Construction Observation: An On Site Education

Construction Observation: An On Site Education

In the whirlwind of architecture – deadlines, design iterations, testing, retesting, sketching and drawing – it’s often all too easy to lose sight of the outcome of all of our efforts and the fact that lines on paper become built, lasting spaces. As a professional service, our process and the relationships we build often inform the day-to-day experience, but ultimately, it is our buildings that carry our name – they are our public face, and what our clients inhabit. For many young designers and architects, though, it can be years before you see a project actually built.

View looking towards Santana Row Shopping center.  The WRNS lot 11 building will bring a modern perspective to the classic shopping center.

At WRNS, we try to keep the craft of construction central to our work, a means of feeding our ethos of curiosity and questioning. For us, architecture is a constant learning experience; our design process always begins with some core questions and construction observation helps us continue this line of inquiry. By visiting our projects during their different construction phases, we witness first-hand the consequences of our decisions, while staying on top of current and emerging technologies, learning as individuals and improving as a collective.

“…we often deal with 2 dimensional drawings, and being as obsessively detail oriented and perfectionists as we are, we sometimes lose perspective of what is important and what not so much." – Bo Yoon (Architect @ WRNS Studio)

Our WRNS U: Observation program is intended to educate the WRNS staff through field trips for observing various projects and topics of interest. Whether walking tours around the city or visits to Design/Build sub-contractor facilities, we're learning more about current means and methods of construction and finding new ways to incorporate innovative ideas into our design thinking. Our most recent Observation was a visit to two WRNS buildings currently in the midst of construction: “500 Santana Row” in San Jose and the new “Marine Way” workplace building on Intuit’s Mountain View campus. It was a gloomy rainy day, but nonetheless, about 25 of us showed up for both tours and a big lunch.

Architect Moses Vaughan and Rodney Leach giving a talk before touring the Intuit building.

Intuit Marine Way Building

Our work for Intuit began in 2010 with a master plan and evolved into two new LEED Platinum office buildings and two perimeter parking structures, which help bias the campus toward a pedestrian experience. Our goal was to create a new kind of workplace for Intuit, one that interacts positively with its neighbors, introduces urban design thinking both inside and out, creates a new benchmark for supporting mobile, collaborative and concentrated work, and models environmental sustainability. The Marine Way Building is approximately 178,000 square feet.

The formwork is in place for the all-hands terrace soon to be poured in the Intuit atrium.

The Intuit atrium skylight from directly below.  It is constructed of a series of concrete beams, each weighing over 80,000 lbs and spanning over 50 feet.

This building is about halfway through construction, set to complete late summer. The structure has been finished, the skin of the building is well underway, and the interior is starting to take shape. We were able to see the 80,000 lb lobby beams recently erected in the atrium, which helped us accomplish an 80-foot span — an impressive sight!

Designer Max Naylor giving scale to the huge parking structure beneath Santana Row.

500 Santana Row

Located on Winchester Boulevard at Santana Row, this six-story building will house approximately 220,000 square feet of office area with 660 dedicated parking spaces in a secure underground parking structure. With its proximity to Silicon Valley and the varied amenities of Santana Row (parks, plazas, fitness, luxury residential and retail), the new office building attracted Splunk as a primary tenant.

A GFRC panel is lifted off the truck at Santana Row.

This project is less developed than Intuit’s Marine Way Building, with only the structure completed and construction teams just starting to hang the skin. It is expected to complete fall, 2016. We happened to be present on the day they were just starting to hang the GFRC curtain wall and got to see how intricate the process is.

“The site visit reminded me how architecture is a creative process that requires a long view.  On a daily basis, we think of our work product as the drawings, details, and other documents that communicate our ideas.  But the real work product – the end goal – is the building itself.” – Jason Halaby

When asked what people gained from the site visit, responses varied greatly. Many cited a better appreciation of the building’s scale (scale is imaginary until you can experience it). Others mentioned having seen something in person for the first time after having drawn it hundreds of times on paper. One person mentioned having used the Intuit project many times for reference as a drawing set, but had never realized the extreme size of the building.

Architect Moses Vaughan teaching the group about curtain wall anchoring.

Paraphrasing Apple's chief design officer Jony Ive: “the physicality of a built object (be that a model, a prototype or a final building) changes absolutely everything. No matter how many design discussions, mental abstractions, iterations and visualizations, the built object galvanizes everything that precedes it, in the sense that there’s no longer ambiguity, everyone in the room (or on site in our case) is staring at the same physical object.”

“It’s hard to pass a reliable judgement on the effects of materials, textures, joints and colors of a building unless you see it in its full unapologetic composition in broad daylight and contextual setting”

Architects David Gutzler and Brian Milman brief the group on jobsite safety before we enter the field.

“These types of experiences create more efficient, better informed and more confident designers if only they could just go and see what their drawings actually produced.” – Jon Kershner

“It reminds you that the work we are doing is real.” – Max Naylor