Tag Archives: Engineering

Working together better – a quiet construction trend

I’ve noticed a quiet trend over the last year: more and more teams are crediting each other on successful projects.

I’m not sure whether teams are actually collaborating more or whether they just say they

are. I don’t know if it’s related to the increasing use of integrated project delivery and more open bidding methods or if its culturally related to social media. But it’s happening. More and more people I talk to are highlighting the importance of different team members.

Sustainable design is inherently related to integrating. The whole point of green building is to cut down on waste and redundancies. The idea behind collaboration and working together, is that you accomplish that goal more efficiently.

Just to give you a few examples:

In December, I went to the AIA Seattle’s forum on IPD and wrote this story called “Form Right Team for Successful Construction Project.” The story condenses a big theme from the event, which is that the team is the most important element in creating good IPD projects. Speakers said more effort needs to go towards selecting team members for IPD projects, but the lessons seem to be worthwhile for any type of project.

Dave Kievet, group president of California operations for The Boldt Co., said all sorts of questions about experience, work ethic and outside interests are asked when a company hires a new employee.  But when a contractor is hired, very little time is spent on those issues. Instead, questions are about safety record, balance statements and licenses.

“You can have the best team assembled that can be absolutely destroyed by one bad apple on that team,” he said. “It’s the people that deliver a project, not the companies.”

The forum also highlighted the importance of working together to move through negative situations. Barb Jackson of California Polytechnic State University said she often counsels her IPD teams to have “you suck meetings” so everyone can clear the air. It’s better than dwelling on problems and letting them stifle a team, she said.

Last week, I toured this $56 million new water treatment plant in Anacortes. The team

Image by Katie Zemtseff
members were practically glowing with descriptions of each other (and these were real reactions – they weren’t just buttering me up). Fred Buckenmeyer, Anacortes public works director, said the camaraderie at project meetings is real. Matt Reynolds, assistant city engineer, said everyone has been fair with each other and works to solve problems when things go wrong, rather than place blame.

Brandt Barnes of MWW, the owner’s representative and construction manager, said all team members took a partnering approach to the project that they will be proud of for many years to come.

Todd Pike, project manager at Imco General Construction, said the construction process in general is becoming more open, due in part to the influence of new contracting methods like GC/CM and design-build. But he said being open is a conscious effort at Imco.  “You (can’t) miss one person… It’s a purposeful, intentional effort on all sides of the contract,” he said. “We don’t have to have a design-build contract or GC/CM contract to reach out and have this positive, open communication with the owners and the design team.”

Image courtesy SPU
Then in the Jan. 13 edition of the DJC here, I wrote about the “swale on Yale project.” The swale is an innovative public-private partnership, in which Vulcan contributed over $1 million to a city stormwater treatment project. The swale, once comple, will treat over 190 million gallons of stormwater per year that currently flows straight into Lake Union. Jason Sharpley, project manager with SPU, said both Vulcan and city team members went out of their way to work together, and put the good of the project above anything else. Team members included KPG, KPFF, The Berger Partnership and Runberg Architecture Group.

Now, it’s not like people have never talked about collaboration before. The difference is that more team members are talking about its importance. What do you think? Do you think this is a noticeable trend?


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King Street Station rehabilitation on track for platinum

This week, I toured King Street Station. For those of you who aren’t aware, the 1906-built-station is in the midst of a $50 million renovation. The project is absolutely, totally and utterly incredible.

The main thrust of the project is a much needed seismic renovation. Seriously, the tons of steel being put into this project are indescribable. But King Street Station is also a historic building and must be maintained as such. Once the rehabilitation is complete, it will be very sustainable: it’s on track to meet LEED platinum, up from a goal of LEED silver. Last year, the project’s sustainable efforts were honored by AIA Seattle with a gold level award from the What Makes It Green event. ZGF Architects is the architect. Sellen Construction is general contractor.

Obviously, the most sustainable thing about the project is the fact that it is a historic renovation of an old structure, which retains the embodied energy inherent in the building. But the team went much further. Geothermal wells in the building will likely provide all heating and cooling. The main waiting room will return to its 100-year-old state of being naturally ventilated. Incredible effort has been spent to save, clean and better old building materials. All of these elements will be detailed in a future DJC story.

For now, I’ll whet your interest with some photos of the space. As you can tell, I got to tour the inside of the clock tower, which is not part of the current project’s phase. However it is really cool. To see more photos of the clock tower or tour, follow my page on Facebook here. And if you haven’t voted for this blog yet as best of the web, please do so. For more info on that, see the post below.


The brown section above is original plaster work. The white part below is where the original plaster was ripped out and replaced mid-century. The white section will be renovated to match the brown section. All images copyright Katie Zemtseff.

This entryway has been hidden for decades. It will be cleaned up and opened to the public as part of the rehabilitation.

This is me behind one of the clock faces in the clock tower. This is not part of the current rehabilitation project (but it is awesome!)

Water pouring down a staircase that has been closed to the public for decades. It will be opened up as part of the project.
This is the office space on the station's third floor. In recent years, it has been the home of pigeons and dust.
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In a perfect world, what would our new waterfront look like?

If you’ve been paying attention, you know 2010 has been a pivotal year for Seattle’s waterfront.

In March, the city awarded a contract for seawall work, worth about $18 million, to a multi-disciplinary team led by TetraTech. At the same time, it sped up the schedule to redesign and redevelop its Central Waterfront Project

What the waterfront looks like today. Image courtesy Clair Enlow
. The timing will allow seawall and waterfront teams to spend more time working together.

Wednesday was the RFQ deadline for central waterfront work. A team is expected to be chosen by the end of September. The budget for design work over the first two years is expected to be about $6 million while the estimated budget for planning and design of the entire project is between $50 and $70 million. It got 30 proposals on the urban design/public space side.

Not to mention the process (or sometimes lack thereof) for the replacement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is crucial to how the city’s waterfront will be opened up.

Make no mistake about it, these projects combined will totally reshape our downtown. However, in all the hustle and bustle, it can be really hard to imagine just what that end result will be. Or what it is Seattleites want it to be.

If the city proceeds with the deep bore tunnel option, the goal is for the seawall to be done by the time the bored tunnel is complete, currently scheduled for 2016. Construction on the waterfront work could begin this same year.

The seawall may seem like the smallest of the three but how it is designed and managed will be incredibly important to the foundation of the other two projects. One big push is to create places along the waterfront for the public – for you and I – to interact with the water. Places that aren’t separated by physical walls but allow us to connect with water, the cultural backbone of our city.

In June, Bob Chandler, city program manager for the viaduct and seawall replacement, said the city is looking for a seawall that supports the waterfront while providing habitat value and creating space for people to interact with the water. “We have an opportunity,” he said. “We need to come up with an approach here that provides protection in a seismic event but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a 35-foot high straight wall. It doesn’t mean that at all.”

My question is – how do you envision this?

What should it look like? How do you want to interact with the water, related to the seawall? Once the seawall is complete, what would your optimal redeveloped waterfront look like? Sustainably, what should its function really be?

Rhodes, Greece. The old town at night. Could we get this kind of energy along our waterfront?
At the core of this is the need to get normal people to want to hang out on Seattle’s waterfront during evenings and on the weekend, rather than just visiting when family and friends come into town.

I recently spent my honeymoon in Greece and Turkey. In each city I visited on the water, there were vibrant spaces located along its edge. I couldn’t help wondering what it would take to create the same kind of energy in our city: a bustling mix of tourists and locals that waxes on until the early hours of the morning every day. In Greece and Turkey, the answer is built on history, combined with making these spaces centers of tourism and city life.

These are a lot of questions, often without answer. Part of the point of the design process is to come up with that answer, and there will be a number of opportunities to participate in the formal process. One will be a meeting with teams shortlisted for the central waterfront design work at Benaroya Hall on Sept. 15 – mark your calendar. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Rushing celebrates new (hopefully) LEED platinum space

On Thursday, Seattle-based Rushing hosted an open house for its new workspace. The mechanical and electrical engineering, and sustainability consulting firm, has moved to the third floor of 1725 Westlake Ave N., and is currently awaiting a LEED platinum certification for commercial interiors. In case you missed it, I’ve got some photos of the space – and the event – for you below.


Inside view of the space


Rae Anne Rushing in her new office


The ceiling


A wall of the different LEED points the space has targeted

Rushing also made handy little booklets that outline all the credits Rushing (again hopefully) achieved for LEED platinum. Each page in the booklet explains what Rushing did for each credit. For example, under Energy Use Measurement and Payment Accountability, the boooklet says Rushing installed submetering equipment to measure and recod gas and electricity use in the space. It also says a lease was negotiated where energy costs are paid by Rushing, and not paid in base rent.

Close up view of a couple LEED points
The food you missed!
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Is this the future of solar?

Wired magazine’s Wired Science blog had a great post recently about Solyndra, a three-year old company that makes very out of the ordinary solar panels indeed. Instead of the typical panel we know and love (or hate) that are flat and mounted up towards the sun, these solar cells are cylindrical and look like a long tube. They also contain no silicon.

The panels are marketed towards offices. According to Solyndra’s Web site, wind blows through the tubes so no rooftop anchoring is required, making them a cost-effective business solar solution (wow, what a mouthful!) So far, the company says it has $1.2 billion in multi-year contracts in Europe and the U.S.

 For more information, see the Wired  post here. Or visit the New York Times here.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
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Are heated, unvented crawlspaces really a good idea?

This post is by Gary Nordeen of the Washington State University Extension Energy Program.

Building your new house with a heated and unvented crawlspace seems to be the fashionable thing to do lately. Read any energy magazine, website or ask an energy expert and they will talk about the merits of this construction method. The question is, “Are conditioned crawlspaces better than vented crawlspaces in every climate zone including the Pacific Northwest?” I say no and here is why.
Do you really want this under your floor?
Do you really want this under your floor?
This issue has been discussed for as long as I have been in this business – over 20 years. The unvented crawlspace bandwagon really gained traction after an excellent study of a test house in the Southwest was published by Advanced Energy. To see it, click here and look under “Princeville Field Study Final Technical Report”.

Essentially what it documented is when you have a vented crawlspace in a warm, humid climate the floor framing is prone to rot. In this climate, your house is often being mechanically cooled (which also cools the crawl space), warm, humid air enters the crawlspace through the vents and condenses on the cold framing members. Eventually the house may develop rot and mold problems. I agree in this climate scenario that closed crawlspaces are a great idea to maintain structural integrity. Also, if there are ducts in the crawl space, any duct losses are now contained inside the building. Note the radon differences between the two crawlspaces and keep in mind that Princeville, NC is considered a low risk radon location by EPA.

Since this construction method is catching on nationally, WSU Energy Program received funding to test houses in our state to determine if this is the way to go in the Pacific Northwest. Here is a description of the results from David Hales, Lead Researcher on this project:

“We’ve recently completed research on sealed and vented crawlspaces in the Pacific Northwest. The results are not yet published but based on our experience with four homes in Vancouver and four in Moses Lake that we monitored for about 18 months, the sealed crawlspaces (without supply air but power vented to the outside) maintained very stable temperatures through the entire heating season in the 55 to 60 degree range. The crawl should be kept negative to the house. Based on tracer gas studies we found that in the typical vented crawl, approximately 40% of the house air came from the crawlspace in the winter. By power venting a sealed crawl (50 cfm 24/7 in 1000ft2) less than 6 percent of the house air came from the crawl. Because of higher dilution rates and additional factors radon levels at both sites were less than 2 piC/l in the vented crawls but at the same sites radon levels were from 12-16 piC/l (EPA states radon mitigation should happen when a house has radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter or higher) in the sealed crawls. From an energy standpoint there is a small penalty overall for the sealed crawl that gets worse if you actually add supply air to the space. If a cold floor is your primary concern, I would insulate the floor and not provide heat to the crawl. Over the life of the building this would be the most cost effective way to maintain a warm floor.

Based on this research we are preparing to make a recommendation to the Building Code Council that would allow conditioned crawls under some circumstances. However, in most areas of the Northwest they incur an energy penalty and an added expense that I don’t think is really justified. Some jurisdictions have been allowing them but a strict interpretation of the WA State Energy Code does not. I believe that if they are done they should be power vented to the exterior and should not have conditioned supply air directly introduced. I also think they should not use fiberglass batts for the perimeter wall insulation. Radon mitigation is a must.”

The power vented crawl may have an advantage from an IAQ perspective because as our testing showed, it is possible to substantially reverse the winter time stack effect and decouple the house from any contaminants that may be in the crawl. The problem with this is that it requires the continuous operation of an exhaust fan. If the fan fails and is not replaced, the IAQ may actually become worse because the air now entering the house does not benefit from the passive dilution that takes place in the vented crawl.

So it seems that from an energy efficiency and indoor air quality perspective unvented crawl spaces are not a benefit here but let’s not forget about the ducts. If you have ducts in a crawl space they leak – it’s just a matter of how much. Here’s a radical concept. Instead of moving your house around your ducts, why don’t you design your house with the ducts inside your house? Then duct leakage is not a problem. If you can’t get them inside your house make sure they are sealed well (with mastic, NOT duct tape) and test them with a DuctBlaster.
Finally, here is a statement we hear a lot: “I have a water problem in my crawl space so I’m going to seal it up and heat it.” 
 Fix the water problem or you will end up with a science project under your floor.

Readers, do you agree with Gary?

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More images of ‘net zero’ townhouses underway in Issaquah

After a tumultuous year, the zHome project has started off on a new foot with its Monday groundbreaking. The project is a 10-unit townhome development in the Issaquah Highlands that uses smart design and technology to create all the energy it consumes. It plans have net zero carbon emissions and cut water use by 60 percent.

I first wrote about the project last December here when Noland Homes was the

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
builder on the project and planned to develop it at its own cost. A lot has changed since then: namely Noland dropped out and Howland Homes came on (and will develop it at its own cost). But the project has finally broken ground and, as Brad Liljequist, zHome project manager for the city of Issaquah, says in the project’s inaugual blog post (yes it has a blog here) it “takes my breath away a little bit” to be at this stage in the project’s life.

zHome has a nifty Web site that can answer all and any of your questions from what materials are being used to how they’re doing it to how to buy into it. For more information, visit it here.

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
This solar panel from the groundbreaking comes wrapped in a bow!








The latest rendering



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AEC jobs are changing because of green, growth group is launched, more!

Readers, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a couple days here, but like I mentioned in an earlier post, September is CRAZY. Tuesday, that craziness was exemplified by my calendar, which had me rushing from the Urban Land Institute’s launch of the Quality

Busy, busy times!
Growth Alliance in downtown Seattle, to a panel discussion (that I moderated) in Bellevue, and back to our offices in Pioneer Square to write up the story. Whew.

In case you missed both those events (and the recommendations put out by the Western Climate Initiative to boot) here is a rundown for your viewing pleasure:

The Quality Growth Alliance. Anyone remember Reality Check in April? The huge event that got 250 big-wigs playing with Legos? At that event (DJC story on it here), I spoke with Jim Potter of Kauri Investments who told me it was a great planning exercise as long as the results didn’t fade away into the sunset. Well the alliance is the attempt of prominent groups – from the UW’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning to NAIOP – to make sure the results stick around and influence future planning policy. More info in my story in today’s DJC or at their Web site.

The Panel Discussion. In case you missed this one, it was a lot of fun. Hosted by SMPS, panelists represented various fields of the AEC community (architecture, engineering, construction) and were Eric Anderson of MulvannyG2, Jeffrey Cox of Triad Associates, Rae Anne Rushing of Rushing and Yancy Wright of Sellen Construction Co. Among some of the interesting tidbits:

  • Collectively, panelists said sustainable or green design is changing so quickly, that as soon as you read about it, it’s old. If you want to know what’s going on you need to work to educate yourself. This is true for everyone, and especially for marketers.
  • Marketing and public relations professionals, they said, need to be really careful about sounding really stupid. Oftentimes they (and I incidentally) get press releases that virtually make no sense. If you’re going to write about green systems or projects, understand it, otherwise you run the risk of major embarrassments (I can’t tell you how often I get press releases that tell me a product will get me 10 “Leeds” points).
  • Green building doesn’t have to be more expensive if you start from the beginning and have the right leaders on board. If you start thinking about integrative design and green systems midway through a project, there’s a good chance it’s going to be more expensive.
  • Everyone needs to be on board with green building, even those who have been in the industry for many years and are hesitant to change the way they work. Panelists said they need all disciplines at an eco-charette and that bringing and open mind really, really helps.
  • Definitions aren’t clear and because everyone has different definitions…. it’s hard to understand what a word, be it ‘eco-charette,’ ‘sustainability’ or ‘integrative design,’ means to a specific person. Define those definitions for your project, or your company.

Western Climate Initiative. And don’t forget yesterday’s announced recomendations by the Western Climate Initiative for a regional cap and trade system. If you want to learn more about this one, read the Seattle Times or the PI.

Also, if you’re looking for an interesting way to fill your Thursday evening, Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten will speak at the downtown Seattle Library at 5:30.

That’s all for today folks. If I don’t thank you enough, thanks for reading!

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