Archive for the ‘CONSTRUCTION’ Category


Stone masonry work in progress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: By USCapitol [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Construction has been brisk across most of the country the past year, but material costs are not bad and are expected to hold steady this year, if not drop a bit more, given falling fuel prices and weakness in China and elsewhere. But the construction labor market is tightening; construction wages will likely need to go up, and some areas may see labor shortages. All this info comes in an excellent roundup on the shape of the current construction economy over at Equipment Today. Rod Dickens called on economists from the Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders, the Portland Cement Association, the Associated General Contractors of America, and IHS Global Insight. Take the forecasts as you will, but the remarks on the current status of the market are as informed as any report card you’ll likely find. The full rundown is here.

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

In this month’s issue of the Queue, the staff reads up on the grand opening of Dilworth Plaza in Philadelphia by OLIN, wonders at the possibilities of a man-made leaf, and gets down with Greenpeace and Reggie Watts on climate change.


    • Dilworth Plaza’s makeover by OLIN (“Follow the Lines,” LAM, January 2014) opens on September 4 in Philadelphia with new transit access, a fountain (and in winter, an ice rink), art, and Cuban food in what had been a desolate sunken plaza.
    • Harsh contentions arise in a current forensic audit on Great Park, designed by Ken Smith in Irvine, California (General Design Honor Award, LAM, August 2009). According to the L.A. Times, the audit finds that more than $200 million has been spent on the project, yet the park has little to show for it.


    • Dezeen reports on Julian Melchiorri, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in the UK, who thinks he’s got long-distance space travel figured out with his new invention—the world’s supposedly first photosynthetic material that absorbs water and carbon dioxide to create oxygen.
    • Looking at climate change and rising sea levels, the township of Choiseul Bay, 6.6 feet above sea level in the Solomon Islands, is moving to where it will be a little less wet in the future.
    • Think pedestrian crosswalk time limits are too short? Planners in Singapore thought so, too, which is why they recently expanded their Green Man Plus program, a system that allows the elderly and disabled to activate extra time for street crossing with the use of a special card.


    • Lines and Nodes, a symposium and film festival that will take on media, infrastructure, and aesthetics, will take place September 19–21 in New York.


    • If you can’t find this bus stop in Baltimore, then you’re not looking hard enough.

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At the Lawrence Berkeley National  Laboratory's cool pavement showcase, research associate Jordan Woods measures solar reflection levels with an albedometer. Credit Lawrence Berkeley National  Laboratory/Roy Kaltschmidt

At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s cool pavement showcase, research associate Jordan Woods measures solar reflection levels with an albedometer. Credit Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/Roy Kaltschmidt.

From the March issue of LAM:

At the Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia in November, the National Asphalt Pavement Association booth featured a provocative report, packaged as a little booklet by three engineers at Arizona State University. The report concluded that, contrary to what federal scientists and green building promoters have been saying, light-colored roofs and pavements were not necessarily superior to dark-colored ones, environmentally speaking, and might even do more harm than good.


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The Fluid and the Solid TRAILER from Alex + Ben on Vimeo.

If you haven’t used the term “Anthropocene” much, you can be forgiven. The term is of fairly recent origin, and it’s used to describe what some believe is a new geologic age: one in which human activity has changed the earth and its atmosphere. It’s a big idea, one that catches a lot of other ideas in its net—climate change being the most powerful. The idea of the Anthropocene lends more weight to what we already understand are the consequences of human activity. Our impact is not just local, national, or global, but temporal. We’ve literally changed the scale of geologic time.

The awesome consequences of human agency on the land are tough to convey without sounding ponderous, but for the filmmakers Alex Chohlas-Wood and Ben Mendelsohn, who are interested in things like infrastructure, technology, and the human/nature interface, much of the story can be told by the landscapes where these earth-changing processes take place. Which is how they came to make a documentary nominally about dredging, dredge landscapes, and sediment flow: The Fluid and the Solid.


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My reporting for LAM’s August feature article “Every Sense,” on landscape architect Mikyoung Kim, ASLA, took me to a fabrication studio in Philadelphia and to a healing garden at a children’s hospital in in Chicago. The videographer Doug Forbes came along and shot some of Kim’s phantasmagoric work, which included a serpentlike metal structure that exhales mist and interactive logs that glow and make sounds of running water.

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The Florida Capitol Complex. Photo courtesy urbantallahassee via Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Capitol Complex. Photo courtesy urbantallahassee via Wikimedia Commons

In the past few years, Florida has become a bit of a minefield for design professionals. Landscape architects, architects, engineers, and others have been exposed to an unusual level of potential personal liability, compared to colleagues in most other states, if the firms they work for are sued. But a new law, signed by the governor, Rick Scott, in late April, will bring Florida in line with the majority and give individual designers a greater degree of protection from litigation.

The law (Section 558.0035, Florida Statutes) was a response to court decisions that expanded clients’ ability to sue design professionals for economic damages. Until it takes effect on July 1, only firms–not individual professionals–can protect themselves with limitation of liability provisions (sometimes called “LOL clauses”) in contracts.

In Moransais v. Heathman, in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court allowed a homebuyer to sue the engineers who allegedly failed to identify defects in the building, even though the engineers were not personally named in the contract between the buyer and the firm they worked for. And in Witt v. La Gorce Country Club, in 2010, a state appellate court said that a limitation of liability clause in a contract between the country club and a geology firm hired to design and build a reverse osmosis water treatment system didn’t limit damages for the firm’s owner himself in a negligence lawsuit.

The new Florida law extends limitation of liability provisions to individuals if those provisions are written in the specific way it prescribes (it even requires that part of the provision be in all capital letters and an extra-large font size). It will not apply retroactively, so contracts negotiated before July 1 could still cause liability problems for professionals.

An analysis on the website of law firm of Smith, Currie, and Hancock predicts that the new law will mostly affect owners and contractors who lose money in situations such as construction delays caused by a design professional’s negligence. It doesn’t affect lawsuits for personal injury or property damage.

The extent to which design professionals and firms can limit their liability through contracts varies from state to state. Most states allow some enforcement of limitation of liability provisions, and recent litigation has tended to favor enforcement. But in other states, laws or policies designed to prohibit the transfer of risk and liability make it hard or impossible to enforce them in court.

Even in states where the provisions are enforceable, their effectiveness depends on exactly what the state law requires and exactly what the contract says.

“What Florida teaches us is that every design professional should take a close look at the situation with his or her state law, see what protection is available, and make sure contracts include any ‘magic words’ the law or regulation requires,” Stuart Kaplow, a real estate and construction attorney, told me.

And because state laws can change fast, it’s smart for chapters of professional groups to keep a close eye on the issue. In this case, Jonathan Haigh, ASLA, the Florida Chapter ASLA’s government affairs chair, told me that the chapter worked to make sure that landscape architects were treated with parity and that there were no attempts to exclude landscape architects or otherwise restrict the scope of practice for the profession.

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The offending superstop. Courtesy Local News Now LLC

You hear a lot of talk about making suburbs into something more like cities, and if reporting like that of the Washington Post last week is any guide, it’s going to be a tricky sell to turn the talk into reality. On March 24, the Post published a story about what it calls a “$1 million bus stop” in Arlington, Virginia. It didn’t cost $1 million, technically, and it isn’t just a bus stop. The Post showed signs of having known as much, but went ahead and made a new transit project sound like a boondoggle anyway and stoked enough outrage to have a major county transit improvement project put on hold.

The stop is what Arlington transportation planners are calling a “superstop.” It is a prototype, the first of two dozen stops meant to handle both bus and, eventually, streetcar traffic down Columbia Pike, a four-lane commercial strip that runs three-and-a-half miles through the county from its outer suburbs to the edge of the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, buses unload at a very busy subway stop that takes people into Washington, D.C. Once the streetcar line is built as planned, the combined transit line is expected to carry about 30,000 passengers on a typical weekday.

The hard costs to build the stop were $574,000. There were other costs, too, about $433,000, as Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director, told me. Those other costs involved design (by HOK), planning, reviews, fees, and so forth. There were also problems of construction delays, about 14 months beyond the four months originally scheduled. Arlington contracted the construction of three superstops to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, which wound up for its own reasons scaling down its construction operations. (Metro can barely keep a single subway station fully functional these days.) “This project really became an orphan” at Metro, so Arlington County ended that relationship with just the one superstop.

Much of the $433,000 can be filed under research and development costs, one-time charges to create the first superstops that will spread over the creation of the other 23 stops. “Our intent was to do one [stop], evaluate it, and then go forward with modifications,” Leach said.

Ah, but the Post reported that “[t]he county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.” With this burning fact, the Post’s reporter headed out to the superstop in question and baited commuters who were waiting for buses to offer their thoughts about all this million-dollar business. (more…)

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