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The Urban Developer
Developers of a New York skyscraper have been ordered to remove as many as 20 floors from the top of its recently completed project on the Upper West Side.

The 200 Amsterdam Avenue development, being delivered by SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, has been found to have exceeded zoning limits after developers “gerrymandered” a 39-sided zoning lot in order to add height and bulk to the project.

The decision, handed down by supreme court judge Justice W Franc Perry, marks a watershed moment for community groups who opposed the 204 metre tall project on the grounds that the developers used a zoning loophole to upsize the project to comprise 112 apartments.

The court found that while it is common for developers to purchase the unused development rights of adjacent buildings, the developers in question had put together a highly unusual zoning lot to take advantage of the development rights.

Community groups opposing the tower went to court after their request to stop construction was rejected by New York City’s Department of Buildings.

Last year, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favour of the community groups and ordered the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) revisit the matter.

Despite the court order, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America continued with the construction of the high-end residential project, which recently topped out.

“200 Amsterdam entirely conforms with all zoning rules, as earlier upheld by equally the DOB and the BSA, the two metropolis agencies with the most important responsibility for interpreting NYC’s zoning codes,” SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America said in a statement.

“We continue to make construction progress and look forward to delivering a building that will significantly benefit the neighbourhood and New York City.”

Attorneys representing the developers plan to appeal the ruling on the grounds that the project was fully compliant with the city’s zoning resolution.

At this point it remains unclear how many floors might need to be deconstructed from the 52-storey tower, but under one interpretation of the law, the building might have to remove 20 floors or more to conform to the regulation.

The Elkus Manfred-designed tower, which is located a few blocks from Central Park, at its current height would boast panoramic views of the Hudson River, Empire State Building and World Trade Centre.

The project also offers high-end amenities including an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre, conservatory, virtual golf room and a residential lounge.

The decision isn’t the first time a ruling like this has been passed down in the state of New York.

In 1991, developer Laurence Ginsberg was forced to reduced a development at East 96th Street by 31-storeys to 19-storeys after it was found to be inside a special Park Avenue zoning district, which limits building heights.
James Farrar
Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

Over two years of driving for Uber, James Farrar logged thousands of miles on the app. Many weeks, he’d work more than 80 hours behind the wheel of his Ford Mondeo, crisscrossing the streets of London deep into the night. Along with passengers, Farrar was collecting data.

During his time in the car, Uber’s app recorded where he went, how long he stayed, how much money he made, and how many stars he was given by his passengers. It noted how many rides he accepted and how many he cancelled, mapped where trips started and ended, and how long it took him to wind through traffic to get there as he followed the algorithmic cues nudging him around the city.

Being an Uber driver, Farrar found, did not agree with him: “[L]ife behind the wheel,” as he wrote in a recent op-ed for the U.K. Independent, “can become a blur of endless traffic, crushing loneliness, enduring fatigue and relationships strained by absence.” And he grew frustrated by the way the app always seemed to be pushing him to accept more rides, while his earnings kept declining. In 2016, he and another London Uber driver, Yaseen Aslam, brought a worker’s rights claim against the company, arguing that drivers aren’t true independent contractors and should instead be classified under the U.K.’s third employment category of “worker”—entitling them to minimum wage and paid vacation days. Farrar’s team won the classification case.

But during the trials, Uber was able to use Farrar’s personal data as legal ammunition against him, he said; the company argued that the reason he made under minimum wage some days was because he’d declined several rides, not because he was being fleeced by the app. “I decided then that I needed to see all my data,” Farrar told CityLab in an email. “[S]o I could properly assert my rights and eliminate the asymmetry in information power between me and Uber.”

Uber appealed, arguing, as it long has, that it merely connects independent entrepreneurs with riders, and that a change in classification would impede drivers’ freedom. (A judge said that the wording of Uber’s contract, which makes the same claim, contained a “high degree of fiction.”) Still, one judge out of three backed the company, and Uber was given permission to bump the trial up to the U.K.’s Supreme Court.

With the support of Ravi Naik, the lawyer who is also representing plaintiffs in data privacy cases against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, Farrar and three other drivers have bundled their data requests, eking out more information with each challenge. This March, they filed a lawsuit against Uber for withholding some data, which they say is in breach of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law gives E.U. citizens the right to request any and all personal data that a platform retains about them.

Though he says he’s not “anti-Uber,” Farrar’s labor rights activism has accelerated: In 2017, he helped found and became the chairman of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the IWGB union, which represents more than a thousand workers for private hire companies. And as of this summer, he has pushed more than 60 other drivers to file similar data claims. Now he’s pooling their information online as part of an organization he founded and directs called the Worker Info Exchange. Since Uber arbitrates cases from all its worldwide markets besides North America in Amsterdam, an E.U. country, these GDPR-based claims could be replicated in dozens of countries.

With that aggregate, he wants to determine definitively how much (or little) drivers make for their time—and how an over-supply of temporary drivers has saturated the market with idling cars. “The negative effects of these apps are congestion and poverty, and we need the data to show that,” Farrar said.

This tension isn’t an entirely new one. Mounting evidence suggests that all kinds of apps, from the Weather Channel to the selfie-filtering Perfect365, have habitually scraped location data from phones and used it to better predict consumer buying habits. And Uber’s tight grip on information is part of a long pattern for the ride-hailing titan, which has often tangled with local regulators over its vast trove of trip data. But Farrar believes that whoever gains access to Uber’s complete data caches will find something bigger than just tools for better traffic
Claire Anderson/Unsplash
Potential productivity benefits for architecture, engineering, and construction may depend on the outcome of copyright litigation by the International Code Council (ICC) against San Francisco-based startup UpCodes. The firm, which aims to reduce perceived bottlenecks in the implementation of the nation’s 93,000 building codes, faces charges that its public posting of codes undermines the public-private partnership that develops them.

The nonprofit ICC, which prepares the International Building Code and other model codes adopted by multiple jurisdictions, contends that UpCodes has appropriated its property and “does not need to violate ICC’s copyrights to further its claim to innovate,” an anonymous ICC spokesperson commented for this article through its public relations firm. UpCodes regards its practice as fair use, citing precedents establishing that information “incorporated by reference” into law (the applicable legal term) enters the public domain. Other appeals courts, ICC counters, have protected copyrights in cases it considers comparable.

The suit involves a tension that jurists have long recognized in copyright law: the need for material support and incentive for creators (who have exclusive rights “for limited times” under the Constitution’s copyright clause) versus the need to prevent monopoly control from stifling the circulation of ideas. The conflict pits ICC’s interests in codebook development and sales, and its assertion that its website already provides adequate access, against UpCodes’ interests in expanding access and linking codes with building information modeling (BIM) systems.
Getty Images
With recent project execution issues, quarter results surprises and share price falloffs among some publicly traded engineering and construction firms, sector analysts are questioning traditional industry business models and are calling for strategy changes to keep investors from fleeing industry stocks.

In a “deep dive” assessment earlier this month, investment bank Credit Suisse analyzed metrics among large firms it tracks, with recommendations for needed change to eliminate or reduce high-risk profiles—some already in process by firms.

“Bottom line, cost overruns associated with construction represent a huge repeatable industry issue,” says Jamie Cook, lead research analyst. “For investors to buy in, [firms] need to demand better contract structures to de-risk business models. This is long overdue, given limited competition in the space and … reflecting unnecessary risk consistently placed on the contractors.” Cook notes the continuing “self-help” moves by some firms, through sell-offs of higher-risk businesses and transition into sectors with growth potential and more stable earnings.

She points to moves by AECOM, Jacobs Engineering Group and KBR, for example, that have shed or reduced potentially higher-margin but risk-prone heavy construction markets, or are in process, in favor of more stable IT consulting or government services.

But the analyst cautions that as KBR’s remaining energy business is set to ramp up with expected award of large liquefied-natural-gas projects, its backlog risk could accelerate, even requiring selling off that segment.

"We have been curious as to why KBR would take on the risk of lump sum LNG work, given its message about de-risking and prioritizing consistent performance," added UBS construction sector analyst Steven Fisher in a June 21 research note: "It appears that KBR's financial targets only reflect modest amounts of profit, relative to what the as-bid potential is, thereby potentially skewing the upside/downside to the upside, assuming there are no extreme outcomes."

Noting McDermott and Fluor Corp. recent quarter results, battered by execution issues on projects, Credit Suisse cautions that firms need to review contract structures, with a push to “negotiate better terms and conditions.”

Says Cook: “This is particularly important as contractors have been increasingly taking on fixed-price work.”

The mega-project trend that has led to “mega-losses, and public firms, especially, cannot deal with that uncertainty,” says one construction financial consultant who declined to be identified. "Early on, design-build margins on big projects were tremendous. Over time, with competition, margins have gone way down and are not commensurate with risk."

“If you’re doing fixed-price jobs, sooner or later you will have a bad one, but there should be enough good ones to offset that,” he says. Firms seeking to eliminate risks “are design-centric that never really developed a contractor mentality,” the executive adds.

"I think what we are seeing is a reversal of a trend toward integrated design/build by the large engineering firms who did not want to be relegated to being subcontractors to the large builders," the consultant contends. "That movement has proven to be a disaster for some of the large E&C firms and they are moving back to selling services and not taking construction risk."
Owners continue to seek greater efficiency, less risk and tighter schedules. This is driving more of them than ever before to explore such project delivery methods as construction management-at-risk (CMAR), design-build and integrated project delivery. As a result, these project delivery methods are growing rapidly and are quickly replacing the traditional design-bid-build method as the go-to means of executing projects.

The growth in alternative project delivery can be seen in the this year’s rankings of ENR’s Top 100 Construction Management-at-Risk Firms and Top 100 Design-Build Firms. The Top 100 CMAR firms had a combined revenue of $143.05 billion in 2018, up 8.2% from the $132.24 billion reported in 2017.

What is more interesting in the Top 100 CMAR, revenue numbers for domestic projects rose 9.6%, to $133.30 billion, in 2018 over 2017 figures. This more than makes up for the 8.5% drop in revenue from international CMAR projects, which fell to $9.75 billion in 2018 from $10.66 billion in 2017.

The design-build list provides a similar contrast between domestic and international project delivery. Overall, the Top 100 design-build firms had a total revenue of $107.66 billion in 2018, up 4.3% from 2017. However, revenue from domestic design-build projects grew a more healthy 5.9%, rising to $85.20 billion, in 2018. On the other hand, international design-build revenue dropped 1.5% in 2018, thanks in part to a fall-off in huge engineering-procurement-construction projects in the international mining, power and petroleum markets.

To put the strong growth in design-build and CMAR in a broader context, domestic design-build revenue has grown 69.6% from 2010, when the construction recession ended, to 2018. This rise comes despite a dramatic drop in big-ticket engineer-procure-construction projects in the oil-and-gas, power and mining sectors. In the same time period, domestic CMAR revenue has grown 108.4%.

What used to be considered alternative forms of project delivery “are becoming increasingly commonplace­—to the point that they’re not really alternative anymore,” says Scott Roux, senior vice president of Michael Baker International. “We are pursuing this work aggressively yet thoughtfully, and anticipate it comprising a larger percentage of our overall portfolio going forward.”

CMAR Is Surging
The market for CMAR has better than doubled in the past eight years for many reasons, as owners seek teamwork and earlier involvement in the design process than is typical in the traditional design-bid-build process. Many owners also have returned to CMAR after some bad experiences during the industry recession of 2008-10, when owners thought they could get cut-rate pricing using design-bid-build.

“During the downturn, many owners thought they would get the best price from design-bid-build, but that didn’t always work out that well,” says Dennis Cornick, executive vice president of Gilbane Building Co. So CMAR is returning to be the go-to project delivery method in the buildings sector.

CMAR also is making major strides in the public infrastructure market, particularly in the water and wastewater sector. For example, Clark Construction Group’s subsidiary Atkinson Construction is helping the City of Atlanta bolster its clean water system with the Atlanta Water Supply, Bellwood Quarry Tunnels and Shaft project, says Chip Hastie, executive vice president of Clark. Atkinson’s Underground Division has been working on the CMAR project over the last three years, constructing a water tunnel.

Design-Build Is Trending
Design-build also is rapidly expanding as the project delivery method of choice for many market sectors. “Design-build is hot and trending,” says Lisa Washington, CEO of the Design-Build Institute of America, Washington, D.C.

Washington points to two studies from last year that show both the growth and effectiveness of design-build. In June 2018, a joint study by DBIA and Raleigh, N.C.-based industry consultant FMI Corp. found that design-build is expected to grow 18% from 2018 to 2021 and will make up 44% of the nonresidential market by 2021.

The DBIA-FMI study was followed in November by a study of project-delivery performance by the Construction Industry Institute, an Austin, Texas-based industry research organization, and the Pankow Foundation, a McLean, Va.-based research grou
National Transportation Safety Board
On the morning of last year’s Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse, when the engineer of record assured project team members that there were no safety risks related to cracks propagating across a part of the unusual single-truss structure, other project team members voiced mild concern, but no alarm. In hindsight, considering that the bridge had no inherent structural redundancy as it sat, incomplete, straddling a busy highway—and would suffer a sudden, catastrophic and deadly collapse just hours later—the team’s lack of urgency remains puzzling, say engineering experts contacted by ENR for comment.

Minutes of the meeting in the contractor’s field office recently released by the Florida Dept. of Transportation show that attendees offered modest suggestions and questions to FIGG Bridge Engineers.

Bolton Perez & Associates, the project’s construction engineering and inspection contractor, asked, “Do we need temporary shoring?,” for instance. FIGG officials responded that it was not necessary. Instead, the minutes show that FIGG staff suggested that steel channels and post-tension bars would “capture some of that force which is better than vertical support. The diagonal member is what needs to be captured.” To the suggestion that another engineer should peer review the bridge’s cracks, FIGG concurred.

An official with FIU asked a representative with Bolton Perez their opinion of FIGG’s presentation analysis. Bolton, Perez said they could not comment at the moment, but would “expedite” a response in 2-3 days, according to the notes.

An FDOT representative asked FIGG to supply a copy of the presentation for the agency’s records.

Engineers asked by ENR to review the meeting presentation and minutes for this story don’t believe that it shows exactly what errors or mistakes precipitated the sudden collapse.

Designed with a single central, open truss, the pedestrian bridge structure featured a narrower top chord. The top chord was to serve as a canopy over the wider bottom chord, which would be the walking surface. Cables from a 109-ft-high central pylon, not yet built at the time of the collapse, would add stability, according to the design-build proposal. The concrete deck was designed with two-way post-tensioning tendons.

At the time of the collapse, contractors were apparently adjusting a tension rod in one of the diagonal struts between the chords at one end of the bridge. It is possible that the project’s prime contractor, MCM, and its post-tensioning subcontractor, in attempting to fix the problems, made an error that caused the bridge’s single truss to crack and give way. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, crews reportedly had been re-tensioning diagonal member 11 at the time of the collapse. Lacking redundancy, the truss failed at that end and fell to the ground, smashing autos and claiming six lives.

Just days before the meeting, the truss structure cast alongside the road was loaded onto its permanent supports and inspections showed no distressed members. But two days before the collapse, MCM emailed FIGG about cracks. FIGG responded by instructing MCM to install temporary shims in the base of a pylon directly below the portion of the bridge with the cracks, between the permanent support shims.

Then, on March 15, 2018, engineers, contractors, consultants, state DOT representatives and officials with FIU, the project owner, gathered to hear why the bridge designer thought cracks were occurring around part of the structure’s walking surface. The section in question was the bottom chord of the concrete truss comprising the bridge, at one of the diagonal web members at the structure’s north end.

Meeting notes indicate that it was known that cracks were “growing daily.”

Despite that, FIGG Bridge Engineers assured project team members that they saw “no safety concern” due to the cracking. According to the meeting notes, FIGG’s lead technical designer Denney Pate—who led the presentation, according to FIU—and bridge engineer Eddy Leon were on site for the presentation. Dwight Dempsey, FIGG’s design manager, joined by phone.

Team members in attendance probably held Pate’s opinion in high regard that morning. FIGG-MCM’s design-build proposal lists numerous accolades for Pate in support of its description of him as
Nadine M. Post for ENR
The repair of two fractured girders spanning Fremont Street and the reinforcement of twin girders spanning First Street are complete at the beleaguered Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco.

To date, an independent panel of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has found no other issues affecting the transit center, according to the public owner, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. TJPA will announce a reopening date after the panel concludes its review.

TJPA shuttered the facility in late September, some six weeks after it had opened to bus traffic. This was shortly after a ceiling panel installer had inadvertently discovered the most serious of the two brittle fractures in the bottom flange of one of the twin built-up plate girders spanning Fremont Street.

Shoring Removed

To date, crews have removed all shoring from both sets of third-floor girders that span 87 ft and support both a public rooftop park above and hang the second floor bus level. All traffic lanes are now open during the day. Night street closures will continue throughout May to restore lights, MUNI overhead lines and to reinstall ceiling panels.

Recommissioning of the 4.5-block-long facility will continue through the end of this month. The quality assurance process includes retesting and re-inspecting fire and life safety systems throughout the facility and retesting the building’s mechanical and electrical systems, reports TJPA.

Since the closure, transit agencies have been providing bus service out of a temporary terminal at Howard and Main streets. The mostly outdoor facility served as the depot during construction of the new facility.
Attendees of a recent presentation on the earthquake-resistant structure of San Francisco’s Salesforce Transit Center—intended to provide a safe haven when the Big One hits—lauded the engineering of the 4.5-block-long hollow tube that supports the 1.2-million-sq-ft “groundscraper.” But there also was much talk of the project’s black eye, as a consequence of brittle fractures of the bottom flanges of two bridge-like built-up plate girders that span 87 ft over Fremont Street.

“It’s such a shame about the girders; it’s such a beautiful structure overall,” said one engineer, who declined to be named, after Bruce Gibbons, a managing principal of the hub’s engineer-of-record, Thornton Tomasetti (TT), presented at the American Institute of Steel Construction’s 2019 NASCC: The Steel Conference. The April 3-5 event drew more than 5,100 registrants to St. Louis.

A brouhaha over the blame for the girder fractures that shuttered the three-story transit hub last Sept. 25, six weeks after it opened, is just one dispute marring the project. There is another. Last Oct. 16, the general contractor, the Webcor/Obayashi Joint Venture, filed suit in the Superior Court of California against the public owner, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, alleging breach of contract and seeking more than $150 million in extras to its $994,517,600 contract (ENR 10/29/18 p. 11). On Feb. 22, TJPA filed a cross-complaint. And on March 15, WO filed a complaint against seven subcontractors, including the steel sub Skanska USA Civil West California District and the girder fabricator, the Herrick Corp.

TJPA alleges WO breached its preconstruction services obligations by failing to provide accurate estimates, ensure competitive bidding and rebid packages at no cost to TJPA. The authority also claims WO breached its construction services obligations by failing to enforce Buy America requirements; misusing the request for information (RFI) process; submitting late, inaccurate and incomplete submittals; installing nonconforming work; staffing the project with inexperienced personnel; and failing to perform its close-out obligations in a timely manner.

The breaches resulted in “substantial additional costs” to TJPA and delayed the substantial and final completion of the project, says the complaint.

The complaints do not specifically relate to the girder fractures, but a future claim is likely over that responsibility. The third-floor girders support a rooftop park and hang the second-floor bus level, via a tension plate that thickens the web’s midspan and slots through the bottom flange.

Though the girders met all specifications and passed all inspections, TJPA’s investigator, forensic metallurgist LPI, blamed the fabricator for the fractures.

The root cause is failure to grind and polish 2 in. x 4 in. cuts where hanger plates slot through the bottom flanges, said LPI. The failure to grind, in combination with very brittle plate material at the mid-depth of the 4-in.-thick flange and service loads, created the fractures.

Thermal cutting caused expected microcracks. Shrinkage stresses from butt welds of the flange plate ends at the midspan enlarged the cracks. Stress from service loads turned the cracks into fractures.

The unraveling appears to have begun with a TT note for a “missing weld access hole” in the web. TT added the WAH to an approved-as-noted shop drawing. In an RFI, Skanska’s detailer questioned the WAH in the web and suggested holes in the bottom flange, which TT approved as WAHs. Revised shop drawings show cuts, not WAHs, in the bottom flanges.

TT declined to comment until the TJPA investigation is complete. Herrick and Skanska deny blame (ENR 4/1-8 p. 14). “Engineers know the quality of material is not consistent through the depth of the plate,” said Bob Hazleton, Herrick’s president. And he maintains the investigation is not focusing enough on the hanger slot, which is not a defined hole in the code.

The girder failures have rekindled discussions about potential pitfalls of connection design and detailing practices, especially for more complicated structures. Engineers are pressed for time, which can result in incomplete drawings. Shop drawing review is typically relegated to junior engineers. “It might be beneficial to flag certain conditions for special review,” said another engineer at the conferenc
Fortis Property Group
The 670-foot-tall 161 Maiden Lane, a luxury condo tower on the shore of the East River near the South Street Seaport, is leaning. The question of whether contractor Pizzarotti or developer Fortis Property Group is to blame for the 58-story building’s 3-inch lean to the north, however, will be settled by a lawsuit filed with New York State Supreme Court.

As first reported by Commercial Observer, Pizzarotti is suing Fortis over their alleged cost-cutting decision to drain and compact the wet soil below the site instead of driving piles before laying the foundation. As a result, the suit alleges that this “soil improvement” decision, made before Fortis was hired for the project in 2015, made completing the project difficult-to-impossible and cost Pizzarotti millions. Apart from the structural issues, Pizzarotti alleges that the two-inch drift in the superstructure from the 11th floor to the 21st prevented the installation of the curtain wall and that Fortis never provided an adequate replacement.

Although the tower has topped out and work is still ongoing, Pizzarotti claims that the site is unsafe and that 161 Maiden Lane will continue to settle and shift. If that happens, the facade panels, plumbing, insulation, and elevators may all be risk of failing. Pizzarotti says that they were thus unable to finish working, and submitted their resignation from the project on March 1.

Fortis shot back, claiming the leaning problem was the result of Pizzarotti’s concrete subcontractor improperly pouring the slab and failing to take the settling of the soil into account. A Fortis spokesperson also claims that Pizzarotti never terminated their contract and continued working up through this month, casting doubt on their claims that the site was unsafe. The developer went on to say that their new general contractor, Ray Builders, was already at work installing a redesigned version of the curtain wall. Fortis also claims that it has already paid out $25 million to Pizzarotti for cost overruns and that the contractor had caused 260 days of stop-work order-related delays.

“This lawsuit is patently false from start to finish and nothing more than simple defamation and a desperate attempt by a failing general contractor to divert attention from the fact it defaulted on yet another New York City project,” said a Fortis spokesman in a statement. “As a number of prominent New York City developers have learned the hard way over the past few years, Pizzarotti is simply incapable of buying out, managing and completing a construction project within contractually promised timelines.”

Liens and legal actions accumulate amid signs of developer financial trouble

The three-tower Oceanwide Plaza project in Los Angeles suffered from a series of serious design issues and delays in the two years leading up to January, when work stopped, according to a lawsuit by a major subcontractor.

The concrete construction unit of San Francisco-based Webcor Builders is believed to be the biggest concrete subcontractor used on the project. It has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming the company is owed more than $62.3 million for its work by prime contractor Lend Lease Construction, Inc. and a pair of local project entities formed by Oceanwide Holdings Co., a publicly-traded Chinese company.

Oceanwide is also developing another large project in San Francisco.

Work on the Los Angeles project, opposite the Staples Center, stopped in January and shows no sign of resuming soon.

At attorney for Webcor declined comment.

In addition to tens of millions of dollars in back payments, Webcor's lawsuit also seeks to foreclose on a mechanics lien on three-tower hotel, condominium and restaurant project being built in downtown LA by Oceanwide. If successful, the foreclosure on the mechanics lien could force the sale of the property.

A spokesperson for Oceanwide has declined to comment, but the halt by the developer has been attributed to financing difficulties related to the Chinese government’s recent efforts to restrict the flow of capital outside the country.

Lend Lease also declined to comment.“During the course of the Project, Webcor encountered extensive delays to the

performance of its work, labor inefficiencies, and disruption of productivity, for which Webcor was not responsible, and incurred significant additional costs as a result thereof,” states the court complaint filed by the subcontractor.

Webcor contends problems with the project began not long after it inked a $122-million contract in mid-December, 2015.

The lawsuit contends “a late” as well as “deficient” and “incomplete” project design “caused Webcor to expend time and resources to fix work conditions, wait for the resolution of design issues and conflicts, incorporate design changes into its planned activities, perform added and changed work, and work under disruptive conditions.”

The design issues and other problems first came to a head in May 2016 when Lend Lease issued stop-work orders on the project’s three towers in order to allow for design work on the lower levels of the buildings to finish up, attorneys for Webcor contend.

Even after work resumed, Webcor said it struggled to deal with continued design changes, as “Oceanwide would make field modifications or require adjustments to Webcor’s work after it had been installed.”

“The above and other substantial impacts caused not only substantial delays to Webcor’s work, but also caused Webcor to incur significant lost labor productivity, added supervision, and excessive overtime costs,” the lawsuit contends.

Webcor’s lawsuit also alleges irregularities related to the start of construction on the project back in 2015.

In July 2015, months after construction had started, Downtown Investment, an entity through which Oceanwide was building the project, filed a deed in trust against the city-block sized downtown building site to secure financing for the project. The deed, in turn, “purports to secure an original indebtedness of Three Hundred Twenty Five Million Dollars ($325,000,000.00),” the lawsuit states, arguing the timing of the transaction and other details are “suspicious.”
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
Four levels of inspections and plans failed to prevent or uncover a construction flaw that resulted in the cracked girders that forced the closure of the Transbay Transit Center 5½ months ago, the agency’s executive director said Thursday.

Mark Zabaneh, head of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, said three teams of quality-control inspectors working for contractors didn’t discover that a necessary grinding process, used to eliminate small cracks associated with holes that were cut into the girders, was not performed and that the authority’s own spot inspections also missed the oversight.

Those micro-cracks developed into larger cracks and, finally, a large fissure that ripped through two large steel girders that support the building. Similar girders over First Street have not cracked.

“The execution was not done properly, and that is something we are looking into,” Zabaneh said Thursday after an authority meeting. “It’s an area of great concern for us.”

The failure of the quality-control and quality-assurance processes to detect the fracture-inducing error prompted the authority to order engineers and architects to pore over tens of thousands of drawings and inspection documents to make sure no other major potential flaws were overlooked.

A pair of outside engineers told the Transbay authority’s board Thursday that the two girders that support the three-block-long transit hub where it crosses Fremont Street fractured because of an unusual confluence of factors, including the relative strength of the steel, the design of the structure and the fabrication process.

Robert Vecchio, of LPI, a New York laboratory that analyzed metal samples from the failed girders, pointed toward the cutting of holes, known as welding access holes, in the beams as the source of the problem. The holes over Fremont Street were cut in the beams before they were welded. The welding caused tiny cracks to grow and then fracture. Holes in the girders over First Street were welded before cutting and did not crack.

Grinding the edges of the holes smooth before welding can eliminate the micro-cracking, Vechhio said, and would have prevented the Fremont Street girders from fracturing, he said.

flick user Brian Godfrey
It could be a new day for labor relations in New York City with the announcement that developer Related Cos. and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) have struck a deal, in essence, to play nice.

Related and the BCTC announced Wednesday that they had entered into an "historic accord” that, among other things, would end nasty litigation, protests, and the media war of words that have characterized their relationship over the last few years.

The latest dustup between the two stemmed from construction at Related’s $25 billion Hudson Yards development in Manhattan and questions around which unions would participate. Related ended up filing a lawsuit claiming that it had been cheated out of $100 million during the first phase of construction by corrupt unions and that the BCTC was trying to include those companies in the labor agreement for the second phase.

The BCTC accused Related of engaging in union-busting behavior and filed a complaint against the developer with the National Labor Relations Board. The trade council also filed a lawsuit against one of Related’s concrete subcontractors alleging that the company, at Related’s urging, was formed to operate outside of the collective bargaining agreements that governed other contractors at Hudson Yards.

Related followed up with a second lawsuit against the BCTC claiming that the council was intentionally impeding progress at Hudson Yards and that its members were refusing to make concrete deliveries to the project. Related also struck a deal with the New York City District Council of Carpenters independent of agreements with the BCTC.

But all of that is in the past, according to Related and the BCTC.

"Together we have put aside our differences and come to an historic agreement that will benefit the city’s economy and our workforce with good, middle-class construction jobs for years to come,” said Gary LaBarbera, BCTC president. "This new agreement is a win-win and the start of a renewed partnership to move the industry forward with joint commitments to modernization and competitive models.”
“This agreement is good for Related, good for the union construction industry and good for New York City," said Lou Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.
James Ewing
An Illinois judge ruled in favor of an advocacy group suing to block the Obama Foundation from constructing the center in a park beside Lake Michigan.

Yesterday Illinois judge John Robert Blakey ruled in favor of an advocacy group that filed suit against the City of Chicago in an attempt to block the Obama Foundation from constructing its highly-anticipated Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park along Lake Michigan. According to lawsuit filed in 2018, a group incorporated as Protect Our Parks believes that the City illegally transferred the park land to the Obama Foundation, which is a private entity. Blakey's ruling finds that Protect Our Parks can stand to sue, however, the decision has no bearing on the outcome of a the suit.

"Defendants have chosen to deal with it in a classic Chicago political way, known as a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab, one that will endure for centuries to come, regardless of future changing public park needs and increasingly consequential environmental conditions," the suit reads.

According to the Associated Press, the Chicago Park District sold the land to the city for $1. The city then amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to allow for the construction of a presidential library on the land that was otherwise subject to a no-development rule. The Obama Foundation agreed to pay $10 to the city for use of the land for 99 years in addition to covering the cost of construction and operation of the center during that time. The foundation committed to transferring ownership of the structures to the city upon completion for free.

“The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland,” said Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation—which filed a friend of the court brief in support of Protect Our Parks—in a press release. “The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.”

Initially developed for the 1893 World's Fair, Jackson Park occupies 500 acres on the South Side of Chicago bordering Lake Michigan and the University of Chicago. In 2014 the land was embroiled in another lawsuit that dashed plans for a $400 million museum proposed by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. In that case, organizers decided to pursue other sites instead of awaiting a judgment.

Per the latest designs for the Obama Presidential Center released in January 2018 by New York–based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects|Partners with local firm Interactive Design Architects, the center is slated to cover fewer than 20 acres and will include an art museum, classrooms, labs, and a public plaza.

While the decision puts the future of the $500 million center in question, Blakey did toss out portions of the suit stating the group does not stand to sue “based upon aesthetic or environmental harm" of the project according to a Chicago Tribune article.

The Obama Foundation responded to the decision in a statement to ARCHITECT. "As we have said before, we believe the lawsuit is without merit. We are confident that our plan for the Obama Presidential Center is consistent with Chicago's rich tradition of locating world-class museums in its parks, and we look forward to developing a lasting cultural institution on the South Side."
Sudden collapses and disasters betray the fact that all buildings are subject to endemic uncertainty

Are there more building failures than there used to be? Or, to ask the question in a slightly different way, have buildings become more dangerous? Conventionally, accidents have been seen as a hazard of modernity – modernity multiplied the possibilities for accidents. In the words of Paul Virilio, ‘to invent the sailing ship or steamer is to invent the shipwreck. To invent the train is to invent the rail accident of derailment. To invent the family automobile is to produce the pile up on the motorway’. Every new invention creates its corresponding accident, and the more inventions there are, the more accidents there will be – with the result that ‘in the course of the 20th century, the accident became a heavy industry’. Buildings are not immune to this process. Each innovation – high alumina cement, box girder bridges, external insulation cladding systems – gives rise to its accidents, and as there have been more inventions in building in the last century and a half than in the previous three millennia, there seem to have been more failures.

‘Distinction between natural and human or technical disasters is deceptive, for it is no more than a fiction created by the insurance industry’

A casual glance at the statistics from the insurance industry would appear to confirm the escalating number of accidents: ‘at $144 billion, the insured losses from natural and man-made disasters worldwide in 2017 were the highest ever recorded in a single year’ reported the Swiss Re research group Sigma. But these figures do not necessarily mean there were more accidents; they could simply mean people have become more risk averse, and so have been taking out more insurance, while insurers have become more skilful in covering a wider range of previously uninsurable risks. The more that people live in the present, and the less they do so in the past or in the future, the more attention they pay to accidents.

According to figures from the insurance industry, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods are occurring increasingly often, while disasters resulting from human causes – which can be broadly classified as ignorance, carelessness or greed – appear to be declining. Yet this distinction between natural and human or technical disasters is deceptive, for it is no more than a fiction created by the insurance industry. For a long time, insurers only covered risks arising from human causes – hazards from natural causes were considered uninsurable because the likely magnitude of the claims would be beyond the resources of any one insurance company. The distinction was a means for insurers to protect themselves from unbearably large claims.
Transbay Joint Powers Authority/LCI
Investigation continues into causes of trouble at San Francisco's transit center

The steel fabricator for the third-floor tapered, built-up plate girders at the troubled Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco is calling for a girder-hanger connection design review as part of the probe into the causes of brittle fractures in bottom flanges of twin 80-ft-long members that bridge Fremont Street. The facility was closed in late September.

At the midspan, each 8-ft-deep girder web is thickened by a vertical hanger plate to support the second-floor bus deck below. The hanger plate is welded to the web and slots through the girder’s bottom flange.

“I believe the hanger detail is the largest contributing factor to the problem,” says Robert Hazleton, president of fabricator The Herrick Corp. “We have been assured that a thorough review of the hanger design is part of the investigation.”

Mark Zabaneh, executive director for the owner, Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), says, "we are all very eager to determine the cause of the [fractures] discovered on two [girders] at the transit center at Fremont Street, repair the girders and safely reopen the transit center. We are weighing all of the facts as we go about determining how and why this happened and have not ruled out design, fabrication or installation. We are fully investigating this incident as well as cooperating with the independent analysis" being provided by experts from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s design review panel."

The twin girders are much like bridges in that they hang a bus deck and span a street. The girders’ hanger connection detail would normally not be used in modern bridge construction, says a structural engineer familiar with the design. The hanger could have been framed around—not through—the flange and connected with bolts to the web using plates framing into the web, says the bridge expert, who declines to be identified.
The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is ripe for disruption, and emerging technologies are poised to usher in a new era of increased design and construction productivity, quality, and efficiency. While many members of the industry have been slow to embrace change, firms like The Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC) are setting a stellar example of what a forward-thinking AEC firm should look like.

LJC may only be just over five months old, but as founder Lamar Johnson says: “It’s been 20 years in the making.” Johnson launched his new firm with the idea of bringing together the very best people he’s worked with over the past two decades. This people-first philosophy endowed the firm with a depth of experience and range of capabilities that allowed them to hit the ground running and tackle large-scale, complex projects right out of the gate. Moreover, it gives them a unique perspective into the changes caused by recent technological advances.

Last month Anton Dy Buncio (COO, VIATechnik) and Gregg Young (Board of Advisors, VIATechnik) sat down with Johnson, Tod Desmarais (Managing Director at LJC), and Mariusz Klemens (Associate, Architect and Urban Designer at LJC) to talk innovation, tech, and the future of the AEC industry — here’s what they all had to say.

Anton Dy Buncio (ADB): These days, everyone is talking about autonomous vehicles, coworking/coliving, prefabrication, machine learning/AI…what do these technologies bring to the table, and what are the limitations?

Lamar Johnson (LJ): We built our firm around the idea of integrating technology into the architecture and design process in a holistic and authentic way. Of course, technology allows us to implement a vision and respond to issues more efficiently, but it doesn’t necessarily compel us to think differently. We still have to do that ourselves. Technology can empower us; it can supplement our thinking; it can make us more nimble; it can help us deliver our ideas in a more complete and effective manner. At the end of the day, however, it’s the energy, effort, and brain power that people put into projects that really make the difference.

When you combine that mindset with the power of cutting-edge technology, you can achieve really great things. It requires a lot of confidence — in both yourself and your technology — to raise unasked questions or suggest unexpected or innovative solutions, but we’re not afraid of presenting something unbelievable, because we know that what we’re doing works.

ADB: To that end, AEC has a reputation as a generally risk-averse industry, and yet you guys seem to be very comfortable with taking risks. Why is that?

LJ: I’d say that there are two sides to risk. In some situations, you take on much greater risk by doing nothing. Inactivity is a decision, and it can create a lot of risk in and of itself. If you fail to adapt or react to a changing environment, that’s taking the worst risk of all.

But it’s also important to note that “risk” is not a gamble. A gamble involves unknown odds; it’s taking a chance or a guess. Proper risk assessment entails a careful review of a situation, an analysis you then use to make an informed judgement. We do take risks — and so do our clients — but we thoroughly evaluate them beforehand.