Marriott is going modular in a major way. By prefabricating portions of hotels off-site in controlled environments, and then assembling the modular components, the hotel chain sees numerous advantages. With one prefab modular hotel already operational, the company is now planning to pursue the process on up to 50 more.

Clayton Moore, of Digital Tends, has more:

“As construction costs are at a peak, it’s a real challenge to find good, qualified subcontractors based on the general building boom that is happening throughout the United States,” explained Jacobs. “We ‘re on pace to approve another 400 to 450 hotels this year and we think we can influence ten percent of those projects with modular construction. If we can cut four to six months off of a typical development timeline of 12 to 14 months, that’s a significant savings for our owners.”

Jacobs explained that the package that arrives at a build site contains two fully finished rooms and a finished hallway, as well as all the accouterments one ordinarily finds in a hotel room. Subcontractors on site then finish the electrical and plumbing connections.

“From a staging perspective, our waste goes from four to six percent down to two or three percent,” Jacobs said. “The big takeaway from this process is that we can completely control the quality of the product. Much like the industrial assembly lines used in other sectors, we can identify quality issues right as the rooms come off the assembly line, and find solutions before they ever get shipped to the site. It’s a pretty impactful way to produce a furnished building at the end of the day.”

Here’s a time-lapse video of the construction — perhaps “assembly” is a more accurate term — of the Pullman Courtyard Marriott:

Jennifer Hermes, writing for Environmental Leader:

Risk management professionals should be leading the charge to help their companies understand how disruptive technologies will affect business strategies and operations – and those risk managers who don’t lead the way will be relegated to a support role, according to the new 2017 Excellence in Risk Management (PDF) report. Disruptive technologies as defined in the report – for example, telematics, sensors, smart buildings and the Internet of Things – are those that either purposefully displace existing products or that introduce groundbreaking ways of doing business. The report, created by Marsh & McLennan Companies in partnership with Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS), suggests that risk managers may be focusing, to their detriment, on current rather than emerging risk.

Companies that integrate such technologies early on are generally able to stay ahead of their competitors, but they also face a significant challenge: while innovation allows companies to keep their business models fresh, it also disrupts an organization, making risks more complex. Risk management professionals need to adopt a proactive approach to these technologies, understand the risks and rewards, and educate executives on how those risks and rewards will impact business strategies, the report suggests.

What are some ways to approach risk in a more proactive manner? Excellence in Risk Management states the following:

  • Engage key stakeholders, from senior leaders to operations employees and even suppliers, in looking at risk and bringing their insights to the decision-making process;
  • Invest in the use of data, analytics and technology;
  • Educate about risk management across the organization;
  • Integrate risk management into strategic planning.

Quantum mechanics, at first glance, seems like it has nothing in common with human behavior. But what if human behavior was actually influenced by quantum mechanics?

One of the most mind-blowing experiments I recall learning about in my advanced physics classes is the famous double-slit experiment. Without getting too deep in the weeds of quantum physics, the experiment basically demonstrates that a particle behaves one way when there is an observer, yet behaves completely differently when not actively observed. In other words, whether or not someone is observing the experiment directly impacts the outcome of the experiment.

If particles behave differently when being observed, what about living, breathing human beings? Does quality of human work product improve or decline when workers know they are being watched? (more…)

Housing shortages abound throughout the modern world, and in the UK, the situation is not much different than here in the US. Also not much different: substantial claims of defective construction due to cut corners in an effort to meet demand.

In fact, the country’s National House Building Council, which provides 10-year warranties covering most newly constructed homes, reportedly paid out £90-million (US$110,852,100) to homeowners in 2015-2016. According to the Guardian, this is nearly triple the amount paid to resolve claims from a decade before. Here’s more on the story:

This week the Guardian reported that Bovis is set to award people who live in some of its newbuild homes a total of £7m in compensation, in response to claims that houses have faulty plumbing or wiring, missing insulation, and other serious defects. Some people say they were offered money to move into homes that have not been completed. When the news broke, the Bovis share price fell by 10%, wiping £100m off its stock market value.

This is just one part of a bigger story of complaints about Britain’s construction giants – and what happens when the rush to build leads to corners being cut and houses left either unfinished or deeply defective. On social media there are hundreds-strong groups telling their personal stories: “The toilet leaked into the living room and when my plumber came to fix it he found the toilet had not been installed correctly”; “having my kitchen ripped out for the second time”; “no insulation in roof”; “mould growing all over the house … too dangerous too live in as I have asthma”.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on to build as many new homes as possible. Even if it is behind on its targets, the government still wants a million to have been put up by 2020. The year 2015 saw a big jump in completed builds: 142,890 homes were finished, a 20% year-on-year increase. Last year the number was put at more than 150,000.

Back in June of 2015, a relatively unknown company by the name of Daqri introduced an augmented reality-enabled hard hat that they dubbed the Smart Helmet.

While there clearly is not yet massive adoption among the trades for a more than $1,000 hard hat, that doesn’t mean Daqri has ceased innovation. In fact, as Construction Junkie reports, the company unveiled its next wearable device purpose-built for the architecture, engineering and construction industry: Smart Glasses. (Not to be confused with Google Glass, of course…)

Here is a video showcasing Daqri’s products at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show:

And here is a case study produced by Autodesk and Mortensen showcasing the Smart Helmet:

Learn more about the entire product line at Daqri’s website.

Part of the magic that separates Apple from being just another consumer technology manufacturer is the relentless pursuit of perfection. Steve Jobs famously describes lessons imparted from his adoptive father imploring him to make the unseen components of a product just as beautiful and carefully executed as those that are plainly visible.

Jobs’ final product, possibly his magnum opus dedicated to the company he loved so dearly, is in fact the Apple Campus 2 project, otherwise known as the “spaceship.”

The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes does a recap of a more in-depth article by Reuters pointing out the following nuggets:

One particular highlight of the report is Apple demanding that doorways be perfectly flat, with no subtle bump between the outside and inside of the building. A construction manager told Reuters that “months” were spent debating this, because they’d have to spend time and money figuring out a way to accomplish it. Apple reportedly wouldn’t give in because it worried that “if engineers had to adjust their gait while entering the building, they risked distraction from their work.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • No vents or pipes could be reflected in the building’s glass exterior
  • There are 30 pages of guidelines on how to use wood
  • Apple inspected “thousands of ceiling panels” to ensure they were “immaculate inside and out”
  • Debate over what doorknobs should look like went on for over a year and a half

Ever since GoPro tried to launch their new line of drones for their adventure enthusiast market, problems have tarnished the normally stellar reputation for solid, quality-built imaging technologies. Forbes’ Ryan Mac wrote a thorough analysis of the saga, with the provocative headline, “The Sky Is Falling For GoPro.”

The article opens with a story of a disappointed customer’s experience:

Six days after the release of GoPro’s first-ever drone in October, Brian Warholak was itching to get airborne. As an employee at a Chesapeake, Va.-based government contractor, Warholak, 43, had few opportunities during the workweek to fly his new toy. But on Friday, he left his desk early, unpacked his GoPro Karma from its carrying case and set it on a manicured lawn near the company parking lot.

In the video of Warholak’s aeronautic excursion, the drone lurches upward, pausing for its master to pan the attached camera. What it captures initially is unremarkable: a nondescript office building and a mostly empty car park. Then, two minutes into the voyage, the device bricks. Its four propellers cut out and the drone begins a five-second, 170-foot freefall toward earth. It smacks a few tree branches on the way down for good measure and lands camera upward to capture its owner rushing to the crash. “F***, now where is the rest?” Warholak is heard saying on the video. “Son of a b****.”

Here’s the video in question:

A short while back, I had a chance to meet an extraordinary young man named Brandon Andrews. As he was transitioning out of the Navy SEALs, he launched a new company called Trident CM LLC, with the brilliant idea to recruit former SEALs to provide construction quality management on DOD projects.

In the built environment, from the Northridge earthquake, to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and other disasters, resilience has become an imperative. But what does that even mean? (more…)

I am an outsider. Among construction defect and quality management professionals, my involvement with green building makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Among green building professionals, advocates and activists, my responses to claims that green buildings are better quality leads to some very awkward moments. Without adopting more sustainable practices, existing design and construction professionals will face irrelevance. Without addressing the increased risk inherent in high performance buildings, true sustainability will be unachievable.

Yesterday I was sitting at the park, flipping through the latest news stories on my iPad, while my daughters were playing. One article in particular caught my attention—in much the same way that a lightning bolt striking my head would have caught my attention—and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Architect and writer Lloyd Alter, is a powerful ally in educating and informing people of both the importance and the beauty, that sustainable design and construction bring to the evolution of the built environment. He is an outspoken proponent of green practices in general, and LEED in particular. Any time that the “plastic people” (as Alter refers to lobbyists and others representing the interests of big chemical companies) try to smear LEED or green building for their own benefit, his column at TreeHugger is the place to typically find the most well-formed rebuttals.

In fact, Alter was clearly prepared for a fight in response to a piece I wrote analyzing the failure of the first LEED Platinum project. (He acquiesced after I replied to his comment, but boy was I worried about getting tarred and feathered at TreeHugger…)

Which is why when I read the following opening sentence from Alter, I knew something was up:

I am nervous about writing this post; no doubt the lobby groups that promote plastics and fossil fuel use and hate green building will jump on it.

Indeed, the story that Alter shared is astounding. Here is an excerpt from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regarding their findings associated with a fire at an office building in La Farge, Wisonsin:

Over the course of 18 hours, the officers and firefighters from La Farge, along with those from numerous surrounding departments, were faced with a growing array of challenges, including the location of the fire, the materials used in the building’s construction, the limitations of the town’s firefighting infrastructure, and more. The fire would eventually destroy a significant portion of building, resulting in an estimated $13 million in property damage and related losses.

After Chief Stittleburg contacted NFPA, and as more became known about the details and circumstances of the fire, the more it came to resemble a cautionary tale in the use of “green” or “sustainable” construction materials and what they can mean to firefighting efforts. The rooftop PV array, designed to reduce the building’s reliance on fossil fuels, also presented serious challenges to firefighters. In some respects, the La Farge incident became a kind of “perfect storm” fire, one that grouped a handful of challenges I’d seen elsewhere into a single event. NFPA accepted Chief Stittleburg’s invitation to visit La Farge and review the fire, and I was asked to travel to Wisconsin to see for myself how these factors combined to create an especially challenging fire situation—and to bring back the lessons learned at that fire.

Sifting through the ashes…

There were a lot of factors that contributed to not just the fire itself (although according to local news, the actual cause of the fire was never determined), but the manner in which the fire spread, and difficulties associated with fighting the fire. Here is a breakdown:

  • Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof caused numerous problems, especially because during the fire the panels energized the metal roof preventing safe access
  • Continuous concealed airspaces were probably the greatest contributor to the rapid and uncontrollable spread of the fire (more on that later…)
  • Combustible insulation fueled the fire, whereas fiberglass insulation is generally considered noncombustible and is often used as a firestop
  • A major factor in the rapid failure of certain structural components during the fire was the use of lightweight materials including engineered lumber products (also a factor in the failure of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Headquarters) and steel-stud framing
  • Due to the spread of the fire through concealed spaces, the fire sprinkler system was relatively ineffective
  • A rupture of the sprinkler system in the attic resulted in a depletion of significant domestic water stores for the region

Analysis

The story of the fire in La Farge, Wisconsin is not an indictment of green building practices. What it is, is yet another illustration of just how important quality is throughout the built environment.

When you have a large area of a roof that doubles as a source of electricity, guess what? You have to take necessary precautions to avoid inadvertent discharging of that electricity, which could in turn cause serious threats to life-safety and health. If the circuits of PV panels do not automatically shut down when there is a short in the system, or fire is detected, then safeguards need to be implemented. Why do we have Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) required in bathrooms and kitchens? Because electricity and water don’t mix. Neither, apparently, do fire and energized PV panels mix.

Secondly, one of the first things I learned when researching and analyzing fire-resistive construction defects is the importance of managing concealed air space within wall cavities. Open air space within wall cavities allows fire (and the accompanying smoke and heat) to rapidly spread between building areas. In fact, a vertical open air space acts just like a chimney. It doesn’t matter if your building is “green” or not—the basic laws of physics and building science still apply.

Third, as Alter points out, why on earth would anyone use combustible materials for insulation when “green” noncombustible products are readily available? More frustrating for me personally, is the fact that the insulation in question is none other than recycled denim insulation. I was involved in the investigation of a project using this type of insulation. Not only was the insulation to blame for widespread mold (improper installation in a high humidity region), but the manufacturer refused to release any testing data related to the product’s fire resistive qualities. Let’s just say that that case did not end favorably…

Poor quality is still the biggest risk to sustainable design and construction

At one end of the spectrum in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry, there are folks like Lloyd Alter who continue to push for ever-increasing standards of building performance. At the other end of the spectrum, are people like firefighters that are just hoping that buildings will meet minimum standards of quality so they can go home and see their kids at night.

The fire that devastated the headquarters of Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisconsin doesn’t show the failure of green buildings. It shows the failure of our industry, once again, to meet basic standards of quality.


Resources:

After a period of introspection, I realized that the name AECforensics.com didn’t really tell the full story or capture my intent of creating and sharing content. The bigger purpose for me in both publishing content, as well as the primary motivator for doing forensic work, has always been improving quality in the built environment. The goal continuing forward is to break down barriers and share lessons learned with the people that need it the most.

Below is the video announcement:

Enjoy! And thanks for watching.