November 9, 2021

The Midfield Satellite Concourse, at LAX from the Architect

By Paul Daniels

Last week, I attended the monthly dinner meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Construction Specification Institute (LACSI). It was great to be able to attend a live event again. This was their second monthly dinner meeting since COVID shut them down. The guest speaker was Julien Brochet, architect DPLG, a senior associate at Gensler’s Los Angeles office. Julien just spent the last six years completing the new Midfield Satellite Concourse, part of a multi-billion-dollar modernization program at Los Angeles World Airports (LAX). This is an extension of the international terminal.

Julien talked about how many stakeholders he had to deal with, including LAX and its representatives, the city of LA, several designers, two general contractors, the TSA, airport security, Customs, pilots and maintenance, just to name a few. This was all before construction started. Of course, once the building started, the problems began popping up.

First, there were issues with the membrane put under the three levels of concrete on the tarmacs, and then they had issues with the pilings that were going to support the foundation. This actually set the project back by six months to get the solutions agreed upon by all involved.

This was a design-build project. One of the keys was getting subcontractors involved from the beginning of the project. Julien explained they could never have completed the project on time without everyone being involved from the start. One issue he brought up was that some of the companies involved early in the project during the design stage, did not end up getting the final contracts. He explained many were not large enough for a project like this or did not have any experience on a job site this large.

Design-build projects seem to be getting a lot of traction on the West Coast. It seems to me that they show the power the subcontractors have in recommending the best products to use on a project. At the same time, it does not seem fair to the companies that come in early on a project with no assurances that they will end up with the final contract for the job. It is also hard for a company to determine what to bill for these early services. I worked with a company in the past that actually got a large design-build project but did not estimate the cost of shop drawings they were responsible for, as they were constantly changed by some of the other trades as the design evolved. Even though they got the contract for the project, they never made up the money they spent during the design stage.

Design-build makes a lot of sense to the architect, but the subcontracts need to put a correct value on the years of experience and problem-solving they bring to the early design.