Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Perspectives in completing a project

(by Kathryn Giardi, LEED AP)

A few weeks ago I went to the 62nd meeting at 641-643 Huntington Avenue in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area to attend the weekly meeting for the Harvard Medical School’s newest LEED™ Gold office renovation project. I walked in the front door and was greeted by a woman in dress pants and a nice blouse. She asked me who I was there to see and all of a sudden it hit me, this building was no longer ours. The Principal-in-Charge, Brian and I had spent every Tuesday morning each week for over a year walking through the building in its many stages of construction, surrounded by subcontractors that had been asking us questions, and now all of a sudden we were guests. It was an uneasy feeling.

Layers of Existing Structure

Layers of Existing Structure

I had been through the many stages of design and construction with these two attached masonry buildings, both built in the late 19th century. Almost two years ago I had spent each day for roughly three weeks surveying the existing conditions with a colleague, getting to know each and every nook and cranny of this congested, mazelike 26,000 SF office building. I was warned of the “haunted staircase” and learned how to travel down one flight of stairs in one building, over to the other building, and then up another flight of stairs just to pass between the two on certain floors. After that experience, the design process held a whole other meaning to me. We worked with the clients to help design the space, in the hopes that some of the character of the building could remain and be juxtaposed against modern curved glass walls. Although the budget did not allow for all of our modern accents, a handful of the original fire places were restored to retain the personality of the original building.

Progression of Construction

From existing masonry and wood frames to final design.

Once the Construction Documents were finalized (in 4 weeks!), and the bidding process was complete, construction began last summer. We had an idea of the surprises that might be uncovered when demolition began but no one was prepared for the structural redesign that was required. Many of the masonry bearing walls were to remain per the drawings but their poor condition was not always suitable for reuse. As entire staircases that cut through all levels of the building were removed, we would stand along side holes that cut the building in section, revealing the many layers of structure and the old craftsmanship that had pieced the building together. That real life section is something that we recreate all the time on 3D computer programs like Revit and it really solidified the connection between design and construction for me.

Huntington Touch Down Space

Huntington Teaming Room

One of the biggest challenges that ensued concerned fitting the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection piping, ductwork, and equipment in an incredibly small space above the ceiling. Amazingly it was achieved but at the expense of the ceiling layout. Questions were answered in the field and during the week in the office. The Construction Administration on this renovation was practically a full time job. Not to mention the fact that this project is targeted for LEED Gold certification. That aspect brought a whole other dynamic to the design and construction process (that’s a story for another blog)!

Huntington Reception Desk

Huntington Reception Desk

On one of our final walkthroughs, people were moving into their new offices and Harvard higher-ups were walking through the space complimenting our firm on the design. It felt great to hear the praises and when I looked around the space I agreed. But it was hard to watch everyone taking over the space, the building that we had painstakingly helped to design and build over the last two years. But in the end, this is the nature of our business, our designs are created for other people to enjoy – for our clients to do their business better. So we accepted our praises and said our goodbyes, and looked forward to handing off the building to be cared for by its happy occupants.

Huntington Facade

Huntington Facade

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2 Responses to “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Perspectives in completing a project”
  1. While there are many signs of a doomed project, it doesn’t mean the improvements are over or even have to end. All these signs have reverse buttons if you make a change. And even if one procedure makes for a change, it can be significant enough to improve the project overall. So keep that in mind.

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