Blue Origin Engine Facility | Submitted by Clayco
Huntsville, Ala. 
Region: ENR southeast

Owner: Blue Origin
Lead Design Firm: Lamar Johnson Collaborative
Contractor: Clayco
Structural Engineer: Alper Audi Inc.

The Blue Origin engine manufacturing facility, with a 400,000-sq-ft footprint, has a split personality. While its100,000-sq-ft glass-walled core is the worksite of engineering and administrative staffers, surrounding it are machining, assembly and testing operations for the space launch company’s rocket engines. Tilt wall panels form the shell, surrounding a structural steel spine.

A design-build team of Clayco and Lamar Johnson Collaborative was chosen to deliver turnkey design, engineering and construction of the liquid-fueled rocket engine manufacturing facility within 10 months. Clayco started construction with only 20% schematic design. Design changed extensively as the project evolved, requiring dramatic alterations to building layouts, spacings and heights. Many original concepts had to be altered or removed completely through value engineering as the building production requirements became more defined. 

One early challenge was geotechnical. An abundance of expansive clay was found in all borings down 30 ft, with the top 3 ft of material under the building pad of most concern to the team. Members mitigated it through soil stabilization practices using cement and lime.

To reduce project costs and drive the schedule, Clayco notably suggested that foundations be poured without anchor pockets. By core drilling the anchor bolt locations later, the team saved time and labor and more easily achieved stringent elevation tolerances in the foundation concrete, its submission says.

The plant’s numerous equipment foundations were large and atypically shaped, many reaching 3 ft deep and requiring multiple layers of reinforcement. An interior glass wall minimizes physical separation between the rocket engineering staff and manufacturing areas. But the central location of the office spine in the middle of the manufacturing space resulted in a split jobsite, which made project sequencing complex, according to the team.

Although this was the first time contractor Clayco had worked with Blue Origin, “the working relationship was formed quite quickly,” says John Kavitz, the contractor’s senior project manager. Contest judges were impressed by the project’s aggressive schedule.

Back to ENR's Best of the Best Projects 2020