The Barclays Center, New York

The architecture industry takes a cue from manufacturing

With the concept of 'legacy' now the number one priority in designing and building cities of the future, could architects learn from the manufacturing industry?

There are few architecture firms tackling the industry gap between architecture and engineering. As sustainability and legacy becomes increasingly important in the built environment and iconic buildings become ever more complex, architects must now add to their design instincts the tech-savvy sense of an engineer.

"There is a disconnect between engineering and design," says John Cerone, director of virtual design and construction at SHoP Construction (SC). "Design is not the full culprit; the construction industry does have its set ways and there are a lot of contractual obstacles in delivering architectural design."

Academics believe the successful marriage of these two industries must begin in the classroom; many universities are offering dual architecture/construction degrees as architectural-engineering courses begin to find a foothold in academia. The key to the design of genuinely sustainable, green and lean cities is producing industrially adaptable architects, who are just as prevalent on the building site as in the designer's studio, and who prioritise the engineering of green values into buildings at design stage.

"We need to create a dialogue between the different components of the AEC [architecture, engineering and construction] industry," says Jonathan Mallie, principle and managing director at SC. "Coming out of a recession over the last few years has really focused us on improved ways of building in all areas: architecture, planning and development. We have co-developed projects in the past and that changes the game as an architect; you're taking on the risk of a development role to deliver your work."

"We think by understanding the other components of the [AEC] industry – not just the A and the E – we can really better understand how to plan our cities and develop admirable projects. By merging these two industries together, we look at taking an information model and passing that from the early design stages, into the construction stages and then on into post-occupancy."

Post-occupancy, in Mallie's opinion, is the most important stage of building. This determines how a building will perform once it is designed and built. Mallie says the modelling process, which is mostly completed using 3D modelling software, is the key to effectively accomplishing that goal during design and construction.

Inter-industry collaboration is critical to enabling a built-environment project to come to life. Inspiring projects such as Stratford's Olympic Village hold the social potential to revolutionise poverty-stricken suburban areas, but are also accompanied by a whole host of legislative requirements to be juggled between the owner, architect and contractor. The architectural industry is now looking to successful models in parallel industries - such as manufacturing - to draw inspiration for their industrial revolution: lean construction.

"In manufacturing you have your supply chain; in AEC you have your architects, your contractors, your sub-contractors and consultants," says Mallie. "You sometimes have five to hundreds of companies involved in a single project."

Modern design technology

Inter-industry relationships in AEC can be cumbersome, with multiple layers of legislation to adhere to. But there are contractual barriers that architect firms and engineering departments have attempted to overcome by using modern design technology – such as advanced 3D modelling systems – to move the initial model from design phase all the way through to fabrication, and eventually erection onsite.

SHoP Architects, the parent company of SC, is one of the few firms to straddle the responsibility of both architect and structural contractor, and has integrated a construction arm, SC, into its architecture firm. Earlier this year it delivered to the streets of Brooklyn one of the most iconic and efficiently constructed sports stadiums in the US: the Barclays Centre.

Heralded as the next big step in lean construction, the Barclays Center is the result of streamlining the design, prefabrication, erection and maintenance, mirroring the efficiency of the manufacturing supply-chain.

Some 12,000 pre-weathered steel panels have been placed to make the grandeur - and structural complexity - of the building's exterior. A lattice-work covers 85 per cent of the exterior, with each panel unique in shape and size. The impressive design was surprisingly a back-up plan, after the original design put forward by developer Forest City Ratner'Companies was deemed too expensive.

"The project was politically very charged when we became involved," says Cerone. "The Barclays Center is a very complex social project. There was a design that had originally been formed, and then 2008 happened. The design was too expensive for that time and they needed a faster, more efficient and leaner solution.

"Our scope was initially just to skin this very simple shape, but our scope grew and grew. Maybe cladding the building wasn't going to be enough; maybe we needed the interiors merged with the design of the exterior, so our scope seeped into the building." SC used a virtual design product called 3Dexperience by Dassault Systémes to streamline the architecture, panel design, construction planning and execution on site, which Bob Sanna, executive vice president for construction and design at Forest City Ratner Companies, says underpinned the success of the stadium's appearance.

The initial panel fabricator went bankrupt, but the project was still finished to budget and on time thanks to the efficiency of the virtual design software. "To make that up and bring the project in on time was amazing," he says. "If we'd had to interpret all this geometry using traditional tools, I'm convinced it would have taken triple the time."

Beauty is only skin deep

Mallie believes the process of how something is made should inform how it is designed. In the future, it makes sense that formative architecture should be based on the process of making, exploiting both the engineering and design industries to create beautiful, sustainable architecture.

Understanding and scheduling the project's making process was integral to the Barclays Center's success. The exterior design progressed through architectural design stages into a 3D representational model before the fabrication data was fed directly into the machines that were used to mill the steel panels. While some panels had to be hand cut, the majority were cut electronically, with the help of a computerised numerical control system.

The weathering process, which is responsible for the textured surface of the building, was an arduous one. Some 12,000 panels were pre-weathered on a line for three months at a time through the course of a year before being bent, cut and hung.

The three-month lead time meant that the efficiency and accuracy of the virtual design program was paramount; SC had to cut, weather and assemble each of the 3 x 15m mega-panel modules in the expectation that the calculations were all correct.

Assembling and tracking the status of each panel was a significant challenge, one SC addressed again by looking to the manufacturing industry. A unique RFID barcode was scored into each panel, logging its assembly details and bill of materials. The firm then created a bespoke iPad app, which could be used to scan, track and log the status of each panel as it made its way through the design, manufacture and construction process.

The roof features a large, 25m-deep canopy cut into the main plaza, which houses a large oculus lined in LED signage, itself the size of a basketball court. "The incorporation of the signage, the LED lighting really created a fantastic entry for the Barclays Center. The cutaway means you can see the scale of the structural steel integrated into the building," says Mallie.

Moving on up

Unlike manufacturing, logistics and architecture are two industries that rarely meet, but in a case where prefabrication is key to a project's success, movement of these colossal modules are a paramount factor. In the case of the Barclays Center, the megapanels had to be transported in a nesting sequence on a series of trucks.

"We had to consider how our panels would fit on the trucks coming from Indianapolis to New York so we could coordinate the most efficient trucking system. All these factors have to be considered to maximise every dollar for design."

Some 80 to 100 versions of the exterior of the building were initially designed by SC, and each was accompanied by costing estimates. Each group of panels was grouped into 'megapanel' sections. As much prefabrication as possible was done to keep these costs down before each mega-panel was transported from Indianapolis to site. Prefabrication, scheduling and sequencing of the 950 units was paramount to the short assembly time required on site. Finally, laser scanning was used onsite to locate the brackets to ensure that, when the panels were assembled, they would fit snugly.

"We were able to pre-assemble over 98 per cent of the families of panels without serious adjustment onsite," says Mallie. "For the complex geometry of this building, to have that type of close fit on that type of building is something that we're really proud of. It's through the management of complexity and geometry that we accomplished this."

And it seems the Barclays Center's neighbours approve of its newest resident. The New York Times praised the new stadium's appearance, saying: "SHoP has spared Brooklyn another retro stadium. The architects have created something tougher, more textured and compelling, an anti-Manhattan monument, not clad in glass or titanium but muscular and progressive, like its borough."

3D modelling has been a key component of the Barclay Center's success. SC hopes its still fairly primitive approach to lean construction will inform and improve the efficiency of the architecture and design of the future. One thing is certain, lean construction will allow firms to move from a detached, traditional architectural role into an informed, process engineering-led age of construction.

"I think the manufacturing model is going to have a profound effect on the AEC industry," says Cerone. "We are absolutely turning to other industries to see how they manage time schedules, parts, production lines, bills of materials. We firmly believe there will be other answers in other industry. I think it's inevitable the architecture industry is going to adopt manufacturing values and methods."

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