Firm Profile: Plaza Construction AECbytes Profile (August 8, 2019)
Plaza Construction, one of the foremost construction management and general contracting firms in the US, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.
What is the history and background of the firm?
Plaza Construction is one of the nation’s foremost construction management and general contracting firms. Since the company was formed in 1986, it has become a multi-faceted firm with national presence in the industry with headquarters in New York, and regional offices in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Washington DC.
Plaza’s roots are based in construction, real estate, investment, and development management. Our experience includes work across various industries and our uniqueness comes from understanding what it is to be the owner, the developer and the builder – a trifecta that is evident in Plaza’s core portfolio of prestigious hospitality, residential, commercial, corporate, and residential properties.
What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?
Plaza’s current focus is to work on an initiative that got kick-started in 2017 called Plaza Moving Forward. This initiative touches on improving our brand and culture, and streamlining our processes to improve the quality of life of our employees and to continue to deliver excellent service to our clients. We have been working on implementing new software technologies to our crucially important goal, our 4DX Scheduling Initiative. We have been expanding our reach into different markets and national regions. In 2018, we opened offices in Tampa, Orlando and New Jersey and more recently in Los Angeles, California.
Although at Plaza we consider all our jobs equally important, there are a few challenging builds we have under construction, such as One Thousand Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects (Figure 1). It is the first high rise structure in the world to use permanent GFRC framework for the structure. This project won ENR Global Award for best Special Project in 2018. We also have impressive builds in New York and New Jersey, such as 111 Murray Street, Fisher Houses serving military families and 99 Hudson Street, the tallest high-rise in New Jersey (Figure 2).
When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important would you say AEC technology is to the firm?
Since its establishment, Plaza has always been a big advocate of the importance of technology and of the integration of innovative practices. To streamline communication, we utilize advanced tools, such as BIM and CMiC, as well as systems and processes to manage, update and distribute documentation and scheduling data with the goal of eliminating surprises. Through CMiC, a comprehensive software program that is linked via a secured internet connection, we provide our clients and trade partners instantaneous and real-time updates regarding all project items including, but not limited to, submittals, RFI’s, schedules, and contracts, among others.
We have long since been incorporating VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) in our pre-construction phase to foresee site conditions, constraints, access, and potential safety hazards prior to the construction phase. In the life of any given Plaza project, it is typical to go through dozens of virtual site logistic plans to coordinate activities for a safe, productive, and cost-efficient execution.
It is inherent to our industry to encounter many changes on any given construction project. With change comes the responsibility for the entire project team to identify, communicate, and address these conditions in a timely manner to mitigate potential impacts to cost and schedule. BIM 360, our digital document control platform, allows all field personnel and subcontractors to have immediate access to all contract documents, submittals, and RFI’s in the field via tablet and smartphone. Incorporating BIM 360 has proven its ability to mitigate rework and increase quality as well as efficiently document and track open issues as they are identified, limiting exposure to delays and added costs (Figure 3).
Plaza’s commitment to technological enhancements continues with the use of photo imagery to document progress on construction sites and the further integration of the DocuSign platform into the company’s everyday workflow. DocuSign allows us to quickly and securely make every agreement and approval into a digital submission. Last year, Plaza announced the integration of DocuSign into CMiC.
Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? And if so, what is it?
Plaza’s VDC/BIM efforts are woven throughout the preconstruction process to support planning and logistics, design coordination, estimating and project communication. We have found that early coordination of building systems, building visualization and coordination reviews of MEP and structural elements with the architectural design can provide real cost benefits to the project and minimize or eliminate delays that would otherwise occur during the construction phase.
We have leveraged our innovative project management system across all departments to improve the efficiency of our projects by allowing project information to transfer in real-time between our teams, clients, design teams and subcontractors. This philosophy ensures reliable communication, promotes accountability and better positions us to manage and uphold the accuracy of our budgets and schedules for the project.
What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?
Plaza’s main challenge is the fast-paced nature of the AEC industry itself. Researching, adopting and implementing new technologies is critical to Plaza’s aggressive approach towards innovation. This mentality has enabled the company to attract talented employees, as well as passionate clients with interesting projects. Nevertheless, time constraints and tight project budgets make it difficult for many technological advances to happen on jobsites. The time needed to implement the technologies and train staff is always a burden on top of the already hectic schedules that AEC companies often have.
Another challenge is understanding that not all clients appreciate the value of utilizing the latest technological innovations in their projects, and at times, they perceive these innovative practices as an unnecessary expenditure.
How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?
We see technologies like augmented reality (AR) gaining popularity as more clients and developers want to see a realistic virtual representation of their vision. Wearable devices such as helmets or VR technology are giving the AEC sector the ability to stand in an unbuilt space and visualize it being completed. This technology will also allow construction managers and designers the ability to see through walls and ceilings to better understand and visualize the challenging parts of a build.
We foresee real-time digitalization capabilities and 3D scans of construction sites being very popular, as well as, drone technology to continuously document the progress of construction. Drones can gather a tremendous amount of information rapidly and very affordably.
Furthermore, cloud-based solutions, whether for simple file sharing or more advanced BIM collaboration, are already popular today and will continue to evolve.
If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?
Drone based technology is already being used on our sites to document construction progress and in our business development and pre-construction departments to help us develop more comprehensive logistic plans and site traffic patterns. We would like to have more licensed drone operators on staff and to increase the use of this technology.
We are excited to be researching the use of real-time digitization capabilities of AR headsets to make the practice of performing 3D scans of our construction sites a regular practice.
And finally, although the technology is still very pricey today, we wish for more affordable augmented reality technology to walk through our jobsites and leave three-dimensional mark-ups, to help us visualize fabrication and assembly instructions.
Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology from the firm that it would like to share?
We’ve begun implementing drones in our process, which is exciting, and we even have a licensed pilot on our team. We’re still experimenting with how we can utilize drones on the front-end of the design process, such as acquiring quality topographical survey information. We are also utilizing them during construction administration to create flyovers that provide views of construction progress, and to capture footage to be used for communications.
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