Complicated Logistics, Extraordinary Coordination

Summer 2012

Design-build brings a vast, complicated department of defense project to fruition under budget and ahead of schedule.

By Jim Whitaker, AIA, DBIA, principal, HKS, Inc., and Jeff Vandersall, AIA, LEED AP, principal, HKS, Inc.

The latest office complex for the Department of Defense (DoD) is huge. Opened in September 2011 in Alexandria, Va., the $953 million facility encompasses 1.8 million square feet and is set to house more than 26 government agencies and 170 subagencies. But what’s more incredible than its size is that the massive project was completed more than six weeks ahead of a foreshortened schedule and more than $50 million under budget thanks to a developer-led design-build process.

“The project team faced a steep challenge: Design, construct and deliver nearly 2 million square feet of secure office space for Department of Defense agencies in 33 months,” says Jeff Vandersall, principal of HKS Architects, Inc. “The project was given the same fixed completion date of Sept. 15, 2011, although it was the last of the “mega” DoD Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) projects to be awarded. It was awarded more than a year after other BRAC projects.”

The Mark Center complex is part of a 350-acre, mixed-use campus at the southwest intersection of I-395 and Seminary Road, just four miles from the Pentagon. The facility itself sits on a 16-acre secure site and is comprised of two multistory (15 and 17) towers, two parking garages with 3,098 spaces, a visitor center, a remote inspection facility and a public transportation center that serves Mark Center and the surrounding community.

The complex will be home to more than 6,400 workers. They include personnel associated with the multiple DoD agencies that currently occupy leased space throughout the nation’s capital and surrounding region, such as Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), BRAC’s executive agent for DoD customers. The project implements the 2005 BRAC Commission’s Recommendation No. 133 and is part of Fort Belvoir.

Taking Responsibility

HKS, in collaboration with Studios Architecture and Wisnewski Blair & Assoc., served as the architect on the project, with Clark Construction and Shirley Contracting as design-build contractors. The project was managed by Duke Realty Corp., which established a self-governance system at the outset of the project with an all-inclusive partner meeting.

Called the Project Leadership Team (PLT), it featured a three-tiered hierarchy that gave ownership to, and required accountability from, all stakeholders on the project team. The team included multiple government agencies as well as the building’s tenants, developer, design-builder, subcontractors, government contractors, architect and consultants. Timely decision-making was critical to success and the PLT never wavered from its obligation.

“The PLT created [its] own team charter and agreements that fostered commitment and cohesiveness to help us collectively align our goals across all organizations,” says John Van Vliet, Duke Realty’s vice president of government solutions. “Once a month, the stakeholders met to identify and review key issues and action items. Our goal was to remove all roadblocks to progress and anticipate potential pitfalls. This led to an early project delivery date.”

To meet Congress’ mandated occupancy date and facilitate an aggressive construction schedule, the design-build team developed and approved a master deliverables schedule for issuance of all documents supporting construction. The schedule incorporated design packages required to facilitate early site work and materials purchasing, the development of critical decision and approval milestones, interim issue dates for governmental review and comment and final quality review. The schedule plugged into Clark Construction’s overall construction and commissioning schedule. Clark managed day-to-day activities for the project’s major components using six-week look-ahead schedules.

Four additional schedules were compiled into an integrated project schedule on top of Clark’s construction schedule: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) schedule of furniture, fixtures and equipment installation; the DoD’s schedule of agency inspections; General Dynamics IT’s schedule of passive and active information technology installation; and Gilbane/WHS’ schedule of expiring and pending lease dates and tenant move-in activities. Adding Congressional funding information in Oracle Primavera P6 software, the resulting “Super Schedule” contained more than 25,000 activities.

Integrating Design-Build Strategies

Design-build trade contractors provided a foundation for the project’s success by purchasing just-in-time fire protection, mechanical, plumbing and electrical building components before any blueprints were drawn. More than 75 percent of the design-build contract’s value was performed by design-build trade contractors, including Southland Industries, M.C. Dean, Shockey Precast and Tidewater Glazing.

Using design-build best practices, trade contractors were not just the design professionals of record, they were also the installing craftsmen. They offered knowledge of the tiniest assembly details and coordinated with engineers and architects during materials selection.

Using building information modeling (BIM), all members of the design and construction team worked together to produce the most efficient and effective architectural drawings. Constructware, a web-based project management application, and the HKS Thru Site, a secure file transfer site, helped store, organize and communicate essential project information and updates to the drawings and specifications securely. Digital folders accessible from all workstations held current and older versions of the drawings, including RFI markups. Another web-based application, Latista, was used to manage the punch-list process, from issue generation and verification to automatic email updates.

BIM technology provided the design team with a platform for collaboration, MEP clash detection and construction sequencing. Clash detection alone saved $2 million by resolving more than 5,000 issues. But the real savings came from finding the inevitable mistakes in the virtual world before they became problems in the field. Finally, a COBIE-compliant data set comprising several spreadsheets and more than 97,000 individual components was generated from the BIM models and imported into the owner’s facilities management software.

A Sustainable Mandate

While the project was already under a federal mandate to receive LEED® Silver certification, the New York District of the USACE and other team members stressed the importance of the complex attaining LEED Gold certification.

“To achieve LEED Gold, every phase of the project was considered for a sustainable solution — from conceptual design and documentation through the construction and into tenant building occupation,” Vandersall says. “Cutting-edge strategies in environmentally sustainable design solutions and construction methodology were employed to ensure water savings, energy and lighting efficiency, indoor environmental quality and a sustainable site design.”

The project was the first USACE facility of its size to apply for LEED Gold certification. Key factors in the effort include the following:

  • The project purchased 54 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60.5 million pounds over the next four years.
  • The facility will use about 30 percent less energy and 45 percent less water than a traditional building.
  • The team recycled more than 90 percent of construction wastes, preventing 6 million pounds of waste from entering landfills.
  • The facility has a state-of-the-art security system and modern force-protection measures to provide a safe, secure workplace for federal employees. The design includes blast protection, progressive-collapse engineering and remote inspection and distribution facilities.

Making the Design-Build Grade

BRAC-133 was completed on Aug. 9, 2011, 47 days ahead of schedule. With the contract signed on Nov. 25, 2008, the team had compressed 48 months of construction into just 32 months. What’s more, the team saved $50 million in construction costs. By purchasing furniture, fixtures and equipment through the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) schedule, it saved an additional $39 million.

Logging more than 4 million man-hours, the project’s safety record was twice as good as the national average.

The project has been recognized with several awards: the New York District’s Project Delivery Team (PDT) of the Year for 2008, the USACE Sustainability Award for 2011 and the Award of Merit for 2011 from Engineering News-Record. The project also received nominations for the North Atlantic Division’s Project of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and was the USACE nominee for the 2011 Presidential GreenGov Award.

“This is one of the strongest partnerships I have ever seen,” says Lloyd Caldwell, PE, and Director of Programs for USACE’s North Atlantic Division. “It goes to prove that the design-build delivery method works.”

Jim Whitaker, AIA, DBIA, is Principal and Director of Federal and Design-Build with HKS. Whitaker is a recognized industry leader and advocate noted for wringing inefficiencies out of the design and construction process under various project delivery methods. A 27-year industry veteran, he brings significant design and construction experience to his role. He can be reached at

Jeff Vandersall, AIA, LEED AP, is an HKS Principal and Project Manager responsible for managing projects using a variety of delivery methods, including design-build. In his 32-year career, he has been responsible for designing and managing more than 40 projects totaling over 12 million square feet. He specializes in government, justice facilities, mixed-use development and corporate headquarters. Vandersall can be reached at


Project Name: BRAC-133/Mark Center office complex, Alexandria, Va.

Players: Clark Construction, Department of Defense, Duke Realty Corp., General Dynamics IT, HKS Architects, Shirley Contracting, Studios Architecture, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wisnewski Blair & Assoc, Lighting Design, VSA Associates, Nolte Engineering, Kleinfelder Engineering, Ninyo & Moore

Achievement: Saving more than $50 million while completing a 1.8-million-square-foot office complex more than six weeks ahead of schedule.