Esi Kilanga Bowser-Santiago, Director, Centralized Engineering Group, Turner Construction Company
When I hear “Intelligent Building,” it automatically makes me think of the future. My mind thinks of the world of The Jetsons circa 2062, where you have computers building out everything, widgets go in, and a building comes out! In this scenario, you still need a human to push the button and provide the “want,” but it’s the computer, the “AI,” making it happen. The Jetsons are from the 1960s fast forward, we’re in 2021, and while we do have technology all around us, building construction still occurs the same way it did in the 1960s. This process hasn’t changed. However, what has changed is our ability to infuse technically advanced tools into the process. To me, that infusion breaks down in three ways, first is what I will call intelligent planning, which leads to intention, the second is the actual execution of the plan, and the third is the commitment to see it through. It’s the combination of these key elements that results in what is Intelligent Building in 2021.
Starting off, all the tools in the world are useless without a plan. During my career, I’ve seen that there are many different methods out there to streamline the process in which work is ultimately done. At Turner, the adoption and implementation of the Last Planner® System have made an enormous difference in identifying intention, the question that needs to be resolved. Whether it’s for the overall vision of the project or a specific element like the staggered install of bathrooms going on a set of floors, it’s an established method that allows us to map out the entire install process, so everyone is aware of all the steps needed to have a successful finished product.
Another key tool we use in establishing this intelligent plan and intention is the use of our stellar Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) Group. I think we’re one of the few construction companies that have taken the idea of building in the virtual space and bringing it to the forefront of the work we do. Whenever we can, we work to engage our VDC team, whether during the bidding process or on won projects, before we finalize plans. Going through these steps on the earlier side helps determine how we will build the owner’s project or buy it. It also helps inform which elements we may need to focus on and discuss more before these awards are issued. This advancement in the planning process allows us to begin communication with the owner about potentially challenging elements in the virtual realm before they become problems that cost money and time once construction gets started. I saw this first-hand during the construction of the NYU Energy Building back in 2012. We engaged with our VDC team from the start with our site logistics plans all the way through the commissioning and turnover process; there was a constant reference back to the models to help us understand areas of challenge and how to dissect and resolve them as a team.
I’ve shared some of the ways we intelligently plan our intention at Turner, and the next step is execution. Our project execution sees the integration of advanced technology tools, like the virtual model that VDC creates, with our trade installation and coordination expertise. The areas identified in the early VDC process are discussed during “pull plan” sessions to resolve their install and execution. The decisions made during these meetings end up as updates to our project schedule. These updates are critical to the artful choreography of various trades that result in high project productivity. If intelligence is about the adoption of information, then it’s the combination of the Last Planner® System and the use of VDC that allows us to stay proactive in our planning and execution instead of reactive in the building process. A great mix of new school tech and old school know-how.
We're lucky to be able to see successful examples of this in the Mizuho Americas project that the Turner Construction Interiors team finished in 2020, as well as an ongoing project at Coney Island Hospital.
The final component needed to implement Intelligent Building is a commitment to the process by all parties, the trade partners, the field staff, the design team, and the owner. Despite the advanced planning I mentioned, unforeseen changes or amendments are often made, and knowing how to integrate them into your plan is critical. We consistently follow the plan, do, check, and adjust the model. It is essential to schedule bi-monthly meetings to review your VDC model, coordination issues, and schedule to ensure the execution decisions made are using the most up-to-date and relevant information. This brings us back to my sentiment from earlier that tools are useless unless they are engaged in the proper format. The intelligence component occurs when multiple information streams such as process, tech, and human ingenuity converge to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions. It is the planning around the team’s intention, execution, and commitment to a process, program, or tool that is key in resulting in true Intelligent Building. This combination is something we pride ourselves on at Turner, where we are “building [for] the future.”