Whitepaper: 10.15.2018

The X-Factor

— Monica Perrin, project manager for Arizona State University and Bryan Kuster, project manager for McCarthy Building Companies

ASU biodesign C

ASU Biodesign C Project Team Successfully Plans and Constructs a Research Facility with Unidentified End Users – Here’s How

Most capital improvement projects on university campuses are built with a known end user – stadium renovations cater to the athletic teams, educational buildings are constructed with input from the departments that will occupy them, and so on. The most complex of these involve the construction of research facilities that have the potential to be major revenue generators. But how do you build a state-of-the-art research facility when the end users are unknown?

The project team leading the design and construction of the new Biodesign Institute C Research Building (Biodesign C) at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, Ariz., faced this challenge.

The new $120 million Biodesign C research facility, the third building in ASU’s Biodesign Institute complex, is an Interdisciplinary Science and Technology building dedicated to the needs of scientific research in health and medicine, environmental sustainability, and national security. Envisioned as a “workhorse” facility, the building is comprised of flexible and adaptable labs designed to accommodate a wide range of research.

With an ambitious goal of increasing research revenue to $835 million by 2025, as outlined by ASU President Dr. Michael M. Crow, the university is focused on maximizing research space on campus. Consequently, while it was originally planned as a 160,000-square-foot facility, the footprint grew to 190,000 square feet during the schematic design phase. And, it was also determined that 100 percent of lab space should be wet lab-capable to increase adaptability among research types and floorplan flexibility in the long term. Such significant changes required constant communication and collaboration among project stakeholders to update the architectural designs and construction plans, and to ensure the success of the project while remaining within the original budget.

Setting up for success

At the outset, the team, comprised of ASU’s Facilities Development and Management (FDM), the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED), the Biodesign Institute, the general contractor and the design professionals, agreed on several goals for the project, including a design that is a meaningful architectural response to the campus environment, flexible and adaptable floorplates, high space utilization, 100 percent reliable operation, low cost of ownership, and on-time and on-budget delivery.

“This project at ASU is unique because when most research facilities are built, there is usually no alignment of priorities. On the one hand, you have researchers who appropriately have high standards, but who are not personally accountable for expenses. On the other hand, you have the capital improvement team who primarily care about cost management and the architecture of the project,” said Tamara Deuser, chief operating officer for the Biodesign Institute and associate vice president of research operations for OKED at ASU. “Essentially, you have competing priorities with no method of reconciling. With Biodesign C, the primary decision makers cared about both sides of the equation, which has been a key contributor to the success of the project.”

To meet the design and performance aspirations of ASU, while remaining on budget and adhering to an aggressive schedule, general contractor McCarthy Building Companies facilitated the incorporation of design-assist subcontractors early in the design process. With the design receiving real-time feedback on constructability, schedule and cost implications for different aspects of the design, the university had sufficient information to make decisions about which features provided the best value for the project. Coupled with McCarthy’s ongoing estimating efforts, this allowed the university to make timely decisions that maximized their return on investment.

Maximizing flexibility and adaptability

Erik Halle, director of research facilities & infrastructure at ASU, along with Deuser, were the agents responsible for bridging the needs of researchers and those of university facility planners.

“Based on our experiences with Biodesign A and B, we know we will be adapting the space to changing research types, research equipment and research teams and sizes,” Halle said. “From the start, we planned for Biodesign C to accommodate most kinds of changes with ease because it was designed and constructed as a highly adaptable building.”

The team decided early on that Biodesign C would be constructed to form “neighborhoods.” These neighborhoods were designed to closely, yet comfortably, accommodate scientists of varying disciplines to encourage collaboration. 

“The neighborhood model maximizes daylight, views and energy performance while minimizing distance between open lab spaces and laboratory support, tech desk and principal investigator offices,” said Gary Cabo, principal of ZGF. “The implementation of neighborhoods in Biodesign C provides an alternative to the university’s current layout offerings, in keeping with the multidisciplinary group sizes envisioned in the new facility.”

Many institutions struggle with the amount of rework required in generically planned laboratories once researchers are identified. Significant amounts of casework and equipment can be reconfigured or removed when adapting the generic lab to the needs of individual researchers. 

“We knew that ASU’s goal was to maximize research space as it related to gross square footage. Biodesign C is similar in size than the Biodesign A and Biodesign B buildings, but was designed and built to maximize research space, and when fully occupied Biodesign C will be capable of supporting nearly as much research as Biodesign A and B combined,” said Mike Gonzalez, project director at McCarthy. “And to remain a ‘workhorse laboratory’ into the future, we knew flexibility was key. With a focus on the creation of collaborative research neighborhoods, we avoided a lot of highly specialized areas, which runs contrary to adaptability.”

Under ASU’s FDM and OKED leadership, the design and construction teams worked with representatives from different research disciplines to understand what components remain consistent among the majority of researchers and which components vary. The team found that, while open bench areas remain consistent, laboratory support areas are particularly prone to reconfiguration. To accommodate this understanding, the team decided to reduce the amount of fixed casework and place lab services in locations that would not limit reconfiguration of spaces. By providing modular infrastructure without over-investing in fixed components that would frequently be reconfigured prior to occupancy, the project was able to minimize first costs and future renovation costs.

Project team alignment elevated to a new level

McCarthy Building Companies proactively lead collaborative sessions with university representatives, architects, engineers and subcontractors, to ensure that ongoing changes to the building minimally impacted the overall project cost and schedule.

As an example, to accommodate a research group with highly specialized needs, the third floor of the facility faced significant changes during construction. The project team worked to creatively navigate the delay using Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology to make real-time modifications to the mechanical systems that re-sequenced and expedited the work, cutting what should have been a 10-week delay in half.

“Collaboration was constantly underscored throughout this project. Early on, the project leadership team came together to determine operating principles, a method for team communication, an escalation process, key deliverables, and a definition of success,” Gonzalez said. “We embraced an open office concept on site with representatives from ASU, the architects and McCarthy welcome on the jobsite.”

A prime example of project team alignment occurred when constructing one of the building’s main architectural features – a series of nineteen 28-foot-tall white concrete columns that needed to be homogenous in color, and completely smooth with sharp corners. Adding to the difficulty, eight of the columns slope at a 77-degree angle. Eighteen column mockups were constructed by McCarthy’s concrete self-perform team prior to erecting the actual columns to perfect the process and achieve the vision for a functional architectural feature without adding cost.

“Typically, laboratories with high vibration criteria would suggest a need for heavy concrete shear walls. Instead, by designing unique sloped vertical columns, a lateral bracing system was developed in lieu of shear walls,” said Ted Hyman, partner at ZGF. “While the columns created an intrinsically functional yet elegant solution, they proved challenging to construct, but McCarthy’s level of craftsmanship and dedication to quality is evident in the beautiful columns that are in place today.”

Accommodating a unique user in a generic building

While the majority of end users were unidentified at the start of construction, the team was aware that the building would require a highly specialized lab space to house the world’s first compact free-electron X-ray laser and the research team working with it.

Located in the basement to accommodate the lead-brick lined concrete vaults that house the lasers, the laboratory plan needed to work within the structure established by the generic laboratories above. This area had strict tolerances so that highly sensitive equipment, like the X-ray, would be able to operate effectively without vibration. It also required that there be no remnant magnetic field in the lab space. As part of a cost-saving measure, the construction team degaussed all the standard rebar in the linear accelerator and laser labs in lieu of purchasing non-magnetic stainless steel rebar, saving ASU approximately $1 million.

From concept to completion

The ASU Biodesign C project is scheduled for final completion in the summer of 2018. By developing baselines for current research programs and targets for future programs; creating project team alignment; and balancing flexibility and budget to maximize the return on investment, the project team has been able to execute what is arguably the best project under construction on ASU’s campus today.

As Deuser pointed out, “The team focused singularly on what’s best for the building and how we build it to maximize the success of our researchers. We’ve been able to develop and maintain a true team approach by confronting challenges, helping each other and maintaining accountability throughout the project.” Halle added, “In my 20-plus years of construction project management, I have rarely seen this level of teamwork on a project."

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