Trimble showcases tech powers in new building

December 2012 » Features » SOFTWARE
New LEED-Gold Westminster, Colo., project aims to change building delivery process.
Jeffrey Yoders
Trimble's new Westminster, Colo., office was designed to give its workers a more collaborative space and to take advantage of natural lighting and other site-specific features.
Photo courtesy of Oz Architecture.

Since early in the last decade, Trimble Navigation Limited has reinvented itself. It went from being a mainly GPS and navigation technology company that built products for construction professionals to a more holistic AEC industries-focused hardware and software company that mapped the workflow of each of those industries from A to Z, including where each member of a project team handed off work to another. Trimble products such as SketchUp, Tekla Structures and Meridian Prolog are now used to design, to estimate, to build and to maintain for facilities management. Creating a cyclical workflow for its many products in all of the AEC industries has become the norm for the acquisitive company.

When Trimble first moved part of its operations to Colorado in 1999 from California, it had revenues of a little over $270 million. The company had revenues of nearly $2 billion last year and a market cap of roughly $6.3 billion.

With that rapid growth, however, came the need for a new office. Trimble's change in mission caused it to have hundreds of employees in several leased buildings in a loose confederation of campuses in and around Denver. None of these spaces had the ability to take maximum advantage of building integrated satellite antennae, server farms and other hardware necessary for Trimble's high-tech business. Trimble's employees needed research and development space, as well. By 2011 it was time for 500 of Trimble's Westminster, Colo., employees to move to a new home that reflected that mission better. The design and the delivery of that building would reflect those changes, as well.

"The approach to design of the building was informed by understanding their mission of efficiency and flexibility and growth," says Rick Petersen, AIA and LEED AP, principal of Denver's Oz Architecture, the design architect on Trimble's new headquarters. "We created a home that reflects their culture and their home in Westminster while also designing for flexibility and efficiency."

A Trimble prism was used to align the structural steel on the new office's construction site.
Photo: Jeffrey Yoders.

The new 125,000-square-foot office building is being constructed on a 16-acre site directly across the street from an existing Trimble office in the Westmoor area of Westminster. It is utilizing more than 25 Trimble products and solutions throughout its design and construction process and the project is rigorously following the company's BIM-to-field workflow. When it is completed in May 2013, Trimble Connected Site, Tekla Structures for structural design, Tekla BIMSight for project collaboration and clash detection, Trimble Field Link for Structures for structural steel placement, site-positioning systems, machine control systems, Meridian Prolog for construction site management and many other Trimble products will have been used extensively in the building's design and construction. There's even a public Trimble Connected Site website that tracks its progress at www.myconnectedsite.com/site/WCOBldgProj/WCOBuildingProject

"We are delivering it under a traditional construction manager contract, but the process still works similar to an integrated project delivery," says Rodd Merchant, senior vice president of construction manager JE Dunn.

The Tekla structural model was utilized by field personnel for direct steel frame layout using robotic Trimble total stations and Trimble Tablets, resulting in zero placement errors. Each structural steel member could be tracked to its zero position taken from the Tekla model. A Trimble prism on one of the final steel beams confirmed the layout of the entire steel frame.

Structural engineer SCI of Denver also performed rebar and metal stud detailing on the building and participated early in the design process to assure that steel arrived on schedule and was erected according to the specifications in the Tekla model.

Throughout the JE Dunn-led design and construction effort, Oz, SCI, and even some of the mechanical subcontractors had open conversations about why and how they were doing what they were. Together, they found ways to give Trimble more options. Steve Berglund, Trimble president and chief executive, came to the early design meetings and challenged the integrated team to look for as many collaboration opportunities as possible.

"To capture those efficiencies, to make the structural system more efficient we designed beam systems that were shorter," says Wayne Muir, principal and managing partner of SCI. "The beams were 10 feet apart, instead of 8 or 7 feet apart. It economizes the use of structural steel. We have 30-foot spans running each way leaving 10-foot office modules that allow for the flexible space in the middle. We are going to have an opportunity to push technology and push processes."

A Trimble Tablet was used to track structural steel to its zero position based on the building's 3D structural design model.
Photo: Jeffrey Yoders.

The steel package was ordered early, thanks to a quickly delivered Tekla model and it arrived onsite in plenty of time for summer steel erection over fewer days. Oz's architectural design was created in Revit and moved to JE Dunn and SCI as a set of .IFC files. The design created an infrastructure for pretty much any type of collaboration Trimble could want. The ability to put up taller walls or lower them without redesigning the building was key. The floorplate in the center of the new building is to be a melting pot for all of Trimble's various companies and groups. It includes a collection of stacked meeting spaces and the aforementioned flexible walls. The design of the reception desk was even based on the design of some of Trimble's navigation products.

Another one of Trimble's key criteria was achieving LEED-Gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council. The big impacts for certification were simple moves in site. Oz designed a long, thin building that promotes daylighting aimed east-west to minimize western exposure and maximize south-north daylight harvesting. The ground is sloped but still able to be aimed east-west. This already creates a higher performing building just from its orientation. Oz specified several different types of low-e glass and shading. The east and west sides benefit from more vertical shading and the MEP systems are state-of-the-art. The site also lets Trimble's employees see both sides of the Rockies.

"All four elevations are shaded differently," Petersen says. "Visible light transmittance makes a balance on all sides. We have perimeter offices that are open to daylight on all sides. Currently, executives always close their blinds on exterior offices. Now everyone is exposed to daylight. No one is right up on the glass and the walking space is right up against it. Daylight comes in for everybody. Everything that has been specified for this building is helping life and work at Trimble."

Petersen also said the site eliminated some of the easier points to achieve in LEED, such as access to public transportation and infill points. With its MEP systems and other energy points, Peterson said the building could have qualified for LEED-Platinum if it had access to some of the other low-hanging fruit site points.

"You have to essentially design for LEED-Platinum to get Gold," Petersen says. "You're 10 points handicapped before you even build."

Like on any project, the integrated team working for Trimble ran into challenges, but their collaborative process helped meet and overcome them.

The building's prefabricated exterior wall panels had clips that would have interfered with the metal studs on the building's steel frame if the interference had not been caught in design. The subcontractor designing the wall panel system did not use a 3D design package. The error was caught in time thanks to weekly Tekla BIMSight meetings by JE Dunn and SCI. The building needed custom air-handling units to qualify for LEED Gold. The use of them created an issue with screenwall framing to allow maintenance access to the custom-designed units. Using the shared Tekla BIMsight model allowed those changes to be made at no cost.

Trimble can only hope that the integration of the design team and fast-track construction processes, including virtual mock-ups from JE Dunn, leads to better integration of employees within their new home when it opens in 2013.

"In a way, the company has become used to silos and the design of this place is being done to break up those silos," says Jarrod Krug, senior marketing manager at Trimble. "Tall workstations with no access to daylight or views are out. Collaborative space is in. Trimble will continue to be an acquisitive organization, so, from a workplace perspective this gives that dynamic of silos a lot of tug and pull."

Jeffrey Yoders is the technology editor at ZweigWhite. Contact him at jyoders@zweigwhite.com.

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