When the owners of the New England Patriots football team decided to add a new office to an unused piece of land next to their stadium, the project was shackled with one big constraint. Because the site is just feet away from a ramp that fans use to enter Gillette Stadium on game days, construction would have to happen when fans weren’t around so they weren’t walking steps away from an active construction site. The ideal solution was to do all the construction when no fans would be anywhere near the stadium at all. The team’s owners, the Kraft Group, decided to build it in the off-season.
It’s a fans-first approach, and one that sounds great on paper. But when it comes to actually building the building—a 120,000 square-foot four-story office building—the six month off-season is simply not enough time. “A traditional building of this size could take a minimum of 24 to 30 months depending on its location,” says Michael Schroeder, a partner at the architecture firm SGA, which designed the building.
Instead of throwing in the towel, SGA and the Kraft Group compressed the timeline to fit the off-season window. It required a combination of overlapping the design and construction processes, pulling in contractors and engineers much earlier than normal, ordering materials before the design was even finalized, and some good, old-fashioned team building.
“The schedule is really insane,” says Schroeder, who leads SGA’s virtual design and construction practice, which is focused on using digital tools to improve the process behind complicated projects. In a most constructions project, designs get tweaked and reworked, engineering plans get revised, construction managers encounter budgeting issues, and each step along the way is prone to delay. To pull off the insane timeline, Schroeder developed a system for getting several sequential parts of the project to start almost at the same time. “We had to essentially onboard contractors while we were in early design,” he says.
So last summer, Schroeder and the Kraft Group convened a group of about 60 people who’d be involved in the project’s various stages, including designers, HVAC contractors, structural engineers and the construction companies that would be putting the whole thing together. It was partly to figure out how to line up each of their various timelines and priorities, but also partly to build some rapport between parts of a team that are often siloed until the last minute.”It immediately breaks down the barriers of communication and elevates the trust,” Schroeder says. In an average project done over many sequential phases, the decisions made early on by one team can often be confusing or even confounding to others later on. Putting early stage teams like designers in the same room as late stage implementers like general contractors helps smooth out disagreements before they arise.
To accelerate the project’s timeline, SGA developed a dashboard where all the various stakeholders can see a grand list of every part of the process and the next tasks needing to be completed. In the fall, Schroeder set up what he calls a co-located work environment, where members of each of the various teams could work side-by-side on the project. In a regular construction project, any issues or questions that come up between various teams lead to what are known as requests for information, which can take weeks to get resolved. In the co-located environment, questions can be addressed much faster. Though this system has been used in a physical space on other projects, the pandemic led the team to use video chats via Google Meets, with a big video chat open all day. Even virtually, Schroeder says this sped things up substantially. “If any question comes up you immediately just chat or talk face to face and you resolve the issue,” he says.
The crunched timeline also led to some unconventional moves, including the ordering of materials and equipment much earlier than a typical project. Schroeder says HVAC equipment has a long lead time, so the engineers and HVAC experts had to figure out very early on how much cooling the building would require. And given supply chain constraints, the project’s steel had to be ordered before it was clear how long each piece would need to be. This actually wasn’t a problem, Schroeder says. The design showed what types of steel parts were needed and a rough total amount, and any cutting down could happen on the building site when the blueprints were finalized.
And though all these processes are happening in conjunction, the actual shovels-in-the-ground construction was still constrained by the team’s schedule. The builders couldn’t start building until the season ended—and they didn’t know when that would be. Until the Patriots lost their January 15 Wild Card playoff game, the end of the season was an unknown date. “It’s not like we want them to lose so we can get started,” Schroeder says. “But yes, we have to wait.”
But once the season did end, construction began in earnest. Schroeder says the months of coordination and planning meant that the project moved swiftly, and without any unanticipated delays from subcontractors who underbid their part of the job or debates over the selection of materials. “We’re already working together, we worked though the design together, so there’s no misunderstandings,” he says. “We’re not second guessing why we chose this metal instead of that one, we’re not proposing all sorts of changes and substitutions.”
Overall, Schroeder says, the project is moving ahead almost on auto-pilot. “It’s on time and on budget,” he says. Construction on the building will be largely complete by the time fans are walking into the stadium for the Patriots’ first preseason game of this season August 11, just about a year after the project started and six months after construction began. A typical building of this size and complexity would take at least a couple of years, and likely more than a year in construction alone.
There was one complication along the way, though. Schroeder says the owners decided a few months into the design process that maybe the building should be six stories instead of four. This kind of substantial change would have been a major disruption to a finely tuned design and construction, so the idea was adapted. The building’s foundation and structure have been tweaked to allow for two extra stories to be added on at a later date. Construction on those extra floors, Schroeder says, could happen the day after this season ends.