Behind the Project: 550 Washington
Recently, we sat down with Barry Charnish, Tanya Luthi, and Dave Douglas to discuss an exciting project they’re working on in New York City.
Hi guys, thanks for sitting down with us today. Tell us about your project.
We’re currently working on the site of Google’s new corporate headquarters at 550 Washington in New York City. The original building was constructed in 1930 as St. John’s Terminal, the depot for the trains that are today’s High Line.
As Engineers of Record on the project, we’re doing overbuild work to create a true workplace of the future – a high-performance commercial space with a focus on health and wellness.
The construction of 550 Washington includes demolition, partial building relocation, major renovation, and new construction over a site with a three-block footprint and a bridge over an active roadway. Coordinating all the temporary works to enable construction and protect the public is critical to the safe and successful logistics of the project.
This sounds like a major undertaking. I’m wondering if any of you can share a unique feature or challenge that you encountered while working on the project? Were there any technical hurdles you had to overcome?
Barry: We were fortunate with this commercial office project to have a fully leased building almost from the start of our effort. The tenant wanted an early occupancy date, so our design was focused on early completion and rapid construction. Though we started with a conventional concrete shear wall system for the two service and elevator cores, our client, Oxford Properties Group, challenged us to develop a system that reduced the onsite construction time.
Previously, we worked on a precast concrete segmental bridge-type platform in NYC at Manhattan West, where the platform was essentially horizontal. So, we challenged ourselves by asking, “what if that solution could work vertically?” We researched, investigated, explored and developed the vertical equivalent with a stacked precast unit core. As with the platform, we post-tensioned the elements together to achieve the design and integrity requirements. The benefits of this design were a dimensionally tight structural core, an architecturally exposed core as part of the tenant space, a shortened structural construction duration, an early tenant occupancy, and a happy client.
Dave: While I think a lot of things make this building special, including its historical significance, one of the biggest challenges for me was assessing the building to see how much could be reused. The original building is large and squat with good bones. Our team began investigating the condition of the existing building right from the start, assessing what was there, what the condition of it was and how we could reuse it in the new design. As the project continues and our access to certain parts of the site change, we’re still finding this stuff out today. That said, getting the contractor involved early on and assessing from the get-go has certainly mitigated risk and helped the project move ahead smoothly. There’s also a sustainability aspect to this because the greenest building is the one you don’t tear down.
Tanya: The New York real estate and construction markets are tough and fast moving. One of the biggest things we did was help to shave two months off the construction schedule. This might not seem like a lot, but here, it really is. Using the precast cores that Barry spoke about helped because constructing offsite reduces the amount of work you need to do onsite, allowing for more aspects of the project to come together at once.
Dave: One interesting component of the project that is sometimes overshadowed by the rest of the building was part of the site enabling works. The existing building supported a 900-ton Con Edison transformer vault on the roof, which had to be maintained in service through construction and into the next life of the building.
Typically, this is dealt with by building a new one, switching over the power, and decommissioning and dismantling the previous one. Entuitive, Oxford, and Turner Construction devised a construction engineering strategy whereby the existing vault could be supported, de-energized, lowered down by two floors using jacks, horizontally relocated, and re-energized all within a few days. This effort required a lot of “heavy lifting,” but in the end saved months of schedule by minimizing reliance on Con Edison and producing a building that works much better architecturally.
Above: St. John’s Terminal Redevelopment – ConEd Vault Installation from Turner Construction Company.
Tanya: Another way we kept things moving was being onsite nearly every day. The project and everyone involved benefited significantly from the Entuitive presence onsite and I have to say that I did too. For one thing, being onsite allows the project to move ahead more swiftly. When you’re there, you can make decisions more quickly than having to go through multiple emails and paperwork to get to the same solution.
Dave: I’d say the other important aspect of being onsite regularly is that you learn the preferences of various trades and you get to be embedded in the construction in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Tanya: I’d agree – the relationship piece and building trust with the project team has been huge. Knowing everyone makes it easier to work out problems as they come up, making the whole job run more smoothly.
That’s really great, thanks guys. So, what’s the thing each of you enjoyed the most about working on the project?
Dave: The idea that I’m part of something that’s the “first of” or a true “prototype” is very cool to me and I’ve enjoyed watching it come together. But the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is seeing Entuitive play such a big role in the project. We’re not just the Engineers of Record; we’re also performing special inspections on the concrete both at the plant and in the field, and we’re working as a third-party reviewer for the contractor for all temporary works. The level of exposure our team has had on the project has been great for us and has allowed us to build relationships that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Tanya: I’ve enjoyed the people and the relationships I’ve built on this project the most. There’s a sense among the whole project team that we’re doing something a little bit different in a market where you don’t get to do that too often. I’ve noticed that with this comes challenges, but the stress helps to deepen the relationships with the people you’re working with. You learn to know and trust the people you work with every day as a result of getting through these stressful situations together. I also really like being on site most days. The site just has a different rhythm and atmosphere and it feels good to be out there and enjoying that intensity.
Barry: I certainly thought that the assemblage of individuals, companies and interests was the part of the project that I enjoyed the most. The owners team from Oxford Properties, the design architects COOKFOX, the architect of record, Adamson Associates, the construction managers Turner Construction Company, the tenant and their team, the structural trades especially Rizzani de Eccher and Metropolitan Walters, Urban and the like. All were dedicated to the craft and fun to work with. It was especially great collaborating with the Entuitive team from David Stevenson, Agha Hasan, Raj Thavarajah, and Tanya Luthi, and good to rely on their support.
It’s so great to hear how much each of you is enjoying the project. Any final thoughts?
Tanya: We’ve had so many people at Entuitive who have contributed to the project. It’s amazing the level of hands that have been involved. I want to thank everyone for their contributions.
Dave: I’d echo Barry’s sentiment and say we’ve developed so many great relationships. We’ve developed a lot of strong bonds and we can work towards more opportunities in the future with the great team we’ve got assembled here. We’re looking to build on this project and with these people in NYC.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, guys. We can’t wait to hear more about the project as it comes to life in the coming months.
550 Washington was recently featured in Engineering News Record. You can read the article, which features an in-depth interview from all project collaborators here.