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Builders Solve Calatrava's Florida Polytechnic Puzzle

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"We did mock-ups religiously out here," he adds. "It's how we set expectations with everybody."

Several hundred "perfect portals," as Webb calls them, line the building's corridor that separates classrooms on the outer walls from lab spaces and common areas in the central space. For these, Baker cast them as two columns, and then used a wall form with inserts to create the angled connection between them.

Constructing the web-like network of raker beams that serve as an interior focal point of the building's front and back entrances was considerably more complicated, requiring extra oversight from Thornton Tomasetti and Alfonso with regard to formwork design, shoring methods and concrete curing methods.

Designing this concrete formwork proved to be "a very tedious process," Ottman says. "I can't tell you how many concrete formwork drawings I reviewed."

Also, hiding the construction joints for the grand staircase at the front entrance took considerable planning, with the team ultimately settling on a construction sequence of building the upper section first, followed by the lower portion and finally the middle.

"Those grand stairs were amazingly difficult to make work," Ottman says. It required "almost surgical construction so that at the end it looks like one piece."

On Schedule

Going into the project, the team was well aware of the constructibility challenges on some of Calatrava's other projects. With Polytechnic's first class of students scheduled to arrive this August, and with no extra state funding available, builders couldn't let the project's schedule slip or its cost balloon.

"That fueled us to get this right at every step," says Ottman. "Everybody bought into that."

"There was a schedule pressure, but not to the expense of the quality on the job," adds Baker's Webb. Schedule "was definitely a secondary priority here."

That's because building an accurate realization of Calatrava's vision was always the goal, says Skanska's Jablon. "He's as happy as we are that we're delivering it," he adds. "The baby lives."

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