Hacking a Herculean Site
Whining saws, clanking hammers, roaring engines. They’re all part of the industrial symphony that is an active construction site. But at The Wharf, squawking seagulls have also joined the orchestra. The three-million-square-foot development—located along Washington, D.C.’s historic Southwest waterfront—is jam-packed with construction activity that is transforming the area into one of the capital’s most vibrant destinations. Balfour Beatty is privileged to build and renovate two of The Wharf’s signature projects: 1000 Maine, the District’s first waterfront, trophy-class office building, and the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the country.
To do so, Balfour Beatty is navigating some particularly rough waters. For starters, we are working shoulder-to-shoulder with two other contractors—which is not surprising for an urban, Brownfield site, until you consider that it is also bordered by the Washington Channel of the Potomac River, a downtown traffic artery (Maine Avenue SW), two construction sites and a public parking lot. Translation: everyone needs access to what scant real estate exists, often at the same time. A mere 10 feet separates the East side of 1000 Maine from neighboring construction crews, and on its opposite end, our Fish Market team is busy overseeing this challenging, 31,000-square-foot project. What’s more, Balfour Beatty assumed vertical construction responsibilities for 1000 Maine after another contractor built out its subterranean garage. In just 24 hours, the garage crane was dismantled and ours erected within the same pad. Before pouring the first cubic yard of concrete, our team knew we’d be packed into the site like New Yorkers in the subway.
From the outset, these complex site conditions shaped our strategy. Decisions such as including offsite storage in the subcontractor buy-out plan primed the team for success on 1000 Maine, as has conducting in-person shop reviews of all key project elements with the owner and architect before materials arrive onsite. This process was especially important on the building’s high-end unitized curtainwall system. Elements from this terracotta-punctuated showpiece are shipped from the far corners of the earth – Korea, Germany and Spain – to Vancouver, Canada, where units are assembled and subsequently transported to the site for prompt installation.
In a city known for gridlock, it’s no surprise that there are strict rules regarding traffic management. The construction crew is prohibited from closing either of the adjacent traffic lanes during rush hour, which makes delivery schedules all the more tight. “Each truck has to hit the jobsite perfectly,” affirms Josh Goldfarb, 1000 Maine project superintendent. As a further space-saving mechanism, many crane picks are planned directly off the street.
Beyond these clever tactics to approach logistics, Balfour Beatty’s work on the Fish Market requires careful public safety coordination. One of owner Hoffman-Madison Waterfront’s key goals was to ensure that construction activities at no point obstruct consumers’ access to the Fish Market, which first opened its doors in 1805. As such, part of Balfour Beatty’s responsibilities include maintaining 50 surface parking spaces. With the public coming into such close proximity to an active construction site, our team updates site logistics plans on a weekly basis that are distributed via the owner to Fish Market tenants. It is with this deep responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of each individual who comes into contact with the project site that Balfour Beatty approaches this landmark project.
Perhaps the greatest—and definitely the most unusual—example of The Wharf’s extreme site constraints is the location of Balfour Beatty’s construction trailer. Initially, the teams explored the idea of building out their command central in 1000 Maine’s basement. Other less-than-efficient options would have required staff to travel as far as half a mile away. Ultimately, the teams decided to lease a barge and dock it to the pier. “We really love the barge. It has increased collaboration between our 1000 Maine team and the Fish Market team,” affirms Mike Smith, project manager for 1000 Maine. “From the possibility of no daylight to having some of the best views in the city, this move was a win all around.”
While many construction projects in densely packed urban areas involve logistical challenges, few have the unique combination that our teams at The Wharf face. For a development that boasts clear lines of sight to the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and the Capital Building, it seems only fitting that construction is not a routine exercise and instead one that demands the very best—yes, even a historic effort—from its builders.