Posts tagged with "Katerra":

Katerra acquires Lord Aeck Sargent as expansion continues

Fresh on the heels of design/build company Katerra’s acquisition of timber-oriented West Coast firm Michael Green Architecture (MGA) less than two weeks ago, the $3 billion construction company has now added the Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS) to its impressive portfolio. The additions of MGA and LAS, a studio founded in 1989 that offers a full suite of landscape architecture, interior design, architecture, and urban planning services with an emphasis on sustainability, has doubled Katerra’s design staff. The move is a prudent one for Katerra as it expands its architecture licenses to 31 states, along with British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. LAS has experience working in nearly every type of project, from academic to mixed-use to multi-family housing; as Katerra expands the types of modular, kit-of-parts buildings it offers (and with $1.3 billion in projects already under development), this expertise will likely help production move along more smoothly.

“By aligning ourselves with a company that is disrupting the design and construction industry, Lord Aeck Sargent will help deliver high-quality design to more people throughout a broader geographic range,” said LAS president Joe Greco in a press release. “We look forward to breaking new ground with a company that is poised to transform and optimize the industry. Katerra shares our vision of the power of design, innovation and technology, and a desire to deliver high-quality projects.”

Interestingly enough, LAS is the second advisory firm from Katerra's design consortium, formed in 2017, to be purchased by the technology company. It remains to be seen if Katerra will also try to acquire Lake|Flato or Leers Weinzapfel Associates in the future.  

Katerra acquires Michael Green Architecture as it expands into the timber market

Unicorn design/build company Katerra is continuing its impressive expansion from start-up to $3 billion tech-and-construction giant with the recent acquisition of Vancouver’s Michael Green Architecture (MGA). The Canadian architecture studio is known for pushing the boundaries of timber construction (including some of the largest mass timber buildings in the U.S.), and Katerra reportedly wants to use their expertise to bring down construction costs as well as better understand the material. The key to Katerra’s success lies in its vertically integrated business model; the company moves its projects through a single pipeline and handles everything from design, to engineering, to construction, using prefabricated modules to standardize the process. With $1.3 billion in projects under various stages of development–many of which are already framed with mass timber–the company is constantly searching for ways to optimize its production. Before acquiring MGA, Katerra was already hard at work building out their 250,000-square-foot cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel factory in Spokane, Washington. MGA had been an early adopter in the mass timber construction game, and the firm, jointly based in Portland, Oregon, as well as British Columbia, has continued to push timber towers taller. Joining Katerra, was for the 25-person studio, a natural progression according to founder Michael Green. It also happens to align the weight and financing of a major Silicon Valley player behind the studio. “Two values convinced me to join with Katerra,” Green told Vancouver magazine, “addressing our impact on the climate and making good architecture affordable. This acquisition gives us the opportunity to address both of those issues at scale.” Through the use of mass customization (using a kit of parts to design distinct buildings instead of a “one size fits all” modular approach) and mass timber, Katerra is hoping to lower its construction costs by up to 30 percent. While land prices are typically the largest slice of the development cost pie, Katerra is bringing down both its material as well as labor costs. But the choice was about more than that, according to Katerra's head of architecture, Craig Curtis. In order for the company to continue expanding, it would need to bring aboard more design talent, and MGA has had experience with timber buildings of all scales. On MGA's side, Katerra won't be fully consuming their practice, and the firm will still handle a stable of its own projects independently.

Katerra’s approach could make factory construction a model for the future

Some of the most fruitful innovation in the AEC industry right now lies in the realm of factory-built buildings. Whether they include experiments with prefabrication, mass-timber construction, or modular components, architects are increasingly working with building assemblies that are fabricated off-site and under controlled conditions. And while some designers work in these modes on a one-off basis, a new crop of technology-focused, end-to-end construction service firms have sprung up that can take a project from idea to finished building all on their own, including construction and fabrication. Established in 2015, Katerra is one of the firms that are shifting how buildings get designed and built in the United States by pioneering a hybrid business model that combines prefabrication with mass-customization. The Menlo Park, California–based company is a relative newcomer in the field, but with over $1.3 billion in projects and an expanding nationwide presence, Katerra is poised to make factory construction a thing for the future. AN’s West editor Antonio Pacheco spoke to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, to discuss its business model, examine how the company integrates technology into its workflow, and delve into the firm’s new project types. The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you tell us what Katerra does? Craig Curtis: Katerra is an end-to-end construction and technology service company that applies systemic approaches to remove unnecessary time and costs from building design and construction. Our services include architecture and engineering, interior design, materials supply, construction management and general contracting, and renovation. What are some of Katerra’s short- and long-term goals? Since the company’s founding three years ago, Katerra has accomplished a significant amount: We have more than $1.3 billion in bookings for new construction spanning the multifamily, student and senior housing, hospitality, and commercial office sectors. [During this time] our global team has grown to more than 1,400 employees and we also opened a manufacturing facility in Phoenix and started construction on a mass timber factory in Spokane, Washington. Going forward, we are focused on delivering the projects in our pipeline, bringing our Spokane factory online in early 2019, and continuing to build out additional domestic factories like the one in Phoenix, where we fabricate building components. We will also continue to expand and improve Katerra’s technology platform, which underpins our vertically integrated model. What does it mean to use a “systems approach” with regard to building design and project delivery? Katerra’s model uses technology and end-to-end control throughout all levels of design, development, and construction. By moving from individual project thinking to a systems approach, we deliver greater precision, higher productivity, and improved quality control. With design, we combine product standardization with customization. This provides the efficiency of manufacturing without sacrificing design freedom. Through our global supply chain of curated, high-quality products, we eliminate middlemen, passing savings directly to our clients. We also integrate Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools and computational design with our global supply chain infrastructure. So, plans go directly from design to the factory floor and to the construction site. Materials and products arrive at our construction sites on time and ready to install. As a result, the activity at a Katerra construction site more closely resembles a process of precision-sequenced product assembly than traditional construction. Speaking generally, how much time does Katerra’s business model shave off a project timeline compared to traditional project delivery? In 2018, we are beginning construction on the first series of fully optimized buildings designed by Katerra. This particular building type is a three-story suburban product for workforce housing. We anticipate being able to achieve up to a 40 percent reduction in project schedule for these projects, providing significant benefits to our customers. As we develop similar tools for other market sectors, we anticipate significant schedule reductions, with the percentage dependent on the complexity of the building type. What are some of the innovative technologies Katerra employs from a design, fabrication, or construction point of view? A great example is our use of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). We add RFID tags to all the components fabricated in our manufacturing factory. These tags are accessible from mobile devices either on the production floor or in the final assembled product at the job site. Each RFID is linked to an archived file showing the entire assembly of the selected component, including video of each step in the manufacturing process. With this RFID technology, enclosed wall panels can be delivered to the job site, allowing local building inspectors and third-party verifiers to perform virtual framing and air sealing inspections. Application of RFID is just one of many ways Katerra is using technology to drive down costs, improve quality, and deliver a superior customer experience.

Can mass timber help California build its way out of the housing crisis?

If California’s gubernatorial candidates are to fulfill their ambituous goal of adding up to 3.5 million new housing units across the state over the next eight years, new efforts will need to be undertaken to streamline and reform the state’s sagging construction industry—Could this effort create an opening for mass timber construction to take hold in the Golden State? It might, and here are a few reasons why. For one, there’s a growing push for new urban housing in California that could soon make the mid-rise apartment the state’s quintessential dwelling type. There’s strong reason to believe that if proposed regulatory changes go as planned, cities in the state could see a flowering of the kinds of four- to eight-story multi-family structures mass timber excels at delivering. With construction times running 15 to 20 percent faster than conventional building, there’s a potential mass timber technologies could help bring new units online very quickly, especially if minimum dwelling standards are set and municipalities streamline permitting and approval. Secondly, mass timber is becoming more widely-accepted as a building approach, reflecting a growing awareness of its inherent structural and fire-safety benefits. The nascent industry is cheering recent changes to the 2021 version of the International Building Code that will allow mass timber construction for structures up to 18-stories high. The shift could bring down the cost of building dense housing in the medium-sized city centers—downtown Long Beach, Glendale, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland, for example—where lots of growth could happen but has so far been lacking. At these heights, it’s possible mass timber buildings could be more affordable to build than conventional structures while still delivering the height and structural resilience formerly only possible through concrete and steel frame construction. With San Francisco and L.A. building out larger transit systems and the state’s high-speed trail line on the way, it will be important to add high density nodes throughout the state to meet climate and housing goals. Cory Scrivner, a mass timber specialist with Structurlam, explained via email that with the coming changes to IBC and looming reforms to local zoning, “The market for mass timber will be growing significantly over the next few years.” With disruptive and new tariffs on foreign-grown softwood and imported steel and aluminum, its possible there could be further financial incentives to build structures made from regionally-grown timber, as well. Katerra, a Menlo Park, California-based construction technology and services start-up, is busy constructing a 250,000-square-foot factory in Spokane, Washington where it will produce mass timber products including cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. The company, which seeks to bring many aspects of the construction process—design, engineering, materials, manufacturing, and assembly—under one name while also modernizing the construction trades, is well-poised to play a role in California’s housing recovery. The company—which already has a functioning factory in Arizona—is growing, having just received a boost of $865 million in investment capital as it seeks to build out its network of regional manufacturing facilities Furthermore, because mass timber manufacturing is typically performed indoors with fewer workers and in advance of job site installation, mass timber construction also potentially holds the promise of side-stepping the state’s vexing shortage of skilled construction workers, one of the many unsolved structural repercussions of the Great Recession. According to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra’s architecture unit, the company’s factory-focused business model means that fewer—and differently-trained—workers are required on site. Instead of hammering nail to wood on a desolate job site, Katerra’s equipment operators and workers produce interior and exterior wall panels, roof truss assemblies, floor systems and countertops, among other building components in a factory. On-site, a crane and a well-trained team of workers assemble each new building in a fraction of the time compared to normative building practices. Curtis said over telephone, “[Addressing California’s housing crisis] is exactly the type of problem we are trying to solve—everyone deserves to live in a well-designed home delivered at an affordable price point.” And lastly, because each mass timber assembly is made to order, the so-called “mass-customization” potential of mass timber construction could also be a boon for the urban character of cities and residents alike, potentially resulting in a rich variety of building approaches and unit types. Might this variable approach even do away with the dreaded “stucco box?” Only time will tell. California’s housing shortage is a watershed event several generations in the making that will require proportional measures if it is to be adequately addressed. Given current understanding of what the mass timber industry is capable of producing, a rising wave of zoning reform, and growing funding sources for affordable housing construction, it might be time for municipalities and developers alike to take a look at this new building technology.