Tuesday, January 13, 2009

At web sites of engineering and facade firms working on arena, some stale information (and a hint about "value engineering")

Well, just as Heartwood Studios was recently spotted with stale renderings related to the Atlantic Yards arena, two other firms related to the arena project offer some out-of-date details on their web sites, plus a hint that "value engineering" related to the arena may be coming on the late side.

Take for example the Brooklyn arena page on the web site of Front, a New York-based facade-engineering-and-design consultancy that has worked on numerous major projects and was the subject of a lengthy profile last June in the New York Times Magazine.

Completion 2009?

Given that the arena completion date is listed as 2009, and the four of five images are from 2006 (the colorful thumbnail on the left is from 2005), it's a good bet the page was prepared in 2006 or 2007. The official arena opening date is now 2011, but I think 2012 is a more likely best-case scenario.

The image highlighted above did not appear in the 2006 image gallery, but certainly looks like a cousin. (NLG's Lumi Rolley suggests it wasn't released because its street-level scale would've alarmed people.)

Front apparently does not update its web site all that often; after all, it lists the Brooklyn Public Library's canceled Visual and Performing Arts Library as one of its projects.

Curious detail: a February 2007 version of Front's Brooklyn arena page, courtesy of the Internet Archive, lists Permasteelisa as the Facade Contractor on the project, though no such contractor is currently listed. Value engineering? A step back?

The services engineer

Front's web site lists other participants in the project. While the names Forest City Ratner, Gehry Patners, Turner construction, and Thornton-Tomasetti were previously well-known, the role of services engineer Flack + Kurtz was new to me.

The company, now known as WSP Flack + Kurtz, is "assisting Forest City Ratner and architect Frank Gehry Partners, LLP with the master planning for the site as well as the MEP/IT systems design." MEP [corrected], by the way, stands for mechanical, electrical, plumbing and information technology.

The firm's Barclays Center web page states that completion is "scheduled for 2010," which suggests that the timetable was adjusted in late 2007 or early 2008, because only then did developer Forest City Ratner begin to acknowledge that 2009 was no longer likely.

Oddly enough, however, the cost of the arena is set at $555.3 million, which is a figure from September 2005, while the figure $637.2 million was announced in December 2006, at a time when the arena completion date was actually 2009.

So WSP Flack + Kurtz hasn't been paying full attention to this web page, perhaps because work is very delayed. The company has done a lot of work for Forest City Ratner, including the New York Times Building.

De-value engineering?

For those wondering about the concept of value engineering, WSP Flack + Kurtz offers its description:
Our philosophy is to identify realistic building system design criteria and the potential costs associated with making those criteria more stringent to determine the potential cost savings associated with relaxing certain criteria.


The firm offers an elaboration, with a warning about timing:
Value Engineering is most effective when it occurs during the conceptualization of a project, when design criteria are established and system concepts are developed to satisfy criteria.

Examples of design criteria and their impact are:

* Levels of redundancy which impact the quantity and size of equipment and distribution strategies
* Environmental conditions which affect the size and capacity of central equipment and distribution systems
* Energy/life cycle performance which affect the cost and perhaps size of the equipment
* Acoustics which affect construction techniques and materials; etc.

Once prudent and practical design criteria are established, together with appropriate budgetary allowances, the design should be able to be executed which satisfies both the criteria and the budget. The design and budget are then validated at the completion of Schematic Design and Design Development, however, by the end of Design Development, the systems and budget should be well established and fixed.

When "value engineering" occurs at the end of Construction Documents we consider it to be "de-value engineering". At this stage of the design process, there is the least opportunity to optimize the overall design, including architecture, structure, etc.. At this stage changes to systems or concepts usually impose major disruption to the design schedule, and potentially the construction schedule.

With our philosophy, the overall design concepts, including architecture, structure, and MEP, are optimized for the available budget so that the best value is achieved in an integrated fashion for the construction dollars expended.

(Emphasis added)

Well, the arena may not have reached the end phase of Construction Documents, which describe the design, location, and physical characteristics of building elements needed to convey to the contractor precisely what to build.

However, the arena is surely no longer in the conceptualization phase, when "value engineering" is most helpful, according to the firm.

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