Best Practices for Managing Tight Time Frames for Design-Construction Projects

by Katie Sloan

Every once in a while, a compressed design and construction schedule can be a blessing in disguise. Such was the case with Leake Hall, a dorm at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art.

Chris HarveyQuick turnaround times for dormitory projects are certainly nothing new in the student housing industry. While new projects are spurred by demand for more living space, deadlines are often driven by the start of classes in the fall. This means planning, architectural and construction teams often have little time and little room for error to bring a school’s vision to fruition before students arrive on campus.

Leake Hall, which opened in August 2013 on the campus of The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, successfully pushed the envelope on how quickly a major dormitory design-construction process can be completed. The 88,000-square-foot, $16.3 million building went from concept to reality in just 18 months to accommodate MICA’s burgeoning student population. The construction process converted a MICA parking lot into a beautiful, multi-functional facility that has won critical acclaim for both its form and function in just eight months.

Founded in 1826, MICA is consistently ranked as one of the top visual arts colleges in the United States. The school has experienced an upward trend in enrollment in recent years, with more than 1,800 students enrolled in 2013.

Frequent Meetings Drive Collaboration

Converting Leake Hall from concept to reality required outstanding logistical planning as well as skilled architectural planning. To keep the project on track, Hord Coplan Macht (HCM) scheduled weekly planning meetings with MICA leadership. While college administrators’ schedules can be challenging, linking meetings to the timing of existing board and committee meetings proved to be an efficient way to discuss plans and provide project updates.

Having a finite budget and timeframe to deliver the building on a site that offered limited options helped simplify the planning process. We worked quickly to conduct an initial program analysis and worked closely with the contractor, Whiting-Turner, to develop schematic designs that would guide the architectural and construction process. We then worked backward from the completion deadline to create a realistic schedule and immediately initiated work.

The design-savvy leadership at MICA provided outstanding feedback that was incorporated into the design. Our team had to work quickly and efficiently to incorporate changes into the plans to meet the approval deadlines and keep the project on schedule.

Engage Administrators Every Step of the Way

Having access to and involvement from top leaders at the school had a major impact on the timing and ease with which the design-build project could be completed. MICA President Fred Lazarus and his leadership team were fully engaged in the process every step of the way. They were acutely aware of the challenges associated with the project and proactively communicated with community groups and Baltimore city leaders that had a stake in the project.

Having leaders hear about the challenges of a project firsthand, rather than receiving the information secondhand or after the fact, proved highly valuable. Timely communication allowed them to react immediately and offer direct feedback, which facilitated project completion and minimized potential miscommunication.

Anticipate and Respond to Community Needs

Leake Hall sits on the edge of MICA’s sprawling urban campus, directly adjacent to the historic Bolton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. While the architectural style of MICA buildings tends to be dramatic and contemporary, the stately row homes that buffer the campus on Mt. Royal and North avenues are more traditional. HCM had to straddle the line between these styles in its design, creating a building that fit the aesthetics of the campus yet also complemented the surrounding neighborhood.

This project demonstrated the value of anticipating the community’s needs and actively engaging them during the design process. Bolton Hill is a highly educated community and home to many engineers and architects. Residents recommended that the design of Leake Halle showcase activity in the building rather than having a static exterior wall face the street. In response, we shifted interior studio spaces to the outer portion of the building. Studio windows now overlook the street and reveal students at work to the surrounding neighborhood. Working closely with the community had another benefit, which was that it kept the approval process moving forward by limiting the number of design changes.

New technology helped us share our design vision with school and community leaders. Our team utilized Revit, a program that brings the design to life in 3D renderings, making it easy for all parties to understand and react to our proposals. This software also facilitated the coordination of all building trades.

Once the design was completed and approved, a mild winter and outstanding collaboration moved the construction phase along with minimal disruptions.

Leake Hall illustrates that having a condensed timeframe for a project can be a blessing in disguise. It kept our team, our client and our vendors fully engaged and focused throughout the process. In a compressed timeframe, Hord Coplan Macht created an efficient design that made the most of the building site, providing a highly functional, aesthetically pleasing residential hub for MICA students.

Chris Harvey, AIA, is director of design for Hord Coplan Macht (HCM), an architecture and design firm based in Baltimore.

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