,” explained Zulps. “Getting access through Amtrak is limited to weekends, after hours, late at night. To bring all the subcontractors and  people that have an interest will be putting systems in there eventually, it is pretty difficult.” Instead of trying to cram everyone underground at inconvenient hours and to mitigate problems of limited access, Skanska 3D scanned the entire job site and shared between subcontractors, architects, engineers, and others the resulting 3D model that could be imported into software like Revit and Navisworks. This interoperability and ease of use, along with significantly reduced cost, have turned laser scanning from a pricey gimmick into an almost necessary tool. “There's a right time and place for technology, and both Moynihan and La Guardia are benefited by that,” said Zulps. “These subcontractors—if they didn't have a scan, they would have to go down individually on their own to these different spaces, take measurements, make their own assumptions,” he said. “This gives them that information, and it gives it to them on day one. There's no one or two weeks of doing pipe measurements and drawings to figure out what you're doing. And that actually allows you to compress the schedule a bit.” Laser scanning existing structures helps the design and construction teams evaluate inaccuracies in historic plans, as well as account for any shifts that might have happened in the intervening years. In the case of Moynihan Train Hall, Colonna said: “We were going gut it, bring it down to its bones, and then refit out. The plans that the architects were using were not actually what was there. So once we stripped it down, we went in and we did a three-dimensional laser scan, we put that into a model, and then when you overlay that with models that the architects had, you could see the differences in some of the structures. Some of the columns weren't where they thought they were.” “There's a lot of trusses and beams and complex girders that are built 100 years ago, and they are very complex,” Zulps explained. “I don't know where the original drawings came from how the architects originally formulated their assumptions-but some of the assumptions are wrong.” Sometimes there are pleasant surprises—beams that would’ve gotten in the way but were never built, but at other times laser scanning can help unveil structural issues early on so that architects and structural engineers can collaboratively adapt beforehand, rather than after an unfortunate discovery during the building process. They can also mark “hotspots” on the 3D models, Colonna said, allowing everyone to notice slight differences like tilts on historic walls. "What I think is exciting is when technologies overlap,” said Zulps of all the new reality capture technology Skanska’s been using. The scans can also be combined with other technology, like 360 photographs, to create hyper-realistic walkthroughs. “Just a few people go down into the train platform with a laser scanner, capture all those conditions, and then share that point cloud and those 360 photos that it takes with all the subcontractors, architects, engineers, all people to test against their assumptions and also use for their background,” explained Zulps. “We're giving them a virtual walkthrough. We're giving them the laser scan to walk through and query dimensions. It saves having to get out a lighter, it saves having to book for the time with Amtrak to get down there or the Port Authority. On a project like a renovation when you have to go through an operating train station, laser scanning is just amazing.” Zulps went on: “We're making sure the models are available to people in the field. When people ultimately put the buildings together, you have to understand what they're doing and have clear instructions, and we want to leverage the models we use during coordination. We're delivering those models on iPads to the subcontractors and our supers.” Now instead of everyone having their own in-house models or drawings, everyone working on a project can coordinate on a model and real time. “Getting that information out into the field is a small thing, but it makes a big difference.” Though primarily used on retrofits and renovations, laser scanning has also come in handy on new construction, such as the project at LaGuardia. One use is quality control, said Albert. “You do the laser scan to make sure that before you go too far that the foundation is in the right place, for instance. And there have been times on projects where a surveyor might've made a mistake or there's translation error or things were changed and they weren't caught. So before you go too far down that path, it's good to catch those errors.” It can also be a good way to prepare for future steps in the construction process. “We had a central utility plant with a bridge going from a concourse to a head house, and we needed temporarily to put caps on top or pour concrete on top of where those columns were, knowing that in the future, we'd have to open the concrete up and then tie the steel in when that bridge was built,” recalled Zulps. They built laser scanning into their construction process so that “later when the surveyor said, ‘What are we gonna do? We have to break the concrete before we know where to put the new steel.’ One hundred percent, we were like, ‘Don't worry about it. We did a laser scan.’” The possibilities are still being explored. “We've also used the technology even just for maintenance after the buildings are done,” said Colonna. “There are just a tremendous amount of opportunities.” For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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It Might Take a Miracle

Governor Cuomo trying to jump-start stalled Calatrava World Trade Center church
A year and a half after progress was halted at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) defaulted on its construction payments, Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly stepping in to get the church finished. Santiago Calatrava’s design for the church, an $80 million replacement for the 1916 building at 155 Cedar that was destroyed in the September 11th attacks, was first unveiled in 2013. That capped years of negotiations between the GOA and the city, which agreed to lease the land beneath the church to the Archdiocese for $1 a year, for 198 years. Construction on the ribbed, glowing church—Calatrava drew inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul—began in 2014, and the building topped out in 2016. While St. Nicholas was originally on track to open in 2018, Skanska USA, the church’s head construction firm, terminated its contract with the Archdiocese in December 2017 over the GOA’s failure to pay. As first reported by The Pappas Post, the Archdiocese had tapped a restricted pool of construction funds to pay off a mounting deficit, leaving it shorthanded when payment was due. The church has sat vacant and unfinished ever since. In a statement released last year, the Archdiocese installed a new board of trustees to oversee St. Nicholas, and formed the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas to fundraise for the church's completion. At the time, the Archdiocese called these "significant steps" towards resuming construction. The formation of the board follows recommendations stemming from an earlier internal investigation, with work from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now, according to the New York Post, Governor Cuomo is reaching out to potential backers to make up the $40 million shortfall. Cuomo has reportedly been reaching out to donors with deep pockets to join Friends of St. Nicholas and fundraise to finish the church. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes Foods supermarket chain, Democratic donor Dennis Mehiel, and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas have all been contacted by Cuomo, according to the Post. According to a spokesperson for the governor’s office, Cuomo has also made overtures to the Port Authority as well.
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Passive Progressive

Harvard’s HouseZero is a live-in lab for sustainable renovation
The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) have completed the conversion of their 1920s-built home into a live-in living lab that offers a perpetual post-occupancy evaluation. Designed by Snøhetta and energy engineers Skanska Teknikk Norway, HouseZero, as the building is now known, requires zero energy for climate control, zero energy for daytime lighting, and zero carbon emissions. And in addition to generating more energy than it will ever use, it will also generate extensive data about its own performance. HouseZero is the ultimate tool for the CGBC researchers to tackle the building crisis in America. No that crisis, the other one. No, the other-other one: the inefficiency of the country’s existing building stock. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residential and commercial buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the country’s energy consumption. The CGBC is dedicated to using design and technology to create a more sustainable built environment, and HouseZero will help them develop new designs and systems for retrofitting existing buildings to significantly reduce America’s architectural carbon footprint. The renovation combines low-tech changes like larger windows to let in more light, concrete slabs to store thermal energy, and a solar vent that looks like a glass chimney, with high-tech solutions like hundreds of embedded sensors and computer-controlled actuators that automatically open and close the aforementioned larger windows to maintain the optimal internal temperature. Manual operation is also available for those times when individual comfort levels don't fall within computer-controlled optimum, and a combination of geothermal and solar heating will ensure the house stays warm during even the coldest days of a Cambridge winter. HouseZero's sensors aren’t just being used to adjust internal temperature; they’re collecting millions of points of data on the building's performance—daily—and will be used to analyze the effectiveness of its energy-saving features. The valuable data collected by HouseZero will inform “further research that demystifies building behavior,” said CGBC director Ali Malkawi. Because the building is located in the Mid-Cambridge Conservation District, the designers were limited in how they could impact the exterior of the building. This limitation ultimately benefits the project, not only by because it just makes the design more innately interesting, but also because it invites people to imagine how they could transform their own home into an energy efficient version of itself. Like Coke Zero, which promises the same great taste, with zero sugar, HouseZero promises the same great place, with zero energy. While average homeowners probably aren't going to add hundreds of sensors and a basement supercomputer to their 1923 Sears Roebuck and Co. mail-order bungalow anytime soon, they might consider adding on some larger thermal windows and maybe even some custom-designed sunscreens if they’re feeling inspired. As the CGBC aims to prove, these changes are good for the pocketbook and the environment. HouseZero is about challenging building conventions and finding new solutions to old problems. In time, the research collected by this smart house may help us building smarter towns and smarter cities across the country.
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More Cracking

Second cracked beam discovered at Salesforce Transit Center
A second cracked steel structural beam was discovered at the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco Wednesday during an overnight examination, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. AN reported the initial cracked beam Tuesday afternoon. The Chronicle reports that the initial fissure discovered in a steel structural beam supporting the transit center’s 5.4-acre, PWP Landscape Architecture–designed park measures roughly 2-1/2 feet long by four inches deep and runs across the bottom of a 60-foot-long spanning element located above Fremont Street between Mission and Howard Streets on the transit center’s east side. The second damaged steel beam that was discovered runs parallel to that element and features a crack that is "slightly smaller," according to the report. As a result of the escalating situation, the transit center will remain closed at least through October 5 as crews work to investigate other elements of the structure, according to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), the entity that oversees the transit center and managed its construction. Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects designed the terminal as well as the Salesforce Tower located next door. During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the TJPA, said, “We will not open the transit center or Fremont Street until we are certain the issue is 100 percent rectified.” Officials at TJPA are worried the structural elements might fail and are therefore operating with a high degree of caution with regards to keeping the transit center closed. The steel beams in question were fabricated in Stockton, California, by Herrick Corp. as part of a $189-million contract struck between Skanska USA Civil West of New York and TJPA. TJPA authorities are inspecting the structure with the project contractors—Webcor and Obayashi entered into a joint venture for the job—and structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, which was the engineer of record for the structure and also performed construction work on the building. Those authorities also plan to bring in independent engineers to reassess the facility’s design. AN will continue to report on this story as it develops.
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Cleaning Up the Capital

Washington, D.C., debates renewable energy goals
Last week, District of Columbia councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the Clean Energy DC Act of 2018, legislation that, if enacted, would require 100 percent of the electricity sold in the District to come from renewable sources by 2032. The act also specifies new guidelines for retrofitting existing buildings that emit substantial greenhouse gases into more energy efficient structures. The bill must be reviewed by committees before a vote takes place, which would probably happen sometime in the fall. In the wake of the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, many U.S. cities have set their own sustainability goals, and the attempts have taken various forms, including a pledge by Saint Paul, Minnesota to make all of its buildings carbon neutral by 2050. Under the watch of D.C.'s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), the New Building Emissions Standards proposed by the act would regulate the energy performance of the District's buildings and introduce benchmarks for future construction. Regulations would include cover energy usage and energy efficiency, among other topics. An incentive and financial assistance program would be set up, while penalties would be issued for buildings that fail to comply. Cheh’s office told AN that the act does not intend to create prescriptive policies aimed at restricting the building industry, but the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC) expressed that that is a concern. They note that the current proposal "contains ambiguity and leaves the setting of performance criteria up to D.C. DOEE staff without clear opportunity for stakeholder input,” according to an earlier comment. “The legislation puts a large administrative burden on D.C. DOEE staff to set the standards, track compliance, and enforce the requirements of the program," said the AIA|DC in a statement. "The mandate for private property owners to upgrade existing building systems and performance without accompanying financial assistance could be problematic, leading to legal challenges and potentially adversely impact development.” Despite these comments, the AIA|DC said that it is proud that the city intends to lead the nation in setting a new standard for clean energy. This is not the first time that Washington’s building sustainability efforts have come under the spotlight. Last year, the city was dubbed the “quiet capital of sustainable design” by Huffington Post. They reported that in 2016, the city’s volume of certified green buildings per capita was almost eight times that of Massachusetts, and over 11 times the average for the top ten greenest states. D.C. was later named the world’s first LEED Platinum City in recognition of the city’s efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy in the built environment. One innovative green building currently under construction in D.C. is the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Headquarters. Its “net zero” design means it generates as much energy as it uses. Design features include a photovoltaic array, a radiant cooling system, a green wall, a direct current electrified grid, a water reclamation cistern, and a municipal sewer heat exchange system. The building is seeking the Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) Certification by the International Living Future Institute.
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Campus Upgrade

Microsoft announces that LMN, ZGF, and others will design its corporate campus in Washington State
Computer software giant Microsoft is moving along in its efforts to replace and expand its longtime corporate headquarters campus in Redmond, Washington, east of Seattle.  According to Geekwire, Microsoft recently announced the architecture and contracting teams for the transformational project, which aims to replace nine existing two-story office clusters with 18 four- and five-story office blocks. On the design side, LMNNBBJWRNS Studio, and ZGF Architects are on board for the 3 million-square-foot project; Berger Partnership will act as lead landscape architect with OLIN partnering on the project as well. Microsoft has also selected SkanskaBalfour BeattyGLY, and Sellen as general contractors for the re-do, which will affect roughly 72 acres on Microsoft’s 500-acre campus. The project will demolish all of the of the site’s original 'X-Wing'-style, 1980s-era office buildings, replacing those facilities and then adding a net 1.8 million-square-feet of space on top of what is existing. The new offices will be clustered into “distinct villages,” according to a Microsoft statement, with the core section aiming to be “more open and less formal” than the current campus. A rendering unveiled by Microsoft depicts glass-wrapped office buildings laid out along a skewed grid surrounding a central green containing playing fields and a bosque.  The project comes as Redmond begins to densify ahead of forthcoming transit investments that will link the city with Seattle in coming years. The first phase of the city’s Overlake Village—a 170-acre mixed-use district that will eventually house 40,000 residents—is underway and will bring 1.2 million square feet of offices, 1,400 housing units, 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel, and a conference center to the town. Microsoft aims to begin work on its $250 million campus expansion later this year with an eye toward completing the project by 2022. 
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Building Digitally

Meet the Georgia Tech laboratory advancing digitally integrated design
Meet the incubators and accelerators producing the new guard of design and architecture start-ups. This is part of a series profiling incubators and accelerators from our April 2018 Technology issue.  Founded by Professor Chuck Eastman, a renowned trailblazer in building computer sciences and one of the creators of BIM, Georgia Institute of Technology's Digital Building Laboratory (DBL) in Atlanta quickly earned a sterling reputation after its founding in 2009. Now led by Associate Professor Dennis Shelden, an architect and digital technology expert who previously was the director of research and development and computing for Frank Gehry, the lab aims to harness its educational position as an indispensable source for knowledge capital. “We have a strong connection to the professional practice,” said Shelden. “Our ability to connect between technology and projects as an academic institution is one of our most valuable assets. We are very much focused on solving concrete problems through our research and our role as an academic and open research institution.” The DBL particularly focuses on “helping students disrupt the industry in order to collectively advance it.” This includes pushing open-source initiatives and embarking on ventures that might be too risky for a company to take on, with the awareness that free innovation now could yield big returns later. In addition to supporting Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, the DBL creates programs around entrepreneurship along with developing new and advancing technology. “What is happening now is that reduced friction across the building industry creates new opportunities and risks,” said Shelden. “Architects have an expanded reach into other domains and can tackle environmental engineering and other tasks that used to require retaining an outside consultant. But on the other side, that means developers and contractors can do in-house architectural and consulting work. So, we see a convergence in the industry, and there are great opportunities but also a lot of new competition that didn’t exist before.” The incubator champions AECO technology-related entrepreneurship while focusing on four technical areas representing the most disruptive potential for the AECO industries: data standards and interoperability, integrated project systems, design and construction automation, and smart buildings and cities. The laboratory currently hosts several departments: the living laboratory campus, a testing ground for “digitally integrated design, construction, and operations projects;” the technology test bed, a place for testing data exchange and interoperability scenarios; and a Digital Fabrication Lab, a 13,000-square-foot space for prototyping and research; as well as research and entrepreneurship programs. Contributing members to the DBL are Autodesk, Oldcastle, and Vectorworks, and associate members include Perkins+Will, the Smithsonian Institute, Thornton Tomasetti, Skanska, and SmartBIM Technologies.

Notable alumni include:

Kereshmeh Afsari

Defended thesis in November 2016 and is now an assistant professor in the School of Construction Management Technology and the Department of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University.

Marcelo Bernal

Graduated spring 2016 and is now an assistant professor in the department of architecture, Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.

Yongcheol Lee

Defended thesis in November 2015 and is now an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in the department of construction management.

Hugo Sheward

Defended thesis in fall 2015 and is now an assistant professor at the School of Architecture, University of Kansas.

Shiva Aram

Defended thesis in December 2015 and is now the strategy lead and senior product line manager at Cisco.

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Second City Assembly

A modular apartment factory is set to touch down in Chicago
Chicago-based general contractors Skender are getting into the modular manufacturing game, with an announcement that they will be building a factory on Chicago’s southwest side that can crank out hotel rooms and entire apartments. Skender is going all in on the new factory and modular fabrication startup, which they claim will put 100 people to work (an impressive number, as Skender only has 300 employees), and is using the opportunity to shift towards a design-build model. The company has bought out local firm Ingenious Architecture and will use the 10-person studio to guide the design and manufacturing of the modular units. Tim Swanson, formerly the head of CannonDesign’s Chicago office, will be joining as Skender’s chief design officer, Kevin Bredeson has been named the chief technology officer, and the company is hunting for a CEO to lead its factory. The move represents a huge expansion in scope for Skender, which has also changed its name from Skender Construction as part of the new direction the company is pursuing. “We are asking new questions,” said Skender President and Partner Justin Brown in a statement. “Why can’t we apply sophisticated design principles to modular manufacturing? How can we eliminate weather delays by bringing large parts of the process indoors? How can we significantly boost productivity without sacrificing quality?” Skender is expecting to roll full apartments, hotel rooms, and pieces of both multi-family residences and healthcare buildings off its new assembly line. Everything can be fabricated at the factory by tradespeople, from cabinets to light fixtures to units that have been pre-wired and set up for plumbing, then shipped to the potential construction site and unloaded via crane. Besides being able to construct modular buildings from the ground up (similar to New York’s Carmel Place), Skender plans to use the factory to work on both the interior and exteriors of its projects simultaneously, and standardize production. To say that modular architecture has had its ups and downs in recent years would be an understatement. While the world’s largest modular hotel, the Stephen B. Jacobs Group-designed CitizenM, is nearly complete in New York, the industry is still smarting from the bruising battle it took to complete 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn. The Pacific Park tower eventually became the world's tallest modular building, but was mired in lawsuits between Skanska and developer Forest City Ratner until the latter cut their losses and sold their modular manufacturing factory to architect Roger Krulak and his company, FullStack Modular. It remains to be seen if Skender can make the model work for them, but their smaller scope should help. If all goes as planned, Skender expects to pick a site for the factory in the coming months and to begin production in the fourth quarter of this year.