Multifamily Architects, Contractors Deliver Services in New Ways to Keep Projects Moving, Say InterFace Panelists

Units that have little corners with desks and shelves that can serve as makeshift workspaces are also in high demand in the pandemic. One such unit is pictured in Northshore, one of the high street residential communities in Austin.

By Taylor Williams

Like most members of the workforce, professionals designing and building apartment buildings in Texas have had to adapt their business and service customers in response to COVID-19. However, many of these companies and individuals have done this in a way that has not significantly hampered the workflow.

From holding virtual meetings with employees or customers to using complex interfaces that enable real-time illustrations to adhering to strict distancing and tracking protocols on construction sites, architects and contractors find solutions that minimize pandemic-related disruptions.

Some delays in the design and construction processes were inevitable. Construction sites sometimes have to close when employees test positive. However, these solutions, coupled with the general recognition of construction as a vital industry by Texan local authorities, have limited the extent to which public health concerns have brought projects behind schedule and / or over budget.

This is what the panelists say at the ninth annual InterFace Multifamily Texas conference. The two-day event practically took place from November 18-19. Rich Kelley, President of the InterFace Conference Group, the Atlanta-based division of France Media that hosted the conference, moderated the panel.

Do daily work

The linchpin for platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to communicate with employees and customers is possibly the biggest shift in workplace routines that spans hundreds of industries and can last well beyond the pandemic.

However, much of the work in commercial planning and design focuses on team interaction and collaboration, as well as the ability to present physical blueprints and models to developers. Architects have turned to technological platforms to provide clients with visible, semi-tangible designs while, in many cases, continuing to work from home.

“Most of our team still works remotely, and the way we used our software has definitely changed,” said panelist Evan Beattie, chairman and CEO of Dallas-based architecture firm GFF. “Microsoft Teams allowed us to continue working together and we used Bluebeam [design software] There is a lot to be done drawing on screens with clients and doing site planning and density studies in an interactive way, even when we can’t be together. “

The effectiveness and efficiency of the technology has helped architects meet critical deadlines in design plans and project life cycles, Beattie added.

Moderator Kelley noted that the move to virtual meetings has fundamentally changed the authorization process. Most importantly, the hub for Zoom meetings has eliminated the human interaction developers encounter when standing in front of councilors and zoning boards to approve projects. Panelist Tom Brink, Vice President of CallisonRTKL international design firm, addressed this particular change.

“The use of zoom and similar technologies has changed the authorization process for the better,” said Brink. “This allows the different parties to concentrate better, be better prepared and make progress faster. You will certainly miss some of the face-to-face interaction, but it also saves operating costs for design professionals who need to travel to project locations. “

For Texan firms running projects in out-of-state markets, replacing travel, accommodations, and face-to-face meetings with Zoom calls has made business less burdensome and costly. However, the ability to direct projects to heads of state and members of the community and answer questions personally will remain an important part of the post-pandemic development process, the panel agreed.

Panelist James McCandless, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Martines Palmeiro Construction, guided the audience through the various systems his company uses to ensure wellness and safety on construction sites.

“COVID has forced our teams to immediately rethink how we develop and implement projects,” he said. “We have implemented an A / B structure in which different teams alternate days on site in order to minimize engagement. We have limited the number of people on site, as have our trading partners, which has helped ensure everyone is safe. “

“Even today, we still have temperature controls and daily records of who is on site to conduct contact tracing and sanitation stations across the job,” added McCandless. “Everyone really makes their contribution.”

McCandless reiterated the view that local authorities have shown an understanding of how severe the effects of construction closure can be.

“It seems like the industry learned back in 2008 that when you shut down a construction site, you lose momentum in terms of project delivery schedule,” he said. “Losing this momentum has dire consequences for anticipating demographic change and meeting demand in two or three years.”

He also cited the industry’s successful ability to bring architects, engineers, contractors and suppliers together earlier in the project lifecycle as a key factor in ensuring that new projects actually happen.

What tenants get

The pandemic has resulted in apartment building designers and contractors adapting numerous features both in terms of the interior of the units and in terms of the equipment areas in the shared apartments.

Creating workspaces within units for a large contingent from home, dividing up business centers or clubhouses to allow social distancing, and revising parking are just a few examples of the design curveballs thrown by COVID-19. Beattie noted that his company is designing residential homes with other, more advanced features, such as automatic doors, antimicrobial surfaces in units and public areas, and destination elevator elevators to reduce grouping of residents in elevator cabins.

In some cases, these changes are implemented on the fly. In other cases, it’s more about determining how much staying power these new features have for future projects. In any case, planning these big changes in the way people live and work and what they value in their homes is a challenging task.

“We had a few projects under construction that needed to be changed, such as: For example, upgrading our air filtration systems and introducing materials with higher cleanability, ”said panelist Brett Rhode, director of Austin-based architecture firm Rhode Partners. “Most of the projects we’ve recently started, however, focus on post-COVID, with the exception of a few common areas where they may be a larger allocation for Zoom conference rooms or individual workspaces.”

Rhode said his clients generally were unwilling to drastically change plans and incur additional costs based on trends that may or may not still be there in 18 to 24 months. Construction costs have not decreased significantly in response to the pandemic, McCandless noted.

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