My Intro to Building Construction class visited two building sites on Tuesday, to illustrate our unit on steel construction techniques. One was a medium scale mixed use project in West Hollywood, and the other was the Ritz Carlton hotel and residences tower that's one of the biggest parts of the huge LA Live project Downtown.
Sierra Bonita Mixed Use Affordable Housing
Architect Patrick Tighe explaining the project
This project is by Patrick Tighe who went to UCLA with our instructor David Montalba and was on site to explain the project and show us around. I only caught bits of the explanation as Tighe is somewhat soft-spoken, and in a very active urban construction site it wasn't easy to catch what he was saying. The project seems like a nice one; it's being built by a non profit developer in concert with the city of West Hollywood using many sustainable features, with retail on the ground floor, a city parking lot underground, and four floors of small residential units above for people with disabilities. The style reminds me of some of the projects I worked on at my last firm and is very similar in scale and in the constraints it tackles. So it was good to see this project under construction as none of the comparable projects I worked on have been built. Some of the nicer moments in the design include a street facing facade with pulled out balconies, an entrance framed by fiberglass-wrapped eccentric steel bracing (which Tighe says provided the inspiration for the angled balcony screens), and a second floor courtyard that looks like it will be quite lovely from the plans. The structure was originally designed to be a concrete base with wood framing above, but the city required them to go with a steel system. Tighe says this added $1.5 million to the budget, but that they "probably got a better building".
Future Sierra Bonita basement
We walked up to where the courtyard will be - my first time walking on bare steel decking; a disconcerting feeling, all the more so when a construction dude comes over and tells us to move because that part of the decking is "squishy"
We couldn't tell where the noise was coming from at first, but the loudest, most obnoxious sound I've probably ever heard was coming from this guy and his little steel hammer
Ritz Carlton/LA Live
We then went Downtown and met in the Ritz Carlton sales office with one of the developers and two of the head structural engineers, who were all very friendly and accessible. The project is a large Gensler-designed Marriott/Ritz Carlton hotel in the bottom half of the tower, with condo residences above. The developer ran down some of the admittedly impressive construction details, including that there are 1100 workers on the site and they work in shifts 24 hours a day, the project is two months ahead of schedule, and that they're building two floors a week (the Century in Century City that we visited for our unit on concrete construction was finishing two floors every 10 days I believe, which seemed pretty fast already). The structural feature that the developer and engineers were all really excited about was the steel shear walls - instead of concrete shear walls that would be 3 feet thick, they're using 1/4" thick steel sheets, which not only lessens the weight of the building by 30% (enough so that they didn't even use pilings in the foundation), but of course also makes usable (and therefore leasable/salable) large amounts of square footage that would have been given over to concrete structure. The thickness of the steel they used for the foundation and columns was not produced anywhere but Japan, so whole columns were shipped across the Pacific. This was all very interesting, but what I didn't think would be nice to ask is how the presales for the residences were going, in this market.
One of the engineers took us up to the top of the lower half of the tower, on the 20-something floor. We arrived to gorgeous views and watched the sun set as we wandered around looking at the steel structure and where the rooftop pool was going to go in.
Love the harrowing construction elevator rides I've become familiar with in this class
My building is the one just to the left of the center of the image, with the arched windows - in a straight line down from the Hollywood sign
Back towards UCLA
As we were admiring the views a portapotty suddenly dropped out of the sky. New sport: extreme pooping.
Finally, as the TA and a fellow student and I were walking back to our cars, a guy from the autobody shop across the street from the site saw our hardhats and pointed up at the distinctive curvature near the crown of the tower and asked me "is it supposed to be all crooked like that?!" I told him "yes, isn't that nice?" but we joked that we should have looked up and said "Oh SHIT, I've gotta call my boss - he's not gonna like that!"