Overcoming new and existing challenges
Dara Douraghi, VP of Architecture and Engineering at Project Frog, talks about the role of Industrialized Construction in post-COVID-19 school construction in Reader’s Choice issue 2020 of School Construction NEWS.
The new normal created by COVID-19 will impact both the new construction and modernization of existing facilities as we attempt to find ways to create safe learning spaces for our students.
Re-imagining our Spaces
In reality, it will be a hybrid approach and solution, relying on technology to provide needed tracing and data for monitoring spread, along with a new approach to the way learning environments are designed. For example, reducing the density in classrooms with fewer students will accommodate social distancing. Furthermore, in warmer parts of the country, we can design outdoor spaces that can be used for learning and spill-out zones. Modern heating and cooling equipment can also be integrated to help mitigate the spread of viruses, common flu, and colds.
Unlike prefabricated or portable buildings, architects can use IC solutions for design flexibility, giving them the opportunity to arrange components, easily meeting each school’s specific needs. With IC’s scalable approach, the traditionally long design and build cycles are eliminated, translating into more completed projects in less time and in turn enabling a quick reduction in classroom density.
For example, new school buildings were recently constructed for a district in Southern California using an IC approach. Relying on a Kit-of-Parts system, where building components are pre-designed and pre-engineered, allowed the architects to focus on project-specific design, to create flexible and convertible learning spaces opening directly to the outside with outdoor learning zones instead of relying on internal corridors for general circulation. While not initially designed for social distancing protocols, this approach can be used to address those requirements in schools, a critical component for returning to any semblance of normal.
Impacts on, and Challenges for, New Construction
The current pandemic is not the only challenge school and general construction is facing. According to an executive survey conducted in April by McKinsey, “US construction output growth in 2020 could range between zero and -8% depending on the severity of the outbreak”.
What IC offers is a repeatable, rules-based design process, with known and recorded parts and pieces captured in a Kit-of-Parts, enabling a predictable, scalable manufacturing and a coordinated construction process. This is the type of innovative approach needed to deliver design and building solutions more quickly. By developing an IC roadmap at both organizational and project levels, leveraging technology to manage an end-to-end design/delivery process geared towards scalability and growth, school construction will benefit from increased efficiency, and reduced risk and project cost.
The article’s authors agree. If suppliers and subcontractors use elements and subsystems that can be preassembled in a factory setting, gradually moving significant components like frames or volumetric modules inside as well, off-site construction could contribute to sustainability goals by reducing materials waste, noise, and air dust. It is also easier to implement, maintain and enforce social distancing requirements in the controlled environment of a factory as opposed to a job site.
At a school in California’s Bay Area, replacements were needed for outdated, deteriorating classroom and administration buildings. Tired of being ‘boxed in’ by inflexible, unattractive and temporary portable classrooms, the district wanted healthy, green classrooms to support their new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) focused curriculum. This included larger, connected classrooms with a flexible environment to support movement, active learning and collaboration. The open interior lobby is a suitable venue for small assemblies and additional instructional space.
Extra-wide interior corridors provide flexibility to utilize that space for classroom teaching, enabling a collaborative approach to learning. Movable furniture allows for group activities and the flexibility for break-out spaces, while strategically placed wall niches all contribute to an interactive, collaborative learning environment instead of a typical classroom space.
Utilizing an off-site production approach offered a price per square foot lower than stick-built options, along with the flexibility to customize, while maintaining a greatly accelerated construction timeline. Disruption was minimized and students and staff were in the new buildings in just a few months, much faster than the general contractor anticipated.
IC allows supply chain networks, fabricators, construction managers, and contractors to work concurrently to ensure project data, information, and standards are correctly shared and handed off downstream. Continuous improvement is simplified by tracking a part’s evolution at every phase, with changes reported back to appropriate team members. Increased visibility and predictability allow construction professionals to plan out more projects, scale operations, and have an accurate assessment of the end result.
An interesting comparison can be made with a COVID-19 vaccine. Traditional development and testing typically takes 12-18 months, if not longer for an effective vaccine. But today, regulators are teaming up to find ways to develop a vaccine in record time. Now is the time for our own building regulators to partner with the A/E/C industry to expedite the review and approval process, and embrace an IC approach to building. A joint effort by all stakeholders in rethinking and reimagining the old approaches to designing, engineering, approving, and building will result in faster and better ways to address this immediate need for classrooms that will accommodate our new normal.