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Upending convention, design-build dorm pushes style

Upending convention, design-build
dorm pushes style

by ROB McMANAMY  | Oct 1, 2015

Not long ago, the classic rap on single-source project delivery was that it was only good for huge, cookie-cutter factories sited in the middle of nowhere. Fifteen years ago, when I edited Design-Build magazine for McGraw-Hill, I remember many in the design community still dismissed design-build as just not being a good fit for any project that required real style. Why? Because it inherently required just too much compromise and constant collaboration among the project team to ever accommodate the clashing egos and styles of our industry's eternal odd couple: the architect and the contractor.

Or so the theory went...

Today, that mindset has largely been changed by numerous successful collaborations in virtually every market. But perhaps the final nail in the coffin of that outdated stereotype is now being struck at the University of Chicago. There, no less a "starchitect" than Jeannie Gang is working with Mortenson Construction on a residential hall and dining commons complex, set to be completed next June. By all accounts, the project is going well and the all-star team of Mortenson Construction, Studio Gang Architects and the University's own capital projects office are getting along just swimmingly. Just two weeks ago, in fact, all parties convened on the South Chicago jobsite to celebrate reaching the halfway point in construction with a topping-off ceremony. 

With the foundations and reinforced concrete and steel structures for the three residence towers and the dining hall largely in place, Mortenson has begun installing the precast exterior walls and expects to have the buildings mostly enclosed before the first snow.

Leading up to the topping-off, Mortenson placed a steel beam painted white at the job site so university employees, administrators, architects, engineers and construction workers could sign it. At the topping off, those involved with the project gathered to watch Mortenson hoist the steel beam to the roof of the 15-story building, the tallest of the three residence towers.

 “We have set an aggressive schedule for completing the residence hall, and Mortenson is doing a great job of meeting the timetable,” says Eric Eichler, the university’s senior project manager overseeing the residence hall project. “Mortenson and Studio Gang submitted a very complex and ambitious building design in order to win our competition, and thus far the reality has met and sometimes exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

According to Mortenson, the biggest construction challenge so far has been installing a radiant heating and cooling system and other embedded features into the concrete floors. Mortenson created detailed drawings of where to place the radiant tubing and embeds before it built the concrete deck on each floor. The team constructed a plywood deck and installed a mat of reinforced steel. Workers then placed the radiant tubing, followed by another mat of rebar and slotted embeds for connecting the precast panels and curtain wall.  All radiant tubing was pressurized to verify the system was tight and to confirm no damage occurred during construction. Workers poured a 9-in. concrete deck to encase everything.

“From the beginning when we teamed up to bid on this project, the design-build team has shown its willingness to go the extra mile. Investing to build the physical mockup for testing, which has proven incredibly useful in helping to bring the design to life, rather than simply relying on a virtual one, is just one example,” says Todd Zima, design principal, Studio Gang.

 “The residence hall is a landmark project for the university and for Chicago, and it is a prime example of the type of partners and work that we seek out—exciting, challenging, complex, and designed to make a major contribution to improving the university, student life and surrounding community,” says Andy Frank, director of operations for Mortenson’s Chicago office and lead construction executive for the project.

Please click here for a video about the topping off



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