Posts tagged with "Construction":

New York City is looking for artists to beautify its construction fences

On September 12, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs announced a call for applicants for “City Canvas,” a 24-month-long pilot program designed to improve New York City’s visual landscape through the installation of large-scale, temporary artwork on protective construction structures including construction fences and sidewalk sheds. Protective structures scattered throughout the five boroughs of New York have been criticized for their invasive nature and unattractive appearance. While New York construction codes typically prohibit the alteration of these structures, the City Canvas program will allow select artists and cultural institutions to install visual art on the unsightly supports that lurk over the city’s construction sites. “Sidewalk sheds are unattractive, but they keep us safe,” Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, P.E., told Broadway World. “If anyone can bring some love to the sidewalk sheds New Yorkers love to hate, it’s our city’s artists.” There are two main goals associated with the City Canvas initiative: to improve the pedestrian experience of city residents and tourists by transforming protective structures into beautiful works of art, and to increase opportunities for artists and cultural institutions to gain recognition and create artworks that are representative of the communities in which they are installed. “Art is a way for people to connect, and promoting the installation of more art in public spaces is a fantastic way to create a stronger sense of community in neighborhoods throughout New York City,” Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr. told Broadway World. “City Canvas is an innovative way to support local artists and build community, all while beautifying otherwise unattractive construction sites. I hope the many great cultural nonprofits that serve our city take advantage of the great opportunity, and that it becomes a lasting initiative that brightens our public spaces for many years to come.” During the pilot period, the City is seeking proposals from at least one qualified nonprofit organization to install artwork on at least one location. The deadline is Friday, October 12. The pilot program will run for the next 24 months. Application instructions are available in detail on the NYC Cultural Affairs website.

Fire breaks out at the Statue of Liberty Museum construction site

A fire broke out at the Statue of Liberty Museum construction site on Monday, forcing 3,400 people to evacuate New York’s most famous tourist attraction, reported CBS News. The incident occurred on the north side of Liberty Island where the 26,000-square-foot museum, designed by FXCollaborative, is currently being built. According to the FDNY, three 100-pound propane tanks caught fire around noon yesterday where a new security screening facility is under construction. Work was being done on the roof of the building, which sits about 200 feet from the base of the statue, during the time of the fire. None of the tanks exploded due to the accident but one construction worker was injured. It took firefighters two hours to contain the flames. Set to open next May, the $70-million museum is being developed by the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The existing museum, which is laid out inside the statue herself, can’t accommodate the number of tourists the site sees per day. The new expansive design will be able to hold over 1,000 visitors per hour and will include three gallery spaces covering 15,000 square feet of the facility along with an outdoor plaza and a green roof that doubles as a terrace overlooking the monument. The museum will also sit above 500-year flood levels and feature exterior materials that can withstand hurricane-force winds and inclement weather. As of 2 p.m. Monday, the island opened back up to visitors and work resumed on the scene. The site has been under construction for just over a year by Phelps Construction Group and is on track for a spring 2019 opening.

Construction workers protest developer behind DS+R, SOM towers

Hundreds of construction workers crowded New York City's Park Avenue on Wednesday during rush hour in protest against Related Companies, developer of New York’s $20-billion Hudson Yards project. Hudson Yards is the massive real estate development on Manhattan's West Side that has towers by DS+R, SOM, and KPF along with DS+R and Rockwell Group's The Shed and Heatherwick Studio's Vessel. As part of the #CountMeIn movement to fight against open shop or non-unionized workplaces, 37 people were arrested at the scene according to Crain’s New York. The demonstration shut down the street at 345 Park Avenue, an office tower home to the headquarters of the National Football League where billionaire Miami Dolphins owner and Related chairman Stephen Ross works. Protestors called for Ross’s resignation from his new seat on the NFL’s social justice committee, which seeks to appease the professional players who oppose the league’s ban on kneeling during the national anthem. Crain’s said that the #CountMeIn protestors—who claim Ross is anti-union—wore teal T-shirts designed to mimic a Dolphins’ jersey that read “Step Down Steve” in orange lettering. The large-scale gathering is the biggest public display so far from organized labor groups in their ongoing dispute with Related, which wants to use nonunion labor for the second phase of construction at Hudson Yards. Crain’s reported the company filed a $100-million lawsuit earlier this year to undercut the efforts of the city’s strongest labor organizer, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, in negotiating new union opportunities for the construction of the upcoming towers at Hudson Yards. The real estate and construction powerhouse believes union workers abused their hours on site and caused inflation over the last five years while working on the first phase. Crain’s wrote that Wednesday’s protests were seen by many as a personal attack on Ross and that he’s discriminating against laborers by condoning racism, sexism, and union-busting. Targeting Ross’s new position on the NFL’s social justice committee is an avenue for the union groups to bring greater awareness to this ongoing fight.

New interactive map details every active construction site in New York City

Construction cranes dominate the New York City skyline almost as much the city’s tallest spires. A street with scaffolding, especially in Manhattan, is a sight seen more often than not. Thousands of projects are currently underway in the five boroughs and it’s impossible to keep track of them all. To provide some perspective, a new interactive map and database from the New York City Department of Buildings allows you to visualize all the active major construction sites in the city. Updated daily, it unveils the great pace at which the city is changing in real time—not to mention that it shows the disparity in investment from neighborhood to neighborhood. Categorized by square footage, estimated cost, and number of proposed housing units, the data lets users analyze what’s being built right now and where. According to the site, there are 7,457 active permits filed and 197,913,815 total square feet of construction happening now. Brooklyn and Queens have the most sites under construction with 2,800 projects and 2,500 projects respectively. Nearly 2,000 more new buildings are coming up than renovations. So this leads us to ask: How is the city making room for all this new space? The answer: It's building up. The largest-scale project shown is 500 West 33rd Street (a.k.a. 30 Hudson Yards), a 3.9 million-square-foot, mixed-use skyscraper spearheaded by the Tishman Corporation. It’s subsequently the most expensive project going up in New York at a reported $576.68 million. Norman Foster’s 410 10th Avenue (50 Hudson Yards), an office tower, comes in a close second at 2.91 million square feet but is beat out for second priciest project in construction by the residential conversion happening at One Wall Street. The data also details that the tallest new building under construction in New York is, not surprisingly, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill’s Central Park Tower at 225 West 57th Street. The supertall boasts 98 floors and should top out next year. Also hitting the top ten list of tallest buildings by floor count are 220 Central Park South by Robert A.M. Stern, One Manhattan Square by Adamson Associates and Dattner Architects, as well as the MoMA-adjacent 53W53 by Jean Nouvel. The residential project with the most apartments offered under construction is HTO Architects’ 22-44 Jackson Avenue, a controversial two-towered, 1,115-unit development that’s replacing 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens. The map also shows the stark differences between the construction corporations leading the market. Tishman currently has so many projects under its purview that together they span a total of around 15 million square feet in New York. Lendlease and Turner fall behind with 5.4 million and 4.8 million square feet, respectively. According to the data, 120 million square feet of apartment projects are underway, with five of the top ten residential projects with the most dwelling units going up in Queens alone. What this map doesn’t do, however, is zero in on how much residential construction is affordable. To find that out, you have to extrapolate from the data by looking at each project’s permit application on the DOB’s website. Having that information more easily available, maybe also as an interactive map, would be even more helpful to normal New Yorkers than a site that largely details the city’s tallest and most expensive buildings. All you have to do is walk outside and look up to know that.

Massachusetts projects open paths for women in construction

One way the casino industry in Massachusetts mandates diversity within its construction projects is by only giving gambling licenses to companies that use 6.9 percent female labor. According to a CNBC report, the opportunity to work on these multi-million dollar buildings as tradespeople is a lucrative way for women to get into construction. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires that all casino developers set diversity contracting goals and build strategic plans to work with minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned business. Throughout the design procurement and licensing processes, companies must keep and provide detailed records showing statistics on how they’re integrating these different groups into the business of building and operating the casinos. Two upcoming Massachusetts casinos, Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, have exceeded the commission’s hiring goals and are on track for setting precedents as models of diverse hiring strategies for construction projects in the United States. Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resorts development coming in June 2019 to the city of Everett, currently employs 328 women. That’s 7 percent of the total labor on site—a goal they hit in July. MGM Springfield, opening later this month, hired 7.5 percent skilled female labor laborers and boasted an all-female demolition crew during its initial construction phases. Women currently make up 3 percent of skilled tradespeople in the U.S. construction industry. These projects reveal that the male-dominated field can employ more women and well exceed the national average of female workers when governing bodies set strict standards for diversity and fairness. CNBC noted that Building Pathways, a nonprofit program that helps low-income people in Massachusetts access building trade apprenticeships and jobs in construction, hopes to make the construction industry workforce 20 percent female by 2020.

Opioids hitting construction workers hardest says new study

A new report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) revealed that nearly a quarter of opioid-related deaths over a four year period occurred among people in construction-related jobs. The Boston Globe noted that the pain and pressure associated with such highly-physical roles is an “overlooked hazard” of the job. The study looked at information from Massachusetts death certificates from 2011 to 2015 to figure out how many opioid overdoses resulted in death across various industries and occupations. Construction and extraction workers accounted for over 24 percent of all opioid-related deaths among the state’s working population. Both professions had an equally high rate with 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers and 1,096 fatal opioid overdoses out of 4,302 total deaths (with usable occupational information) in the state. Opioid overdoses occurring within the fields of agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting had the second highest rates of deaths while transportation, material moving occupations, maintenance and repair jobs, as well as service-related positions also reported significant fatality rates. The report infers that such deaths are higher among workers with jobs where the risk of a work-related injury or illness is high, and employees are often turning to prescription drugs to manage acute and chronic pain. Additionally, it stated that the fatality rate is higher in jobs that have less paid sick leave and substantially less job security. Men were also reported to suffer higher death rates from opioid misuse as opposed to women. The DPH said that further in-depth research needs to be done in order to clarify whether these complex factors as directly contributing to the opioid epidemic in the state of Massachusetts. According to the report, the state is committed to taking serious steps to address the issue by enacting education and policy interventions on overdose prevention and by improving workers' compensation systems. The DPH reported in May that opioid-related overdose deaths declined by an estimated five percent for the first three months of this year when compared to the first three months of 2017.  

Trump’s timber tariffs divide the construction industry

Last November, the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Trump announced an average of 21 percent import duties on Canadian timber products entering the U.S. The announcement was greeted with mixed reactions within the construction industry; builders claimed that the tariffs would increase the cost of construction, and American suppliers argued that the domestic timber industry would benefit, expand, and keep wood prices low. Single-family home construction in the U.S. relies heavily on Canadian softwood for roofing and framing. In 2017, Canadian lumber yards supplied 28 percent of the U.S. softwood lumber market, and home builders have been the first to raise concerns about the new duties, which were in effect by January. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) claims that the imposed tariffs have added approximately $9,000 to the cost of single-family homes and up to $3,000 on multi-family homes. The NAHB doesn’t believe U.S. domestic production is capable of meeting the current market demand and that the tariffs only hurt native manufactures by forcing them to increase their lumber prices. The NAHB is calling for the Trump administration to resume talks with Canada to secure a more mutually beneficial long-term agreement. David Logan, director of tax and trade policy analysis at the NAHB, says that historically, the U.S. lumber field has never been able to support rapid housing growth. “Buyers are still buying from the distributors they’ve always sourced from despite the tariffs,” he said. “Domestic lumber production has increased marginally in the last year, but it’s not kept up with the housing demand in terms of percentages, so it’s hard to say that we’re meeting the challenge. This has always been the case. We can’t meet that need...not even close.” Logan also argued that larger lumber companies in the U.S. are profiting unfairly from the deal, citing the Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, which owns 12.4 million acres of forest in the U.S. alone and manages 14 million acres in Canada, as well as West Fraser, a Vancouver-based company that operates 48 mills across both countries. The NAHB claims that these companies are able to reap the benefits of both markets under the current trade agreement and likely won’t be affected if things change again. “We say over and over again that we need predictable and stable supply. That means using Canadian lumber,” Logan said. “Diversification of operations in the biggest mills on both sides of the border has really hampered any progress towards talking further about this issue because they’re able to increase production and do well. Prices have been so high there’s not really room for anyone but the big players to have a seat at the table, whether they’re Canadian or American.” The U.S. Lumber Coalition (USLC) rejects these claims. “Since the duties were implemented," the USLC wrote in a statement last week, "U.S. lumber shipments have increased by about 1.4 billion board feet, roughly filling the gap left by the decrease of Canadian imports. U.S. companies continue to invest in expanding their production capabilities to mill lumber from American trees by American workers to build American homes.” Pleasant River Lumber, a small milling company based in Maine, isn’t experiencing the negative side effects that the NAHB claims is coming out of the current tariffs on timber. In fact, the company is on track to complete a $20 million expansion at two of its four sawmills in the next 18 months. As part of the USLC, Pleasant River Lumber sources 95 percent of its lumber within the state of Maine and takes a bit from New Hampshire and Canada as well. Owner Jason Brochu is pleased with the country’s newfound focus on local production and plans to take advantage of it. “Increased demand due to forest fires and hurricanes in other states, spiked prices from the duties, heightened transportation costs, and a strong housing market all factor in to establish a level playing field for lumber production in the U.S. right now,” said Brochu. “We can’t compete against the government or any larger mills without things being equal.” Pleasant River Lumber is capitalizing on the growing lumber market by adding 50 percent more capacity to its production facilities and hiring 40 new employees as quickly as possible. They plan to boost production of their dimensional lumber from 200 million to 300 million board feet annually with the upgraded equipment. More importantly, they’re investing in their framing mills to address the increased demand within the housing market. “We believe we’re pretty typical of most mills in the country at this time,” Brochu said. “Most mills in Maine specifically are adding shifts or putting more money into mills to increase volume. We’re confident that the duties protect our rights as producers in the U.S. and we feel like the laws are working the way they should.” Brochu also emphasized how “relatively insignificant” framing lumber is in housing construction. USLC said the same thing stating that lumber makes up only 2 percent of the cost of a new home—which in 2018 stands at $368,500.  Framing lumber isn’t the only wood material that’s used to construct new homes. Plywood, which has zero duties imposed on it, flooring, and other timber products are also increasing in price. New York-based specialty wood-product manufacturer Hudson Company said the niche wood market has been affected as well. Two of its most popular reclaimed-wood products, both of which feature Canadian imported lumber, have both been impacted dramatically, says owner Jamie Hammel. Sales of silver pine siding are down by 60 percent, while hand-hewn beams are down 40 percent. “The reason our business is not down by 60 percent,” he said, “is because we sell other things. But we've had to limit the amount of volume we import because of the tariffs and we’ve had to diversify our product line to adjust and will continue to do. We’ve had to source more products locally which I guess was the administration’s goal.” The timber tariffs against Canada were among the first official duties placed on another country by the U.S. government since Trump took office. In the ten years since the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) was established in 2006, the U.S. Commerce Department has allowed Canadian companies to sell lumber to the U.S. market at subsidized prices, lifting previously countervailing and anti-dumping duties as long as prices stayed above a certain figure. The SLA expired in 2015 and since then both countries have been unable to negotiate a new deal.   On behalf of the NAHB, Logan said that his organization doesn't foresee a new Canada-U.S. deal happening in the near future. “We don’t think the dialogue will reopen any time soon as long as the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations are ongoing. If history repeats itself...the last time this happened it took around 5 years to settle,” he said referring to the original SLA. “Hopefully I’m wrong and this is done very quickly. Until then, prices will maybe get a bit higher, but volatility will certainly increase.”

Philadelphia passes affordable housing tax on new construction, but it may not last

Philadelphia’s City Council narrowly approved a tax on new construction projects last Thursday, in a 9-to-8 vote that may not stand up to mayoral scrutiny. The measure would bring in about $22 million a year for affordable housing, but trade unions and developers are arguing that the tax would slow the city's economic growth. The one percent tax on new construction and significant redevelopments is part of a sweeping package aimed at boosting the city’s affordable housing tools. In a move to capitalize on Philadelphia's meteoric building boom, the fee would apply to projects of any scope and be paid when filing a building permit. Funds from the new construction tax would go into a Housing Trust Fund, which non- and for-profit developers could tap for construction or closing costs. A zoning change was also included in the measure, which would allow developers to increase the height and density of their projects in exchange for making 10 percent of their rental and condo units affordable. Opting into the zoning bonus would not preclude developers from also paying the new tax. “Affordable” units, in this measure’s language, would be open to households who have lived in Philadelphia for at least three years, and who make less than a combined $105,000 a year; 120 percent of the city’s median income. Not everyone is on board, and building trade unions, developers, businesses, and some affordable housing advocates around Philadelphia have come out against the tax on new construction. In a letter to the City Council’s finance committee ahead of a vote earlier in the month, trade unions came out swinging against the tax, arguing that it would dissuade Amazon from picking the city for its second headquarters. On the other end, affordable and low-income housing advocates feel the $105,000 income cap is too generous, and that the city should do more to tighten the requirements. Of course, the tax’s passage is far from assured. Sources within the City Council have reportedly indicated that Mayor Jim Kenney is likely to veto the bill over the rising pushback in a move similar to Seattle’s recent head tax controversy. The veto would be the first of Kenney’s career, and would require 12 City Council votes to override–far from a sure thing, considering the slim margin that the bill originally passed with.

Meet the incubators and accelerators fostering the next generation of architecture start-ups

Technology is developing at an exponential rate, and while architecture still moves significantly slower than the latest transistor, things are picking up. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) speaks to tech experts Craig Curtis of Katerra (Katerra’s approach could make factory construction a model for the future) to learn more about the revolutionary changes that are in the pipeline for the construction industry, and Dennis Shelden of the Digital Building Lab (Talking about our tech future with the Digital Building Lab) about how we've gotten to this point, and what's next. We also profile several incubators and accelerators behind some of the most influential design and AEC technology start-ups that promise to revolutionize the construction and architecture industries. AN profiled the following: The MINI-owned URBAN-X in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a younger incubator which leverages its assembled experts to guide startups through a semester-long program; Digital agency R/GA, long a major player in the advertising field, has carved out spaces in all of its offices for accelerator space and given startups an easy way to hit the ground running; ZeroSixty, a three-month design-and-technology-focused incubator program, was launched by Gehry Technologies to help bring disruption to the AEC industry; The one-stop shop Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which gives its members access to makerspaces, fabrication labs, and plenty of research space across a 60,000-square-foot campus; Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Laboratory, which has already released a suite of programs that architect's (especially those who use BIM) have already come to rely on; The advanced offices of the Autodesk BUILD Space, one of the company's best tools for keeping up with the rapidly changing worlds of architecture and design; and New Lab’s 84-000-square foot flagship collaborative tech hub in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The interviews and profiles were originally printed in our April 2018 technology issue.

At Lehrer, changes in construction practices requires a holistic approach to technology

If a company is looking to affect change in the AEC industry, where does it start? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are sexy (in a nerdy kind of way), but practical application is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. That intersection is where Dareen Salama, director of technical services at design and construction advisory firm Lehrer, LLC, found herself upon completing her Master of Science in Civil Engineering & Construction Management from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and entering the workforce. As the complexity of construction projects continues to grow due to advances in technology, Lehrer guides owners, developers and institutions through the process. “I started here in New York and realized [there’s a] divide between what is possible in terms of technology and what is really implemented in the industry,” she recalled. “So, then I took a step back and said, 'OK, so let’s keep machine learning and artificial intelligence on the side for now and kind of focus on the practical applications that are there.’” The project controls specialist concentrated her work on project management systems, building information modeling, project control systems, and other facets of the design and construction process to help implement new technologies within an industry that traditionally has been sluggish to adopt them.

Reaping the benefits of efficiency

The shift was pivotal. As Salama built the case for BIM, it opened the door to participate in many significant infrastructure projects across the country, including LaGuardia Airport, where she guided the Port Authority in implementing BIM and cloud-based systems to modernize its processes. After landing at Lehrer last year, Salama discovered “the real strength lies with the [building] owners. The owners have that holistic view of the full life cycle,” she explained. “They would reap the benefits of efficiency through design, construction, and facility management and operation. So that’s what Lehrer focuses on,” she said. Lehrer’s primary function is to advise clients engaged in major construction projects, but the firm’s view of a project doesn’t just begin with design and end with TCO or construction completion, however. “Aiding in delivering a beautifully-designed project within budget and schedule is a given—we are thinking beyond that, thinking about the end user, whether it is the person using the building as a resident, or the person running the building as the operator,” said Elissa Conners, marketing manager at Lehrer. “And that’s really where the data piece of leveraging the efficiency that is slowly but surely becoming mainstream in the industry in design and construction [comes in] and utilizing it to help optimize facilities, operations and maintenance when running the building.” Salama is currently involved in one of New York City’s major infrastructure upgrade projects at the Jacob K. Javits Center expansion, focusing on design, construction, and facility management to realize efficiencies through technology and innovation. Implementing technology in projects like the Javits Center and across the industry boils down to three things: technology, people, and process. “I think the industry is really facing challenges with all of that,” she noted. While many may argue technology has “arrived,” Salama disagrees as far as the AEC industry is concerned­. “The technology is out there in terms of concepts and algorithms and platforms that we use in anything else but construction,” she observed. While the industry continues to lag behind consumer electronics, for example, Salama sees growing interest from investors in startups that have emerged in the industry during the past year.

Cultural, process challenges are significant

The people variable presents an even more significant barrier to progress, not only from a hierarchical or cultural standpoint, but also in terms of attracting talent. Salama explains how on any given project, there may be 60 to 70 different companies involved, from the owner to the consultants and the subcontractors. As a result, “it’s quite difficult to change the culture throughout all these different companies and try to figure out technology that works for all of them given the duration that you have.” She notes that during the course of a three-year project, a third of that time may be spent attempting to get people on board with process and technology modifications. Additionally, she said, it’s rare to see young talent coming from computer science schools entering the AEC field. “It’s just not the go-to industry for top talent. They would definitely go in other directions,” she explained, adding that if technology graduates better understood the opportunity, the industry would be well-poised to attract them. Finally, altering construction practices requires much more than a surface-level application of new technologies—yet attempting to automate old processes is commonplace. Existing document standards, contracts, and specifications that function in the world of hard copies and standard contract delivery methods simply doesn’t translate well into cloud-based systems, BIM, and mobile apps, she noted. “It’s not an easy fix of, ‘Let’s just apply technology; let’s just buy this piece of software,’ which people are frankly looking for,” she said. “It’s not really about what you buy, but it has to be embedded in everything that you do: your people, your process, and then at the end, what you buy fits that world.”

Katerra promises to transform the construction industry without sacrificing design

“Every building shouldn’t be a one-off prototype.” That’s an underlying and provocative premise behind Katerra, a technology company that’s on a mission to optimize the way buildings are developed, designed, and constructed. Truth be told, the industry is primed for an overhaul. Construction companies traditionally invest less than 1 percent of revenue in new technologies—lower than every other major industry, according to the company’s literature. As a result, simultaneous productivity decreases and cost increases during the last several decades have created a quandary that requires fresh thinking and outside-of-the-box solutions. “The one thing that’s become very apparent is that—and this is typical in an up-cycle—it’s very difficult for architects and contractors to keep up with material costs, with cost escalation in these upturn markets,” explained Craig Curtis, FAIA, Architecture, Interior Design at Katerra. “And if you couple that with the fact that the skilled labor shortage is becoming more and more critical, where we’re headed right now as an industry I think is kind of a train wreck.” To help avert such a debacle, Katerra is completely rethinking the existing construction model and replacing it with technology, design, and supply chain innovations that aim to revolutionize the world of architecture and construction.

 The Silicon Valley Approach to Building

“What we’re trying to do is take on every aspect of the entire process as the Silicon Valley way of looking at an industry so that it’s not just focused on supply chain, which is where we started,” Curtis explained. “We’re really looking at from initial site concepts to own the process all the way through design, through component design, manufacturing drawings, offsite manufacturing, and final site assembly—the entire package all in one with one hand to shake.” [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyoTBNLaXAg] For those who cringe at the term “mass customization” and shudder at the thought of a skyline full of banal, indistinguishable prefabricated structures, take heart: Katerra is, at its core, a company in the business of preserving and improving the design process, rather than dismantling it. “We’re a design-first company here,” Curtis noted. “This is not a company that is producing cookie-cutter-looking buildings; the cookie-cutting part of what we’re doing is all stuff that can easily be redundant without affecting the beauty of the architecture,” he continued. “So, we’re really concentrating on making sure that everything we do allows for that customization of not only the experience inside, but also how the building fits into a particular culture or climate or place.” In other words, Katerra does not build prefabricated modules or completed hotel room pods, for example, and truck them down the highway on a flatbed. Rather, Curtis said the company takes a cue from global furniture giant IKEA to flat-pack building materials and interior components to improve logistics and reduce shipping costs. By doing so, it offers greater flexibility in the final look and feel of a building and allows architects to do more of what they do best—not less. “By optimizing a lot of the interior and the systems that are within these buildings, we’re actually finding that as architects, we have more time to spend instead of less time to spend on the thing that really matters and that’s: What does the building look like and how does it fit into a community?” Curtis said. “We’re not spending all that time redrawing bathrooms or mechanical systems or electrical layouts because that’s done; it’s repetitive. A lot of that work can be done in the computer,” he added.

Executing the Design

Katerra operates under another premise as well: “A transformative approach to building begins with design.” As such, the company developed a novel building system to strike a balance between standardization and configuration. Based upon a standard kit of parts, Katerra’s design system utilizes structural building components and curated interior products and finishes to create a multitude of elegant, custom configurations, according to company literature. Katerra’s BIM modeling links directly to its global supply chain through proprietary technology to ensure ease of ordering, tracking, and manufacturing. Its integrated logistic network, global product sourcing, and manufacturing teams reduce the number of suppliers and manufacturers, creating aggregate demand that establishes negotiating power to the benefit of clients.  The company’s end-to-end building process mimics the process of precision-sequenced product assembly, moving labor from the job site to its factories, promising improved schedule and product quality assurance. “We have customers who are very interested in having a partner who can create a more systemized approach to what they do and just streamline the process from the very beginning,” Curtis explained. “Instead of every single project being bespoke and starting with an entire new team, which is what the industry has been forever, we can become their partner and help them develop their systems, building tools, and custom assemblies suited for their operation and what they do and what they do well, and help them execute that faster and cheaper.”

Trump’s steel tariffs are already squeezing the construction industry

Less than two weeks after President Trump signed sweeping 25 percent steel tariffs and 10 percent aluminum tariffs into law, the construction industry is already smarting, according to a report by National Real Estate Investor. Although the tariffs exclude steel coming from Canada and Mexico (at the time of writing), interviews with developers and those in the construction industry suggest that some projects are already seeing steel increase in cost by up to 10 percent. The culprit is speculation about price increases six to twelve months down the line, after the full impact of the tariffs make themselves felt. The panic isn’t without precedent. A 21 percent tariff imposed on imported Canadian timber in November of last year, used in 25 percent of wood-framed projects in the U.S., led to a nationwide rise in construction costs for single and mid-family homes. Contractors were forced to raise their prices, cut back on their use of timber, switch to steel, or change the design of their homes to use less materials. Joe Pecoraro, a project executive at Chicago-based general contractor Skender, told National Real Estate Investor that a client developing affordable housing might be forced to delay their project if steel costs rose any further. “Uncertainty drives people to be very conservative, risk-averse. It is affecting our deals,” said Pecoraro. Ironically, domestic steel fabricators may be hit harder than international firms as a result of the tariffs only targeting raw steel. With costs rising for their raw materials, Engineering News Record has reported that some domestic fabricators have already lost jobs to competitors based in Canada and Mexico. 1.2 million tons of fabricated steel was produced in the U.S. with imported materials in 2017, which went towards building bridges, roads and buildings. Two days before President Trump signed the tariff order, the AIA had released a statement warning that rising material costs would lead to decreased project budgets and potentially stifle architectural innovation. It remains to be seen how the tariffs will affect the country’s building boom in the long term, but those in the steel industry are still onboard.