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Designing and constructing a new commercial building — or renovating or expanding an existing one — can be challenging in today’s economy.
“In the past year, we’ve seen incredible turbulence in material pricing and availability,” says John Chapman, vice president of Eppstein Uhen Architects in Madison. “Everything from steel and wood to roofing materials and even paint comes into play.
“Many of the longstanding rules that governed construction seem to no longer be firm,” he adds, “and adapting to extreme material shortages has become a crucial survival skill.”
EUA, which specializes in design, engineering, and master planning, has adapted by implementing strategies to support clients’ budgets and timelines. Enhanced collaboration and communication, along with nimbleness and flexibility, have helped the firm complete projects on time and often under budget.
While communication always has been the cornerstone of the design and construction process, Chapman encourages clients to start early, which enables EUA to gauge material costs and transition when necessary. As an example, he cites a recent four-story housing project that typically would have been designed with wood. “We normally wouldn’t have considered designing it a different way for a building of that size,” Chapman says, “but during the early collaboration process, the price of wood skyrocketed. So, we pivoted with our design team and our contractor to conceptualize a post-tension concrete structure, which was actually less expensive than wood and more structurally sound.”
Another adjustment is developing more drawing packages for a given project. Previously, a large building project might have included two or three wide-ranging drawing packages specifying materials that required bids. “Now, we’re bidding out the drawing package for steel earlier so we can get ahead of potential scheduling issues,” Chapman says. “Doors have become a major supply scheduling issue, so the earlier we can get those out to bid, the less impact they will have on the timeline.”
On one recent EUA renovation project, construction crews ran out of roofing materials 25% of the way through the project, but they were able to adjust and work on other details while they waited for additional materials. Still, it disrupted the production schedule. “We need to think outside of the traditional design process,” Chapman says. “We’ve become more flexible in terms of the roofing and insulation we use based on availability, and that’s changing the design of our roofing structures in terms of thickness.”
As EUA implements these changes, most clients have been understanding — in part because they see the impact of inflation and supply chain issues in their own lives. “This is going to be a bullish year for design and construction,” Chapman notes, “but we have not seen a slowdown in either area. While the next stage of market correction is much anticipated, no matter how incremental the recovery will be, the benefits of evolving during this time will help us meet new challenges.”
John S. Chapman, AIA
Madison Studio Director : Vice President
In Business Magazine