On the fast track
It is often said that time is money. Nowhere is this adage more applicable than on a construction site, where staying within a budget requires up-to-the-minute accuracy from the first architectural sketch to installation of the last stainless steel rotule. Yet, no matter how diligently architects and contractors plan ahead, watch the clock and count their pennies, complications can arise and interfere with even the best-drawn plans.
When the architects at Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce of Winston-Salem, N.C., approached my company, Novum Structures, with a tight budget and an even tighter deadline for an elaborate transportation terminal to serve the International Home Furnishings Center in High Point, N.C., we knew staying within these bounds would be a challenge. WRC&P needed to design and build a 78,406-square-foot seven-canopy space frame structure for $4.95 million, and it needed to be completed in 30 percent less time than the norm. A demanding charge to be sure, but not impossible with thoughtful planning and supervision.
WRC&P officials contacted my company early on for assistance in developing a single-source design concept that included the columns, support structure, glazing and gutter system. Though this municipal job would require competitive bidding later on, we pledged to provide complete design, budgeting and material selection services as required. Perhaps most importantly, we guaranteed the budget at the project’s earliest stages and then gave the architect pricing feedback for the complete scope throughout design. We had established our single-source reputation with projects such as the General Motors Headquarters and the Wrigley’s Global Innovation Center in Detroit, and the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wis. Architects at WRC&P knew we could ask the right questions, understand their answers and deliver on our promise.
Novum worked closely with WRC&P, helping deliver the architect’s design, time and budgetary goals using our systemic design approach. We developed this method over time as a means of engineering and constructing fast-track projects, like the Coca Cola Olympic City—a 15,000-square-foot glazed structure we designed and built in eight weeks for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Experiences such as this reinforced the importance of using systems and automation to increase productivity and contain costs without harming the aesthetic.
So far the approach has paid off for the High Point transportation terminal. We finished Phase One—the three eastern canopies—on time and on budget. We are on track to deliver Phase Two—the four western canopies—as promised.
Transforming sketches into geometry
A well thought-out vision and careful planning are necessary from the start for exacting projects like High Point. Architects from WRC&P knew the terminal would have to meet the basic functional needs of a bus depot: providing shelter, proper drainage and a place to put up signs mapping the Red and Green Lines. But elegance and innovation were equally important. The furniture market terminal needs to make a brilliant first impression on the 75,000 interior designers, furniture industry buyers, exhibitors and sales representatives who converge on the IHFC each year for the world’s largest wholesale home furnishings show.
This push and pull of beauty and budget created a level of design tension for Wesley Curtis, partner and senior architect at WRC&P. With a conventional design approach and an initial budget of $85 to $95 per square foot, Curtis felt compelled to consider an inexpensive, lower-grade fiberglass or polycarbonate material for the translucent glazed roof. The result, however, would have been an industrial-grade, unfinished look.
Curtis shared Novum’s engineers’ concerns about the longevity and durability of some of those products. So he gave us a green light to explore other options; ones that would preserve his goal of a polished, upscale design, allow in as much light as possible despite shade from neighboring buildings and not break the bank.
Working quickly, Novum engineers produced in five days a comprehensive structural geometry of a factory-finished structure that featured a high-end point-supported structural glass lid. We recommended—and WRC&P adopted—using 53,515 square feet of a high quality laminated glass material with a milky-white-colored poly vinyl butyral interlayer to provide the desired translucency. We offset the added expense by eliminating the costly support purlins that less expensive translucent materials require. We used glass structurally, supporting each panel at four points above each node of the space frame system.
“They were very helpful in taking our concepts and giving thoughts about what the industry can do, what limitations there might be and technical guidelines,” Curtis says. “Whenever there were issues, Novum worked with us to provide cost-effective solutions.”
Choosing and using systems
Given the budget and time constraints, we knew the only way to meet High Point’s construction objectives was to use systems and highly automated engineering. We selected a point-supported glass system for glazing and Kugel Knoten, or KK-System, as the support structure.
Novum’s PSG, or point-supported glass, system provides a mullion-less design that minimizes the number of glass-support points and maximizes the frame’s transparency. Our classic three-dimensional space frame KK-System provides excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Structural glass spans the KK-System node to node, and a simple four-legged spider glazing arm links the two systems, helping to simplify the integration of cladding and structure. The result is a structure connected by concealed fasteners that eliminate costly welding, while allowing a refined, factory finish.
Despite having only a small amount of information during the project’s early stages, our in-depth involvement in the process allowed us to guarantee a budget. After careful collaboration with the architect and thoughtful material and system selection, we produced a design that met the architect’s visual aspirations, while respecting the project’s monetary limitations.
After months of collaborative design and construction drawing development by Novum and WRC&P officials, the architect advertised for general contractors to bid on the project. At this point the city released the bid package, containing all the drawings, specifications and general conditions. When we received the package we learned that the municipality of High Point included a “Buy American” clause. Novum’s original budget unfortunately had included international sources that could deliver high quality at a price lower than many American suppliers.
We quickly rescoped the project using domestic suppliers. While the initial revised estimate was $500,000 more than our original budget, we worked with the bidding general contractors to look for alternative glazing installers. We ultimately were able to whittle the overages down until they fell within the total construction budget.
Supervising each piece of glass
The project broke ground July 17, 2006. High Point’s eight-month timeline offers little room for mistakes or do-overs. For this reason, it is critical that the architect is able to depend on someone to supervise and take responsibility for construction of each of the terminal’s 1,238 pieces of glass, 240 tons in total. Novum’s presence on the job site means the general contractor, New Atlantic Contracting of Durham, N.C., always has a technical expert on hand to answer questions or anticipate problems during project execution.
“High Point was challenging because the project would not allow any time extensions at all because of the furniture market,” says Frank Harris, project manager at New Atlantic Contracting. “Novum worked the extra hours, brought in additional crews and [made] sure the schedule was maintained. The owners are very happy.”
Phase One was completed Sept. 30. Phase Two construction began Dec. 1 with completion scheduled in March 2007.
Wesley Curtis, partner and senior architect, Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce, 305 West Fourth St. P.O. Box 20275 Winston-Salem, NC 27120, 336/725-1371
Frank Harris, project manager at New Atlantic Contracting Inc., 616 Simpson Calhoun Road, Greensboro, NC 27455, 336/644-7534