Happy New Year! Trying to get back into the work groove after the holidays is always tough. One could get used to working only three or four days a week, if only the boss would allow it at the full-time pay rate, right? With all that time off, I caught up on reading industry trade magazines that I had only briefly paged through when they arrived. Some interesting events have occurred.
One: When many of us are in Vegas for the GANA Annual Conference and BEC in March, look for that building across the street from the Paris Hotel that, last year, was an unoccupied billboard. Although it’s new construction, it’s being demolished. That’s the Harmon, which has been the subject of one of the most interesting construction defect cases to come down the pike in a while. During construction of a 49-story hotel, a defect in the concrete reinforcing was discovered that called into question the building’s ability to resist earthquakes. Construction was halted, capped at about 20 floors, and the project has remained vacant for the better part of four years. Everyone associated with the project sued everyone else, right up to the City of Las Vegas inspectors, who were accused of not catching the defect during construction. In mid-December, MGM (the owner), Tudor Perini (the general contractor) and all but one of the litigants settled the case right before the trial began.
With a confidentiality agreement in place, it’s likely we’re not going to find out the settlement details. That’s too bad, as it won’t permit a review of what led to the problems, thus allowing the experience to teach the building industry which problems to avoid next time. Tudor Perini has a check coming their way totaling about $153 million. Hopefully, any of the subcontractors and their suppliers who were still owed money are getting whatever they are due. After having to wait this long after the project was closed, that couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.
Two: Canada’s about to release their new CSA A550 Building Guards standard. No news on what exactly that’s going to entail, but the Top Glass Conference in April will feature Paul Gulletson, a project manager in the Built Environment Group at CSA, who will preview some of the technical aspects of the glass handrail standard. Given the rash of handrail breakage the industry has experienced, this might be the first standard issued as a result. Hopefully, the consensus will be that it sets a worthwhile precedent for both sides of the border.
Three: From last July, steel that bends like bamboo? As TGP markets steel curtainwalls, obviously that drew me to the article. But, how might something like that impact the industry as a whole? The researchers increased in steel’s ability to stretch before failure by 300 percent by rearranging the molecular structure to more closely emulate bamboo. While framing systems made with such steel aren’t likely to be incorporated into curtainwall systems anytime soon, the idea of modifying materials to work differently than how we currently understand them opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. If applicable to steel, think of how changing the how the physical properties of glass and aluminum perform might change our industry. 20 years from now, anybody want to take a stab at the allowables for any of the materials we use on an everyday basis? A36 steel has a modulus of elasticity of roughly 29 million psi, aluminum 10 million psi. What if, given these research methods and the associated changes to manufacturing techniques that could follow, a three-fold increase in physical strength resulted? It’s possible a mullion could be one half or one third the size it is now. Think the architects would go for that? That might be one way of reducing the need for raw materials, and also impact the life cycle costs of wall systems and energy performance.
Four: You think you’re busy? I love reading ENR and pick up a lot of interesting tidbits that happen outside the glazing world, but give an indication of how the rest of the world gets along. One such highlighted project caught my attention. How would you like a schedule with 13,500 activities spread around 4,500 work centers, involving a construction staff of 8,000 people? Think big, really big; think Panama Canal. The original canal, back in the early 1900s, involved removing 200 million cu m of soil vs. the 150 million cu m for the current expansion, which is needed to handle larger container ships. They’re setting 4.4 million cu m of concrete vs. 3.6 cu m for the original. Just in case that number’s not mind boggling, that 4.4 million cu m represents 640,000 concrete trucks (at 9 cu yards per truck – perhaps where the expression the “whole 9 yards” came from).
The expectations for the building industry in the coming year will hopefully continue to look up, and not be as daunting as the canal. Almost 300,000 jobs were added to the U.S. construction industry last year, and predictions are for the same growth in 2015. That’s got to be good for all of us.
Good luck, and continued success to each and all of you in the coming year!