Celebrity panel: What's hot, what's hotter

August 11, 2010

One hesitates to think what the hourly rate would be for the talent assembled at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last Oct.16 for the North American Construction Forecast, sponsored by Building Design & Construction and Reed Construction Data.

On the dais: Hugh Hardy, founding partner, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, New York; Henry Mann, president/CEO, Perkins & Will, Chicago; and Leo A. Daly III, chairman/CEO, Leo A. Daly, Omaha, Neb.

The triumvir was joined by Rod Kruse, a partner with Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck, Des Moines, Iowa, last year's AIA Architecture Firm Award winner; GSA Deputy Assistant Commissioner William Guerin; and Scott Simpson, co-chair of the Design Futures Council and a principal with The Stubbins Associates, Cambridge, Mass.

Here's what the brain trust had to say:

Hugh Hardy, FAIA: There's been "a definite slowdown in donations" to museums, galleries, and theaters, which has affected the "cultural life" of New York and, by extension, construction activity in arts-related buildings.

But, says Hardy, restoration of many historical parts of the city is providing an "incentive to energize" around these projects.

Another trend Hardy has observed is the "intense" competition between universities. "You've got the new president of Columbia [Lee Bollinger] saying, 'Maybe we should sell the [Morningside Heights] campus'" and move to a new site.

Henry Mann: "With the exception of the commercial sector, we think there's optimism across the industry," Mann told the more than 200 conferees. One cause for optimism: California Senate Bill 1953, which requires all general acute inpatient hospitals in the state to be able to withstand a major earthquake by 2007.

The education sector is strong, Mann says, both university/college teaching labs and K-12 schools, even in large urban school systems. He cautioned that financing for education facilities could be in jeopardy, with contributions down at most universities, and numerous bond referenda for K-12 construction on this month's ballots.

Leo A. Daly III, FAIA: With a staff of 900 professionals, the Omaha, Neb., firm is looking for more business from China, particularly for the 2008 Olympics ("promising, but it's hard to get the money out") and hotels/casinos. The education sector is slowing down, he says, due to a dropoff in donations.

Three lively areas for the firm: aviation ("we're doing studies on the security changes for airports," with the prospect of getting in on construction later); federal projects ("they'll be doing more to stimulate the economy"); and healthcare ("our own firm has a problem getting enough professionals to service all the projects" in this sector).

On the down side, says Daly, "If Congress does not approve some form of terrorism insurance, we'll see some effect on building cancellations," especially in "sensitive" cities that are more likely to be targeted by terrorists.

Daly also reported that his firm is experimenting with new delivery systems, "more partnering with construction companies" in a team effort.

Rod Kruse, FAIA: Kruse's firm has won a slew of major awards over the last three years. It has gained particular expertise in parking structures, including a combined parking and chilled water facility at the University of Iowa. Still, says Kruse, "we've had a hard time finding people."

Concentrating most of its activity in and around Iowa, the firm does 60% of its work in higher education, which Kruse says is "going strong," as well as adaptive reuse and historic structures. On the other hand, "we don't see a lot of corporate office growth in Des Moines."

William Guerin: The 20-year veteran of the GSA says the feds are "looking to get rid of buildings that are not appropriate for the 21st century, and we're putting money into reconstruction," where the GSA has a $4 billion backlog of projects. Another "big problem": mold in GSA buildings in the South.

GSA largesse will bypass much of the Midwest. Instead it will be concentrated in projects around the perimeter of the country, such as border stations for homeland security, FBI and IRS facilities, and federal laboratory construction.

Federal courthouse construction "probably will not stop," says Guerin, who once ran the GSA's $10 billion courthouse construction program. (See related story, page 42.)

Guerin says the GSA is opening up to innovations in construction delivery. "We're tiptoeing into design-build, doing a little so-called 'bridging,'" he says.

Scott Simpson, FAIA: "Clients used to want us to do projects at hypertrack speed," says Simpson. "Now they want psychotrack speed."

This sentiment was echoed by Kruse. "It's not just up to us, the architects, it's also in the construction end," he told the audience of contractors, marketers, property owners, and designers. "We've got to work closely with the construction team to get everyone up to psychospeed."

         
 

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