Coordination Critical on Shared Downtown Los Angeles Site
Metropolis developer split the phased, 4.1-million-sq-ft Los Angeles project into two general contracts to minimize financial risk and meet the fast-tracked schedule
It’s common knowledge that fast-tracked construction comes with scheduling and logistical risks, even for a single-building project. At the $1-billion Metropolis mixed-use development under construction in Los Angeles—with four towers and a podium on a 6.3-acre site, three overlapping construction phases and two different building teams—successful fast-tracking also depends on intense cross-team coordination.
“The project is so large, we wanted to minimize the risk, so we selected two general contractors instead of one,” says John Wong, project executive for AECOM/Tishman, project manager for the entire 4.1-million-sq-ft development. “There is less financial risk and performance risk” with two contractors, he adds.
For Metropolis, developed by Greenland USA and planned by Gensler, Webcor Builders is the general contractor for an 18-story hotel, including four levels of the podium and a five-level parking structure, and a 38-story residential tower—all in phase one. Two subgrade parking levels extend the length of the site.
For phase two, Webcor is building a 42-story residential tower with an attached 18-story building and nine levels of podium space for parking and other uses—designed by Gensler. The Webcor work is on schedule for completion late next year, according to the contractor.
For the third phase, Charles Pankow Builders Ltd., in partnership with the PENTA Building Group is constructing a 56-story residential condominium with lower-level retail. Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED) is executive architect on all of phase two and three, and the condo portion of phase one.
For Metropolis, fast-tracking’s lower financial risk is at the expense of more critical cross-team communication issues. Pankow/PENTA and Webcor crews are working a few feet—and an expansion joint—away from each other. And Webcor’s tower podium deck ties into Pankow/PENTA’s.
“It’s definitely crowded logistically,” says Rick Schutter, Pankow’s project executive. “Besides not having a lot of laydown area, we also have to coordinate major operations and deliveries with [Webcor] without rocking the boat.”
Any significant operation that could have an impact on both company’s sites, such as jumping a tower crane, also has to be coordinated “very carefully,” says Schutter.
To help keep booms from colliding as they swing— and to fit more cranes on the site—both contractors use tower cranes with luffing booms instead of jibs. Currently, Pankow/PENTA and Webcor each have two cranes on site. At one stage, there were seven.
To better manage worker ingress and egress, each contractor has its own personnel entry gate. But the gates are only about 200 ft apart.
Completion of the entire development is set for 2018, four years after construction began. As with many developers, “Greenland’s business plan is to move quickly to get product built and sold and then the money reinvested, so they had a very aggressive time line on this project,” says John Adams, Gensler’s managing director and principal.
The three construction phases also helped expedite approvals. Near the outset, Greenland wanted to increase the development’s original density, which “triggered” a review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). To keep the job moving, the team split the project into two approval phases.
The first phase of permits was for work that did not trigger CEQA approvals and could begin sooner, says Adams. The second approvals phase contained the modifications that required CEQA review. “We let that phase run through the longer approvals process” without slowing down the first phase, says Adams.
Jeremy Hsu, HED principal and studio leader, says the rapid schedule was aided by the city’s parallel design permitting process for major projects, which allows a team to break design and permitting into packages and for construction to begin before the whole project design and permitting are complete.
A typical development of this size would take 18 months to two years for design and permitting, says Hsu. Fast-tracking allowed construction to start about a year early, he says.
But phased permitting came with some rework. After construction had begun on the basements, the fire department—having finally reviewed the entire project—required an additional stairway. This caused “quite a bit of construction adjustment,” says Hsu. Concrete already cast had to be removed and replaced.
It is well-known that fast-tracking affects the entire building team, including the structural engineer.
“The biggest challenge we faced on the project was the need for the structural design to be far ahead of the rest of the design team to meet the super-aggressive schedule,” says Saiful Islam, principal-in-charge for Saiful Bouquet Structural Engineers. “It was challenging” because the engineer used performance-based seismic design to create the structural concrete systems—including shear wall cores and post-tensioned slabs for the three residential towers. PBSD triggers a structural peer review, required by the city. And that takes extra time.
Saiful/Bouquet, which served as structural engineer of record for both phases of Metropolis, selected PBSD over meeting the prescriptive building-code requirements “to allow a more cost-effective and reliable concrete tower design,” says Islam.
On the towers, PBSD eliminated the requirement for a perimeter moment frame. “This not only saved a tremendous amount of money in construction, it also allowed much more efficient space planning and maximized architectural flexibility,” says Islam.
The location of the development on a former parking lot next to the 110 Freeway and Staples Center arena also complicated the job, says Ahmad Tahir, Webcor’s senior project manager. “The community was accustomed to a parking lot with nothing going on unless there was a Lakers basketball game,” he says.
To keep the neighbors happy, deliveries are scheduled after rush hour and late at night. Webcor also hosts a barbecue every few months, where neighbors can mingle with as many as 1,300 Webcor workers.
Metropolis is on time and on budget, says Tishman. Webcor’s first phase is about 85% complete and on course to open at the end of the year. The second phase is roughly 40% complete. The 1.1-million-sq-ft Pankow/PENTA project is about 20% complete, on course for completion by the end of 2018.
While all the action is taking place on the structures, the Office of James Burnett (OJB), the landscape architect, is designing roughly 92,500 sq ft of landscaping on structure and roof gardens and about 20,000 sq ft of streetscape.
Kyle Fiddelke, an OJB principal, says his team learned a lot from the structural engineer, early in design. “Installing a landscape design as large as this—on structure—requires efficient and thoughtful coordination” with other members of the design team, he says.
A main aspect of OJB’S design is a seamless visual aesthetic across the landscape on structure. “This meant that building up planter walls to gain soil depth was not an option,” says Fiddelke.
Working with the engineers and architects early in the process, Fiddelke says OJB was able to assure that the structure, architecture and the landscape designs are cohesive, rather than having the landscape treated as an afterthought.