RK wins Award of Excellence Award for Aspen Art Museum

By: RK Mechanical

On October 19th, 2014, RK Mechanical, Inc. won two Award of Excellence trophies at the ABC-EIC awards on October 19th. One was awarded for the new Rooftop at Coors Field and the other was for the work that RK did on the Aspen Art Museum. RK also won a second place Award of Merit trophy for the Denver Union Station project.

The Aspen Art Museum was a labor of love from the beginning. Known for its “A-list” residents, exquisite homes and breathtaking vistas, Aspen, Colorado has become one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. It is home to affluent and influential executives, movie stars and musicians, making it the site of some of the most expensive real estate in the nation.

Since the community is accustomed to only the finest of everything, residents and visitors have high expec­tations for the city’s buildings and architecture. With that in mind, the Aspen Art Museum hired Shigeru Ban, the top architect in the world, to design their new digs. Ban, known for his unique use of cardboard tubes, won this year’s Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor. He dreamed up the new 33,000 square-foot museum to fit within the city’s astonishing mountain landscape located at the base of the luxury ski resort.

Intended to be a multi-use structure, Ban’s design welcomed visitors and locals, encouraging them to use the space as a public area. With jaw-dropping views of Ajax Mountain, the property would be accessible, free of charge, including the roof deck and café. Every aspect of the design was crafted to reflect the style and grace of the community, married with the rugged and glorious landscape. This might be illustrated best by Ban’s exposed three-dimensional truss ceiling.

In order to help bring their conceived facility to life, the Aspen Art Museum teamed with Turner Construction Com­pany for their general contracting, along with Shigeru Ban Architects and CCY Architects. With a proven track record of successfully completing complex mountain projects, RK Specialties, Inc. was selected as the steel fabricator of choice. Everyone on the team knew this was no ordinary project. They also knew they were up to the challenges that would lie ahead.

As an American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) certified contractor, RK Specialties (RKS) is rooted in tested processes designed to deliv­er predictable results. The success of the project was due to having appropriately trained and certified personnel on site and properly documenting progress along the way. By ensuring clarity of goals and expectations, the RKS team was able to effectively work without compromise to ensure high safety and quality standards.

The remarkable museum design posed many difficulties for the project team as the exterior of the building was comprised of glass, structural steel and Prodema wood paneling. Behind the wood is 40 tons of structural steel and behind the steel is a wall of glass. In order to fabricate the steel to fit the building specs, the RKS team opted to pre-assemble all of the steel components in the shop to pass a ‘fit check’ (in-house quality procedure). Once the steel was fabricated and passed the check, the team delivered it to the project site where it had to be disassembled, and reassembled all over again.

Although this process required more work on the front end, it mitigated the risk of not meeting the building size requirements during the crucial installation phase.

The Aspen Art Museum had a very aggressive schedule, with construction beginning in March of 2013 and completion planned for July of 2014. Although this type of schedule is normal and expected in the construction industry, nothing about working in Aspen was normal.

The physical location of the project was the number one challenge. The city is located just under 180 miles away from the RK Specialties shop in Henderson, Colorado, at an elevation of 7,900 feet. Not only was the distance a factor for meeting delivery requirements, but the infamous and inconsistent Colorado winter weather also played a key and, often vicious, role.

The crew was forced to make tough decisions regarding travel and safety when faced with the blustery and treacherous conditions pre­sented by I-70’s Vail Pass. Weather often forced crews to turn around before ever reaching the job site.

All of these factors played a big role in the RKS project team’s schedule management. In order to combat the schedul­ing interferences, the team used Bluebeam software to stay organized and share information internally, the structural steel was pre-assembled in the shop to avoid possible size inaccuracies, and there was consistent communication between the various trades to make sure they were still on schedule for deliveries, in addition to accounting for the chance of inclement weather and working around the remote project location, regarding distance and travel time.

The construction team was handed their biggest project challenge right from the start. Both the Aspen Art Museum and the world-renowned architect Ban knew what they wanted the museum to look like, but they had absolutely no idea how it was going to be built. For example, the staircase was not a normal design, in that it was to be accessible from both the inside of the building for those viewing the exhibits, as well as from the outside of the building for public access to the roof. With the help of the 50 plus person in-house CAD Department, the RKS team was able to provide value analysis, conquering the test through multiple rounds of design changes and on-going collaboration with the glass and wood con­struction teams. In addition to CAD, the team used a value engineering, pre-assembly approach in the shop for all of the structural steel components prior to project installation.

Aspen, like the majority of ski resorts throughout Colorado, gets a heap of snow each winter. This is great news for those who snowshoe, ski, snowboard, snowmobile, etc. But it is less appealing news for construction companies who are select­ed to work there. While the new Aspen Art Museum was being built, the city was blessed with just under 200 inches of snow. Although it is not possible to control Mother Nature, it serves as a true test to the skill and flexibility of construction teams when her interruptions can be effectively managed.

The Aspen Art Museum opened on the 9th of August, 2014, hosting museum tours, concerts, films, a dance party and even a sunrise yoga session!