The construction industry has witnessed significant advancements over the years, but the fundamental concept of building from the ground up has remained largely unchanged. However, in an exciting development for the construction industry, LIFTbuild, a subsidiary of Barton Malow, has introduced groundbreaking technology that promises to revolutionize the way buildings are constructed. In collaboration with Ghafari Associates, this technology has been implemented in the construction of the Exchange building, a 16-story mixed-use structure in Detroit. This project stands out not only for its design but also for the remarkable construction technology and method used.
What sets it apart is its unique construction approach. Instead of the conventional ground-up method, the Exchange building is built from the top down method. This 16-storey mixed-use building features a unique construction method that involves assembling each floor on the ground before hoisting it into place.
LIFTbuild technology used for Exchange building
The building serves as a prototype for LIFTbuild technology, which uses an apparatus that transforms a building site into a manufacturing facility. The new system employs a patented method of vertical structure assembly. The entire roof and floor plate assembly are first completed at ground level. The outer facade and other selected systems are put in place after the floor plates are assembled. Before the finished floor plate assembly is hoisted and fastened into its final position, prefabricated sub-assemblies are inserted. Meanwhile, the floors below are still being constructed, and the fit-out is executed in a completely contained and climate-controlled environment.
The Exchange showcases the first application of the LIFTbuild approach to high-rise construction. The residential tower includes 153 residential rental units, 12 for-sale condominiums, ground-level office space, and retail space, totaling 166,742 square feet.
The company emphasizes that LIFTbuild’s patented construction methods provide opportunities for a safer, quality-driven, and more efficient project site. Pre-leasing of apartments began in the summer of 2021, with completion scheduled for spring 2023.
“We’re taking a sequence of work that had traditionally been done in a serial manner and identifying where we could streamline all of those activities in parallel,” said Steve Houston, senior director of LIFTbuild. Initial logistical challenges were overcome by working closely alongside local contractors and subcontractors who joined the project early in development “to help with the learning curve of completing the work on the ground rather than at height,” according to Houston.
About LIFTbuild Innovative Technology:
LIFTbuild’s technology is the result of four years of research and development, leading to the acquisition of 15 patents. Launched in 2017, its aim was to address longstanding challenges in the American construction industry, including worker safety and construction timelines. This technology operates through an integrated fabrication system, reminiscent of the radical visions of prefabricated skyscrapers from the 20th century.
How the Technology Works in the Exchange Project?
1. Prefabrication at Ground Level:
The construction process commences by assembling the entire roof and floor plate at ground level. This initial step ensures efficiency and quality in the core components of the building.
2. Inserting Prefabricated Sub-Assemblies:
Prefabricated sub-assemblies are inserted before lifting the finished floor plate into its final position, enhancing construction speed and precision.
3. Core Support System:
Two spine-shaped concrete supports at the building’s core serve as the foundation, functioning as pulleys to lift heavy floors while housing elevators and stairways.
4. Column-Free Design:
The construction adopts a full cantilever design, eliminating columns obstructing exterior glazing. This design provides spacious, open floor layouts for residents and streamlines the work process for construction workers.
Features of the Exchange Project connstructed with LIFTbuild Technology
The technology from LIFTbuild used for the project, characterized by the following features:
The Exchange project stood out for its top-down construction method, departing from conventional construction methods. The building floors were initially assembled on the ground and then lifted into place. This method involved careful sequencing around structural cores, collaborating with material suppliers for unitized assemblies, and efficient installation of various building components, including walls and MEP systems. This approach ensured efficient and high-quality construction.
Each floor required over 150,000 pounds of steel and 110 cubic yards of concrete and was lifted at an average speed of 25 feet per minute. Ductwork, plumbing, fire protection, and fireproofing were installed on each floor as it became ready.
The building’s foundation relied on two traditionally constructed concrete cores, referred to as “spines.” These core walls, 10–12 inches thick, housed elevators and stairwells. Each steel-framed floor deck incorporated over 75 tons of steel and 110 cubic yards of concrete.
When the 500-ton, 11,000-square-foot floor plates were ready for lifting, they were individually elevated by eight strand jacks, each with a capacity of 200 tons or less, set up on the ground with pulley systems on top.
Specialized steel-frame rigging system:
Engineered Rigging developed a specialized steel-frame rigging system that connected floor segments to strand jacks at a rate of 20 to 30 feet per hour. Once fully lifted, the floors were securely connected to the cores through a specialized bolted connection.
Safety and construction:
Due to safety precautions and redundancies built into the strand jacks, construction began on a new floor beneath a higher one without risk. After completing the lifting process, the first two stories, which housed a retail tenant, the lobby, and the fitness center, were constructed traditionally as a podium.
So far, eight levels were added to the construction. The building’s cores fully supported the floors without the need for trusses or other roof supports. Before establishing permanent structural connections to the spines, the highest floor had to be raised and secured, taking approximately 10 hours.
Parallel Work Sequencing:
The core concept behind LIFTbuild’s technology was optimizing work sequences by conducting activities in parallel instead of a traditional serial approach. This shift was possible through close collaboration with local contractors and subcontractors, enhancing efficiency and reducing risks associated with working at heights.
Prefabrication and Standardization:
A crucial aspect of top-down construction was the emphasis on prefabrication and standardization. All building components, from steel structures to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, were pre-measured and tagged for efficient assembly, streamlining the construction process and ensuring consistency and quality.
LIFTbuild’s unique construction technology allowed for swift project completion. In the case of the 207-foot-tall Exchange building, construction work began in April and concluded by June. This expedited pace was a remarkable achievement compared to conventional construction methods that often involved time-consuming ground floor construction.
LIFTbuild’s approach enabled the efficient construction of tall structures with virtually no height limits, making it adaptable for various building types. This innovation had the potential to address the housing shortage, contributing to the construction of millions of living units across the nation.
Efficiency not only resulted in faster construction but also cost savings. The Exchange project was 10% to 20% more cost-effective compared to traditional construction, especially valuable in urban areas with premium land prices.
Future Expansion Plans:
With the Exchange project nearing its conclusion, LIFTbuild is poised for a broader expansion and a renewed focus on various projects throughout the Midwest. Multiple projects are either in the planning or development stages, and each project stands to benefit from our innovative construction technology. Let’s take a closer look at some of these exciting endeavors:
– Convention Center Hotel, Raleigh, North Carolina: This project’s objective is to provide additional hotel rooms in close proximity to the Convention Center. LIFTbuild’s advanced construction system is expected to streamline the building process, resulting in a modern and efficient structure that harmonizes with the city’s rich history.
– Lafayette West, Detroit, Michigan: This development initiative aims to introduce new residential homes and commercial spaces to Lafayette Park. The LIFTbuild technology will play a pivotal role in the efficient construction of the high-rise building.
– Ambulatory Care Facility, Eastern Virginia: This healthcare facility leverages LIFTbuild’s open-space design, which reduces the need for structural columns, thereby creating flexible and functional interior spaces.
– Office and Research Facility, Bangalore, India: This 10-story office and research facility utilizes LIFTbuild for efficient construction. It features a combination of traditional office spaces and collaborative areas, emphasizing an open and flexible design.
– St. Antoine Development, Detroit, Michigan: This development project encompasses the renovation of the historic Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center and the construction of mid rise residential towers. LIFTbuild’s innovative construction system is expected to maximize efficiency and contribute to a distinctive skyline in the area.
LIFTbuild’s groundbreaking technology is reshaping the construction of buildings, offering a safer and more efficient approach. While it holds the potential to revolutionise the construction industry, its widespread adoption will hinge on its cost-effectiveness compared to traditional methods. If the technology continues to deliver on its promise of cost savings and efficiency, it has the potential to be a game-changer in the construction world, with a significant impact on various construction projects globally.
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