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Rudolph and Sletten – UCSF Smith


Sometimes the hardest aspect of building is getting everyone together in the same space to review, discuss and make decisions. Wouldn’t it be nice to have everyone together all the time?

That is exactly the technique that Rudolph and Sletten used in its construction of the $190 million Smith Cardiovascular Research Building at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

Designed by Jim Jennings Architecture and SmithGroup, the collaborative construction environment echoed the building’s function – bringing research scientists and clinicians together under one roof in an effort to better understand and treat cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.

Rudolph and Sletten constructed a “big room” for representatives from all disciplines to work together in a collaborative setting. The 10,000-square-foot construction trailer, which was made up of 14 trailer modules, was only steps from the construction site, allowing for easy access. This provided space for the more than 50 engineers, architects, contractors and consultants – who were responsible primarily for design and coordination – to be housed in one building during both the pre-construction and construction phases of the project. The freedom of access created a streamlined workflow process, and important questions did not linger and hinder construction.

“We had mechanical, electrical, plumbing, exterior skin, fire sprinkler, laboratory case work, drywall, the owner, the architect, the construction management, the general contractor and the inspector of records all sharing one large space,” Senior Project Manager Danielle Douthett explains. “It was one of the key pieces to having such a successful project.”

A Learning Curve

Douthett concedes there was a bit of a learning curve for the participants because of the closeness of their quarters. “Everyone quickly learned the value of being in one trailer,” she says. “Our ability to easily keep everyone in the loop and gain quick responses helped overcome any apprehension to sharing space.”

More often than not, an RFI was generated to confirm a response that already had been developed through a conversation between the various members of the group in the trailer. One-fourth of the project’s RFIs were answered the same day they were written, and 95 percent were answered in less than 15 days.

The team response rate was just one of the project efficiencies that took place in the big room. Using the Last Planner scheduling technique aided by sophisticated new software simplified communication among project participants. “Rudolph and Sletten is always looking for ways to use technology for efficiency,” Douthett points out.

“The software allowed everyone on the team the ability to log in to the system and review or edit their schedule items to create an accurate schedule with promised delivery directly from the installers of each individual task,” she says. “The ability to commit in a transparent environment made people accountable for each task. Any issues with delivery of promised activities were brought to attention quickly and addressed with a very fast response time.”

Get Smart Board

Rudolph and Sletten began construction of the lab in May 2008 and achieved substantial completion on Aug. 13, 2010, 10 weeks ahead of schedule. In addition to the big room, the online scheduling software and lean construction techniques, Douthett attributes the speed of the project to the company’s integrated project delivery method, which also included the use of 3-D BIM and financial incentives for the whole team. 

“The big room and Smart Board technology proved to be an invaluable tool for the pull schedule meetings that were implemented as part of the Last Planner methods,” according to Douthett. “The Smart Board itself consists of a projector and a touch screen monitor user interface that allowed drawings, photographs, sketches and other files to be developed and altered in a collaborative setting and then saved as part of the meeting minutes.”

Pull scheduling is a coordination meeting in which all of the trades involved in a short and specific portion of the schedule sit in a room and break larger schedule activities into more specific activities. “You start with a final activity and date that you are working towards, and you build the schedule backwards from this milestone,” Douthett explains. “The smaller activities are properly sequenced through various agreements and compromises made by the trades present.”

By using the Smart Board, the construction team displayed schedules, snapshots taken from the subcontractors’ coordinated 3-D model, and also contract drawings. This allowed the field crews responsible for installing the work to highlight areas where there appeared to be physical access limitations or where some reordering of the schedule was needed. “On the UCSF job, it was a perfect mix,” Douthett maintains.

The project team also focused on 13 milestones that were set at the beginning of the job. Each milestone was tracked and assessed throughout the process. Being able to track the progress with fixed goal markers helped immensely. Douthett estimates the team reached approximately 80 percent of its weekly goals, a 5 percent improvement over the typical rate for a successful project.

Coordinating Piping

Two-thirds of the second, third and fourth floors are wet labs, and the fourth floor houses a chemistry lab. With the large number of laboratories within the facility, efficient coordination of gas, water and compressed air piping was necessary to keep the project on schedule.

“That’s where BIM comes in handy – for all the overhead coordination,” Douthett says.

Rudolph and Sletten functioned as the general contractor on the project and coordinated with approximately 27 subcontractors. “Rosendin Electric Inc. was great to work with,” Douthett stresses.

“I was very lucky all my subcontractors were excellent. Most all I had worked with before,” she adds.

“Without our collaborative process and the strong camaraderie in the big room, this project would not have been as successful,” Douthett insists. “I was very lucky to have such a strong and devoted team.”

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