4 min read

Chopping mega-projects into pieces, design-build market analytics, and recycling buildings for LA 2028

Chopping mega-projects into pieces, design-build market analytics, and recycling buildings for LA 2028

The world's mega-project moment is being chopped to pieces.

While it's true that global infrastructure projects are getting bigger and more complex, it's also true that owners are looking for opportunities to derisk projects by dividing up scopes into smaller, more manageable contracts.

Now it's America's most important heavy civil infrastructure project - Gateway, the new, $16B Hudson River tunnel between New York and New Jersey - which is joining that cohort. The Gateway Development Commission recently announced that the civil works portion of the project will split into four separate packages: 1A (tunnel through the Palisades to the construction shaft in Hoboken); 1B (tunnel through the West Side of Manhattan under Hudson River Park); 1C (tunnel under the Hudson River from the Hoboken to Manhattan construction shaft); and EA1 (stabilizing the river bottom on the NYC side of the river).

The GDC is aiming to break ground on 1A and 1B in mid-2024 with 1C and EA1 to follow beginning in 2025; nearly $300M in IIJA dollars have already been approved for pre-construction activities on Gateway. “The industry that will build the Hudson Tunnel Project advised us that the best way to ensure a competitive bidding pool was to divide up the largest, most complicated portion of the project into multiple pieces of work. We listened,” the GDC said in a statement.

The idea behind project chopping, of course, is to get work moving more quickly, reduce the risks that are inherent in large projects, and control costs. And there is certainly some logic to this. But doing so also presents its own risks. For example, who is responsible for coordinating and communicating between the different project teams? How is the overall design intent kept consistent across multiple contracts? And if there are delays, design or quality problems, or other construction issues will it be possible to assign responsibility to the culpable party absent costly dispute resolution or litigation?

After so many years of delays, political wrangling, and false starts, it's exciting that Gateway is so close to breaking ground. But there will be no higher profile example of project chopping anywhere in North America. So the pressure will be on the GDC and its industry partners to manage and coordinate each contract package carefully to ensure that the construction of this critical piece of the Northeast Corridor is a success. (Bloomberg)

New research prepared for the Design-Build Institute of America finds that design-build delivery will account for 47% of domestic construction spending between now and 2026.

Prepared by FMI and available for download here, the report projects nearly $2T in total design-build spending in the US over this period, which translates to a 5% CAGR (compound annual growth rate).

Out of the report's assessed market segments, surface transportation, education, and manufacturing are expected to see the largest share of design-build spending, with the largest geographic concentrations in the Southeast and Pacific regions. Interestingly, 80% of respondents to the survey underpinning the report's conclusions said that design-build is the delivery model best suited to confront the industry's ongoing supply chain challenges. For example, early procurement and construction fast-tracking, prefabricating structural components, and flexible scheduling are all ways that design-build can help control costs and manage supply chains.

The report also points to design-build as a talent retention tool for the industry, which as a DBIA-certified professional I was excited to see. I agree that many professionals on either side of the design and construction divide (myself included) find the liminal space that design-build occupies incredibly interesting and challenging. Finally, in terms of design-build procurement approaches, the report concluded that progressive design-build is the model that is best able to manage cost uncertainty in this volatile market.

There is no doubt that traditional design-bid-build is waning while design-build continues to grow. Collaborative contracting is the future of our industry, and those of us in the trenches need to lean into it, quickly. (DBIA)

Los Angeles is preparing to host the Summer Olympic Games in July 2028.

New construction and infrastructure will include buildings for sports venues, athlete dorms, souvenir shops, restaurants, and concession stands. But like any similar event there are questions about what to do with these buildings afterward, as they will sit empty after the four weeks of the Olympics and Paralympics conclude.

According to Wired, California-based architect Rob Berry views this as an opportunity to explore solutions to the stream of construction waste generated every year. Students at the University of Southern California School of Architecture are working on a project called Making LA that focuses on designing structures for LA 2028 that can transform, disappear, or begin a second life after the event is over. The project is part of a fledgling focus on "circular building," or the practice of making buildings that can more easily be disassembled, moved, or repurposed, focusing on materials that can be reused instead of sent to a landfill.

Globally, the construction industry creates about one-third of the world's waste. In the US alone, the EPA estimates that 600M tons of construction and demolition waste are generated every year. Circular building and design for disassembly are common on smaller projects. But many designers - and startups - are now investigating how to leverage these techniques on much larger projects.

Some examples include a waterfront Copenhagen bar and restaurant built for eventual relocation, a 3D-printed home made entirely from forest materials at the University of Maine, and a timber frame office building in Oslo. Startups are also behind the shift towards circular building, such as Rheaply, a Chicago-based resource exchange platform, and Rotor Deconstruction, a Brussels-based co-op that dismantles, organizes, and trades salvaged parts of buildings.

The idea of recycling, or repurposing, buildings or other infrastructure is intriguing, and events like the Olympics are excellent testing grounds for new techniques. Beyond environmental concerns, these efforts could also help the industry address supply chain issues and labor shortages, so they're definitely worth keeping a close eye on. (Wired)