An innovative new Vancouver commercial real estate development, IRONWORKS, has attracted the attention of owner-investors who want their workspace to reflect a new mindset they share with their employees. Both groups are attracted to the flexibility of multi-use design, access to local amenities that support their business, and the incorporation of their work environment into their lifestyle.
The realization of the IRONWORKS vision is owed to several key factors: diligent planning, forward-thinking design, and hard work by a diverse and highly experienced team. We thought we’d provide a developer’s view of the IRONWORKS project by interviewing Conwest’s Director, Construction, Peter Matthews. Peter provided an update on construction, as well as first-hand insight into construction techniques and challenges.
Questions and Answers
What is your role in the development of Ironworks?
Peter Matthews (PM): I’m the Director, Construction for the Conwest Group. I’m responsible for managing the IRONWORKS development including design process, city approvals and selection of the construction team.
Can you describe what is happening on site right now?
PM: We completed the excavation in the summer, and since then we’ve been working on completing the underground parkade structure and elevator cores. Most recently we have just begun the delivery and installation of large pre-cast concrete slabs.
Can you explain the difference between pre-cast slabs vs. pouring concrete onsite?
PM: Typically, buildings are constructed with “cast-in-place” concrete. This means that the form-workers create forms out of wood or steel on site and concrete is then poured into these forms to create the walls of the structure. With pre-cast concrete the building components are created with similar forms, but off site in a controlled facility, like a manufacturing plant. The completed slabs are then brought to the site with trucks and erected with cranes.
Is one method “better” than the other?
PM: Neither method is considered “better” than the other. Both methods are effective, and each has its benefits. Pre-cast can be more easily controlled and are often more consistent because slabs are created in a controlled, indoor environment where weather is never a factor. It can be more expensive, but you often get a higher level of precision and a more consistent finish.
We chose the pre-cast method for a few reasons. Weather can be a big factor in Vancouver. We knew we’d be at this stage of construction during the winter months. Rain and snow can really affect concrete’s forming properties and drying time. By using pre-cast concrete, we eliminated the problems associated with weather.
Using pre-cast concrete slabs can also be more efficient because excavation and other construction activities can be happening simultaneously on site while the “pre-cast” work is being done off site – you don’t have to wait as long for the project to be ready for concrete.
How long will this stage of construction take?
PM: Six months or so. The pre-cast concrete should be in place by March 2018.
What types of machines are needed on site during this process?
PM: Right now, we are using both mobile and stationary cranes and flat deck trucks for delivery and installation.
How many people are currently working on site and what are they responsible for?
PM: About 50-60 people are on site every day right now. They are primarily responsible for pre-cast slab installation in the lower portion of the site for the parkade of the Pandora building. The crew is also working on the forming of the upper portion of the site for the Franklin building as well as completing the elevator cores.
What makes construction at Ironworks different from other Vancouver commercial development sites?
PM: The size, for sure! The site is a full city block. This can be difficult in that there is so much ground to cover and lots of equipment, people and time are required. However, the size is also positive for us; we have an opportunity to create something special and one of a kind.
Can you describe some of the challenges?
PM: Construction in an urban environment can be logistically challenging because of the proximity to the downtown area. Dealing with busy streets, moving materials in and out of the site, working around overhead wires, and dealing with adjacent buildings requires skill, planning and patience.
The IRONWORKS development is also being built on a site that has a grade differential, and this slope can present challenges to design and construction. We were able to overcome this challenge by developing a design that incorporated the grade differential effectively.
What would surprise someone about construction at Ironworks?
PM: I think people would be struck by the size and scale of the site and operation. It’s unique and impressive for a Vancouver commercial-industrial building. Everything about this development is bigger: the construction site is a full city block; there is an immense amount of materials and equipment required; and the site demands a large number of construction workers and support staff. It’s a BIG project.
What would surprise people about the physical environment of the Ironworks site?
PM: The dirt on site was VERY hard – almost like bedrock. We had to employ machines with huge machine-operated jackhammers to break through the layer below the first 12-14 inches of material. Material this hard is not uncommon, but because of the scale of the project the actual amount of material was significant.
The fact we’re utilizing pre-cast building components at IRONWORKS is also worth mentioning. While pre-cast concrete is not an uncommon built form, it is not often seen in urban locations given the constraints around development of infill sites. For example, it can be difficult for trucks to get in, significant space required to load and unload, and so forth. But with Ironworks being a full city block in size, our site is a great opportunity to use pre-cast concrete construction.
What challenges have you faced during certain stages of construction and how did the crew overcome them?
PM: The weather in Vancouver during this time of year is always an issue. We solved many of these weather problems with the pre-cast concrete process. It’s also hard to find trades people in Vancouver currently. There’s so much construction going on – lots of jobs and not enough people to fill them. We mitigated this through extensive pre-planning. We managed the process early and secured our tenders and contracts as early as we could, so we wouldn’t be in trouble down the line.
There are many different and distinct stages of a development project, especially a project as large as Ironworks. What roles were crucial during the pre-development stage?
PM: There were many key people involved in the beginning.
Conwest Principals, John and Tony Marinelli and COO, Ben Taddei. They started the process with a strong vision of what the location could become and used their experience to hire the right team.
The development’s lead architect, Craig Taylor was instrumental in realizing the vision. He loves and understands the area where the IRONWORKS site is located, and could visualize a flagship building that would fit into the neighbourhood.
The brokers, Cushman & Wakefield, used their knowledge to research and gather information about what Vancouver’s commercial real estate market wants and needs.
The City of Vancouver was also instrumental in the planning process, ensuring the IRONWORKS project planning dovetailed with the City’s overall vision for this area of the city.
What roles were crucial during the pre-construction stage?
PM: Some of the team members that were vital during pre-construction included:
Architect – Craig Taylor from Taylor Kurtz Architecture and Design.
Construction Team – John Sharp from Ventana
Structural Engineer – Walid Salman from Krahn Engineering
Mechanical and Electrical Engineers – Williams Engineering
Excavation and Shoring Planning – Davies Geotechnical Inc.
What roles have been crucial during the construction stage so far?
PM: Many people are involved throughout construction, some of the key trades so far have included:
Ventana – our construction team
Conwest Contracting for shoring and excavation work
Midvalley Rebar Ltd. for reinforcement
Two Pillars Construction Ltd. for form work
Armtec for pre-cast concrete
Thanks for the update and insight, Peter. We appreciate you taking time from what must be a hectic schedule.
PM: Thank you. Glad to answer your questions.
Contact Us to Book a Viewing
Interested in office, industrial or warehouse spaces for sale in Vancouver? Contact us for a viewing at the IRONWORKS sales centre.