Construction has advanced leaps and bounds since the days of ironworkers eating lunch on a steel beam without safety gear 850 feet above the streets of New York City. Fast forward nearly a century, and construction workers, glaziers and other tradespeople can work in relative peace, knowing mechanisms and technology are in place to enhance efficiency and safety.

Among the numerous new technologies is a vertical manufacturing process called LIFTbuild, a wholly owned subsidiary of Detroit-area contractor Barton Malow. LIFTbuild offers a unique way to construct buildings. The process allows most of the building to be constructed at ground level, including glazing, mechanical components, electronics, plumbing, and more. Once a floor is completed, a strand jack raises it to its desired elevation, rising about 20-30 feet per hour.

The LIFTbuild process allows most of the building to be constructed at ground level, including glazing, mechanical components, electronics, plumbing, and more. Photo courtesy of Barton Malow.

“When we lift the floorplates, the façade is already on, and the building is already enclosed,” said Barton Malow senior project manager Ryan Ramirez. “This allows our mechanical and electrical systems to be brought online quickly, so the environment is safer, more climate-controlled and comfortable for people to work in daily.”

Officials explained that during floorplate assembly, the LIFTbuild technology raises each floor up to eight feet off the ground so that glaziers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople can work at comfortable heights. Once a section is completed, the floorplate is lifted along structural concrete spines and locked in place. The process helps to reduce the complexity of work, increase assembly efficiency and improve safety.

LIFTbuild’s first proof-of-concept project, Exchange Detroit, was a barometer for how well the process works. The project was completed in early 2023. It was the first U.S. top-down project since the 1970s and the first building constructed in North America using the LIFTbuild delivery method. Exchange Detroit was constructed in 14 floorplate lifts. The final two floors were built conventionally, along with a unitized rain-screen system, which took about two days to install per floorplate.

According to LIFTbuild chief operating officer Joe Benvenuto, a number of tradespeople at the start were pessimistic about the top-to-bottom method. Their reasoning, he said in a podcast explaining the LIFTbuild process, is if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Essentially, the construction industry is focused on managing risk and safeguarding against it the best it can.

“Doing something different is not built in the [construction industry’s] nature,” he said. “Over time, as we partner and collaborate with subcontractors, and now since we have proof of concept in the ground and [subcontractors] can see real-life experience, that buy-in, or the adoption phase, is definitely changing. We’re now getting a much better response than we originally received from subcontractors.”

Former LIFTbuild executive vice president MaryAnn Kanary said LIFTbuild eases many burdens shouldered by tradespeople. She explained the process offers the opportunity to make work more efficient and lessens the strain on the body.

“When we’re doing things at grade, it’s much safer and less challenging physically,” she said. “It’s still hard work, but the wear and tear is expected to be lessened because the man-motion hours are significantly reduced.”

Mic Patterson, an ambassador of innovation and collaboration at the Facade Tectonics Institute, said while he isn’t well versed in the method, he sees “potential for coordination issues among tradespeople, but there are also potential benefits from this strategy.” Of course, with the method used in only one project so far, time will tell of its effectiveness.

2 Comments

  1. What is the difference between the Liftbuild method used today versus the Liftslab method was banned in 1987 after 28 construction were killed when the building collapsed.

    1. This LIFTbuild method sounds very interesting! It seems like a great way to improve safety and working conditions for tradespeople in the construction industry. I’m curious to learn more about the long-term cost implications of LIFTbuild compared to traditional construction methods. Have there been any studies on this aspect?

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