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December 1, 2012

Big Decision on Desalinated Water
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

The largest drinking water desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere just got approved. The San Diego County Water Authority agreed to purchase 50M gallons of water each day from Poseidon Resources LLC. The $984M project will serve about 7% of the Authority’s water needs.

San Diego currently brings water from Northern California and the Colorado River via hundreds of miles of aqueducts. They pay about .33 cents per gallon for that water. They agreed to pay twice that amount for the desalinated water.

Why pay more? The Authority believes this plant will provide drought protection and that the cost of  water will increase substantially in the future. Many bond investors must agree, because Poseidon Resources LLC has sold the bonds which will finance the plant.

This type of big thinking helped make America great. It’s good to see folks taking on substantial projects. Let’s hope the construction managers are able to hold to their budgets and the technology works. If you want to know a bit more about the process, check out Desal 101.


November 25, 2012

Design Me a Dog House
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

In a Letters of Note story, Frank Lloyd Wright received the following letter in 1956.
Dear Mr. Wright

I am a boy of twelve years. My name is Jim Berger. You designed a house for my father whose name is Bob Berger. I have a paper route which I make a little bit of money for the bank, and for expenses.

I would appreciate it if you would design me a dog house, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house. My dog’s name is Edward, but we call him Eddie. He is four years old or in dog life 28 years. He is a Labrador retriever. He is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this dog house is for the winters mainly. My dad said if you design the dog house he will help me build it. But if you design the dog house I will pay you for the plans and materials out of the money I get from my route.

Respectfully yours,

Jim Berger

After some back and forth, the Master designed Eddie’s dog house. It was the smallest structure ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Jim Berger grew up to be a high school shop teacher and his brother a cabinet maker. Unfortunately, Eddie never really liked the dog house. He continued to sleep outside, presumably because it was warmer than the shaded, concrete slab.

So remember, when you next make a design decision (and we all do), that not even Frank Lloyd Wright could design a dog house that Eddie liked. Understand that you can’t please everyone in design. So strive to please yourself.


November 20, 2012

Beauty of City Center
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m at a military graduation ceremony last night and look around at the dozens of men in the room. I realize that I have more hair on my head than practically all the rest of the men put together. They all have about 1/8″ hair length. As my Dad would say: I felt like a bastard at a family reunion. The senior officers noticed me and came over to talk. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the brass, the conversation flowed easily.

The major I was sitting next to, who is Chris’s Commanding Officer, asked me if I wanted to ride into the Las Vegas strip with him to have a look around. Generally up for an adventure, we drove in. I wanted to see the City Center project, that $8B US development that I’ve posted about a few times. It completed right after the US financial melt down with a poor probability for success.

We were amazed to see how full the sidewalks were on a Monday night. People were everywhere. The last time I saw the City Center, the cranes were threading members into the structural steel skeleton. Now, the completed project was there in front of me. The exterior was impressive, but not compared to the interiors.

I really loved the interior design. It wasn’t the over the top opulence of some casinos. Mostly it was beautiful, simple and creative. I particularly liked the sculptural wall that separated the Men’s and Women’s toilet room entrances, shown below.

The terrazzo tile flooring was gorgeous but appropriate, as shown below.

One of the features that most captivated me was the elevator video. The next three photos show some of the video, but really don’t quite communicate the feeling. The images shown below were constantly moving up or down, as if they were on an elevator. The technology was stunning, some of the best use of flat screen video I’ve ever seen. As we wandered into the elevator area, we simply didn’t know what we were looking at. It was fun and entertaining, while still clearly getting across the concept that this was the elevator area.

In the retail store section, I saw this low wall built from bicycle wheels that was wonderful.

The red elevator niche photo also was just so pretty.

The swirly tubes just mesmerized me. The water cyclones swirled around as the colors changed. Each of the many tubes in the area had a different type of tornado going up. I just stood and stared in wonder.

Finally, the stairs shown below had solid treads but opaque risers that were back lit. The effect was stunning.

Sorry for all the superlatives, but I really was moved by the designs. Good work, executed well. It motivates me to try to do the same in my little corner of the universe.


October 8, 2012

Biggest Ferris Wheel to go on Staten Island
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

A 625-foot-tall, $230 million New York Wheel will be built on Staten Island overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the downtown Manhattan skyline. 1,440 passengers at a time will ride through the sky and get a varying NYC view. The developers hope to take about 5M folks a year on this ride.

After the 1,063′ Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Paris Exhibition, tall was in vogue. So George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. designed and built his 264′ observation wheel for the 1893 Chicago Exhibition. As a Pittsburgh engineer and bridge builder, Ferris understood how to use the 71 tons of steel to make the structure safe. The wonderful photo below gives a sense of the structure.

Today the Singapore Flyer, at 541′ and shown below, holds the record for world’s largest Ferris Wheel. It’s about 98′ taller than the London Eye.

The free ferry to Staten Island currently carries about 2M visitors a year, but there isn’t much to do on the island after the free ferry ride. This big ferris wheel aims to change that.

The $230M project will be all privately funded, in fact they plan to pay Staten Island $2.5M per year rent. As Staten Island Live reports:

But there’s much more to this project than just the New York Wheel. The mayor also announced that BFC Partners will build Harbor Commons, a 420,000-square-foot retail complex adjacent to the Wheel and ballpark. It will house up to 75 designer outlet stores and a 120,000-square-foot hotel, with a 15,000-square-foot banquet facility.

The fact that this project is actively being planned should provide some optimism for anyone in the construction business. When developers start getting rammy and proposing big projects, recoveries follow.


October 3, 2012

US Slavery Museum: A Primer on How Not to Develop a Project
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Twenty years ago, then Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder announced that he would build a $100M US Slavery Museum. Ten years ago, The Silver Companies, a real estate firm, donated 38 acres of prime land near Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg. Pei Partnership Architects spent more than $5M on building design.

So what’s happening now? The city filed a lien against the land for $300,000 of  unpaid back taxes. Pei filed a lien on the land for the full fee amount. The Museum filed for bankruptcy, then rescinded their request. Their webpage looks like it’s been co-opted by some attorneys writing about business law and lawyer marketing.  To make matters worse, the donated land has a restriction that requires it to be used for a museum.

It’s a shame that such a noble project has been so mismanaged. I understand that when an innovative project begins, it’s impossible to delineate all the challenges. It takes a certain leap of faith to move any project forward. But that faith needs to be backed up with intense budgeting, scheduling, and management. It’s the difference between a black eye and a feather in one’s cap. As an aside, does anyone besides my son recognize that last reference?


September 28, 2012

Zhang Points to the Future of Construction
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

You probably saw this video of a 30 story building being built in 15 days in China, I posted it previously and it’s been viewed 4M times. It’s worth watching for a minute or two again.


I just read the story behind that video in the Wired article High Speed High Rise.  I encourage you to follow that link and read that article if you’re interested in the future of construction. I’ll give you the highlights below.

Zhang Yue founded Broad Sustainable Building and reminds me of a Tiger Mom version of Steve Jobs. I love this Wired excerpt:

To become an employee of Broad, you must recite a life manual penned by Zhang, guidelines that include tips on saving energy, brushing your teeth, and having children. All prospective employees must be able, over a two-day period, to run 7.5 miles. You can eat for free at Broad Town cafeterias unless someone catches you wasting food, at which point you’re not merely fined but publicly shamed.

Sounds like my kind of place. Zhang trained and worked as an artist for years, then went into manufacturing and made a fortune on boilers. Seeing the next big thing, he went into gas powered air conditioning. The AC units work when the power grid doesn’t, as well as being energy efficient and economical. I’ll let Wired take over again:

For two decades, Zhang’s AC business boomed. But a couple of events conspired to change his course. The first was that Zhang became an environmentalist, a gradual awakening that he says began 10 or 12 years ago. The second was the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan Province in 2008, causing the collapse of poorly constructed buildings and killing some 87,000 people. In the aftermath, Zhang began to fixate on the problem of building design. At first, he says, he tried to convince developers to retrofit existing buildings to make them both more stable and more sustainable. “People paid no attention at all,” he says. So Zhang drafted his own engineers—300 of them, according to Jiang—and started researching how to build cheap, environmentally friendly structures that could also withstand an earthquake.

Frustrated by traditional building methods, Zhang redesigned highrises for factory production. The innovative structural system uses much less steel and concrete, while being much more earthquake resistent. Ductwork and wiring are installed in the factory. Features like quad glazed windows with exterior solar blinds and interior insulating blinds help drive the energy efficiency to the highest levels.

Broad has built 20 of these 20 story buildings without a single construction injury. When you look to construction’s future (and perhaps your own), think hard about pre-fabrication. Enough said, that’s a deal.



September 24, 2012

Bottoms Up Swimming Pool
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m working on the plan for a multistory building with a swimming pool on the roof and came across this photo.  It’s a cantilevered clear-bottomed swimming pool on the 24th floor of the Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong Kangqiao.

I don’t think I’ll be proposing anything quite that cool, but it is tempting. Can you imagine the thrill of walking underneath and looking up to see a swimmer above?

One of the hotels on South Beach in Miami, had a clear skylight in the hotel lobby where you could look up into the bottom of the pool on the floor above. I loved looking up and seeing someone swimming in the pool.

All the cool design isn’t already done. Opportunities abound to create fun and interesting work. We have to get out of our comfort zone and struggle a bit, though…always good advice.


September 14, 2012

The Beauty of Risks and Rewards
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

This month’s American Society of Civil Engineering magazine has a great article about a new skyscraper being built in Kuwait. The Al Hamra Firdous Tower has spiraling hyperbolic parabaloid concrete walls which will reach about 100 stories high.

The fascinating aspect, though, is that the local developer and general contractor team that own and are building the tower began the project with the intent of a 50 story project. Then the Kuwait authorities changed the zoning building height limit from 200 meters to 400 meters.

The risk of building a simple 50 story project pales next to developing a 100 story unique sculpted tower. Just look at the beauty of that form.

And the way it fits but enhances the city skyline.

Finally, I just loved the streetscape view.

So a local developer and GC team up to do a project, then respond to the conditions and up the ante. Great things can happen when we leave the comfort of our normal and venture into the stretched zone.

I hope you take some time this weekend to relax and think deeply. Think about what you do every day…your normal. Then think about what you could do…your best. Move toward your stretched zone.


September 6, 2012

Missing Great Buildings
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I’ve been to Sedona, AR twice and enjoyed Slide Rock State Park and all the red rock beauty that is Sedona. The kids and I bumped and floated our way down the 1/4 mile long natural creek water slide. The photo below gives an indication. Dave Dieterly, an estimator friend, told me it was his kid’s favorite stop on a West vacation. Our kids felt the same way as did many others to whom I’ve recommended it.

But when I recently came across photos of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, I wondered how I could have missed visiting this great building. I’ve had time in Sedona and missed this marvelous facility.  Look at the lines on this structure

and how it fits so perfectly into the surroundings.

This would certainly be worth the trip to explore and experience. I love this last photo that just gives a sense of being there.

Being in Sedona and not knowing about the Chapel makes me wonder how many other buildings and sites I’ve went right by without knowing. On a trip this summer, we stopped by Doune Castle in Scotland completely by happenstance. It was a fantastic tour that we easily could have missed.

Is there a website that lists great buildings and bridges to visit? I couldn’t find one. That would be a good idea for someone other than me to develop. Do any of the existing travel sites have a function that would accomplish the desired result?


August 23, 2012

Building the Hard Way
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

As a cheerleader for better project management throughout the construction industry, I hate to see big project failures. Earlier this summer, the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City halted construction. The $170M US project was begun without all the funding in place, with hopes that things would fall together. Tulsa World noted:
The project has benefited from three previous state bond issues totaling $63 million, as well as $14.5 million in federal funding and $4.9 million and 250 acres of land from Oklahoma City. The fourth bond issue proposal (for an additional $40M)  fell one vote short in the state Senate in the Legislature’s final week.

Nathan Hart and Cesar Godinez, senior project engineer, look over the construction site of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum near Interstate 40 in 2010. Hart is director of community affairs for the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority. JIM BECKEL

The project (near Interstate 40 and Interstate 35) needs $80 million for completion plus the existing private donors to not bail out. I hope they can make the whole deal work, but it sure sounds challenging.

I don’t know the project specifics and haven’t heard if the project significantly exceeded original budgets, though I’m thinking it had to. I’ve been involved in some iconic projects over the years and it’s challenging to “measure the snake before it’s dead”.

Nevertheless, we all need reminded to try to budget more conservatively at the project onset, even though we always have tremendous pressure to be make aggressive assumptions. The best estimators I knew always fought at the project start not to be the hero for the day and the goat for the rest of the project.

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