VIRTUARCH Expert Talk: Size Matters
The Right Approach for Industrial Projects
Industrial projects come with many difficulties. Big and small projects have different challenges to be mastered. What do architects and project managers need to consider when dealing with large-scale and small-scale projects? This is the field of VIRTUARCH. A conversation with four experts of the Swiss Architecture Company: Daniel Heusser, Haitao Zhang, Duncan Zheng und Therdsiddhi Hoprasartsuk-Pellaumail.
How do you Specify the Size of an Industrial Project?
When we talk about industrial projects, in our daily work we mainly deal with three sizes: The XL size which is bigger than 100,000 square meters, the L size which ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 square meters, and the M size ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 square meters. Of course, we also handle smaller projects, but these three categories cover most of our work. In general, projects in China are on average bigger than projects in Southeast Asia or in Europe. This is also our experience: In Southeast Asia, we are managing mostly M and L size projects, in China we have more L and XL size projects in our portfolio.
XL Size Project: Buehler Asia-Pacific Manufacturing and R&D Center in Liyang, Jiangsu Province, P.R.China: 150,000 sqm
L Size Project: CPF,Srisaket, Thailand, 18,000 sqm
M Size Project : DENIOS, Jintan, Jiangsu Pronvince, P.R.China, 7,300 sqm
How Does the Size of the Project Influence the Design Process?
In small projects, we often deal with the owner of the business directly or with the top management. For the architectural design, this is an advantage. First, it is easier for us to get a better understanding of how the decision-makers think. What are their ideas, what is their vision? What do they really want? Second, based on this knowledge we can suggest a more extraordinary design, meaning the project is more ‘custom-made’ in terms of functionality and personality. We can create something that is a bit more out of the box reflecting the owner’s personal character. With big companies, this is often not possible. We usually deal with several hierarchy levels. Many people are involved and thus more ‘politics’ make special projects more difficult to be realized.
How do you Approach Big Projects?
Big projects normally start with a test fit. Then you need to do proper master planning. We must think about several phases and options for future extensions. A good example is our project with Buehler in Liyang. This is a large-scale high-efficiency green building project we helped to save costs also in operation. The facilities comprise a shed typology production building offering an optimum indoor daylight illumination while being perfectly inclined to a photovoltaic system dimensioned to cover the basic electricity demand of the factory.
Big projects often have a higher complexity. Very often there are several business units involved. Different specialized areas, like R&D facilities, integrated processes, a higher level of automatization. We have to deal with quite a number of stakeholders on the client’s side: production in different units, HR, Administration, and the top management.
BOMAG plant in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, P.R.China: 35,000 sqm Factory with a Multifunction building of circa 5,000 square meters hosting office and R&D functions, lobby with showroom, meeting and training rooms, as well as all social functions
We currently work for one of the biggest conglomerates in Thailand for food processing in two projects with different sizes. The first one is around 3,300 sqm in phase one, but will be extended to 20,000 sqm at full scale. The second one is already 22,000 sqm in phase one and we calculate with up to 50,000 sqm in phase two. So, we clearly see the difference the size makes. The building of the big project has a length of around 300 meters. We need to come up with good design ideas not to make it look like a long train. In addition, due to the specific operational processes and the hygiene standards, people do not have much contact with the different sections in the building. These technical aspects need to be carefully considered in the design as well. To fully understand the flow, we had some workshops with the Owner before we started with the planning.
Operating in Southeast Asia we need to make sure that the functionality and efficiency of our buildings are in line with the tropical climate. In one big industrial project in Myanmar, for example, we attach great importance to natural light with an open view and natural ventilation to save energy costs and to create a pleasant workplace for the employees. The temperature is kept under 28 degrees Celsius thanks to insulations and a natural ventilation system. Compared with a mechanical cooling system, natural ventilation can cool and ventilate large factory buildings, resulting in much more energy-saving efficiency.
High-tech plant in a tropical environment: 15,000 sqm of industrial facilities with production, warehouses, cool storage, offices, showroom,and social area in Thilawa Industrial Zone near Yangon, Myanmar
How Does the Size Affect the Management of a Project?
For all projects, whether huge, big, medium, or small, we have a similar structure regarding schedule, quality and cost control. The difference is how we arrange the project team organization: For the XL projects, we need a bigger team onsite to handle all the tasks. For projects around 8,000 to 20,000 sqm, we allocate a slimmer but highly efficient team consisting of a project manager and an assistant on site. With the support of the MEP engineers taking care of all mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects, this small team can run the project smoothly in a very cost-efficient way. A good example is the iSi project. With limited space, budget and time we developed an industrial facility with an office building that is seen to be the landmark of iSi. It stands out with its dark gray façade that forms an elegant frame meandering around the generous band of windows.
iSi office building seen from the main entrance
Tuenkers is a bigger project with a complicated design and installation process. The owner’s facility rent nearly expired, so we had only a short time to move to the new place. Thanks to excellent coordination between the moving team and construction team, the movement could be done within one week during the holidays without affecting the production.
L size project Tuenkers in Taicang, Jiangsu Province, P.R.China: 22,000 sqm
We can also say that if the project is very big, we often work together with specialized production specialists. They help the client to optimize the production flow and ensure a lean production process. For the smaller projects, we deal directly with the production people. So, we run workshops to filter out the requirements of the clients and help the customer to build up the factory layouts for their needs.
Apart from the size of the project, the size of the company is an important driver: Big companies usually have experts in-house for their projects. Smaller companies need to hire external experts to manage the processes, or they rely on our expertise as architects and project managers with a long track record of successfully implementing industrial facilities.
Also, for smaller project sometimes the project management budget is quite limited. So, we need to explain what exactly project management means. Smaller companies work with smaller contractors because of the limited budget. Sometimes we need to help the contractor to manage, they are lacking expertise and are weak on documentation. This is a major challenge with small construction sites.
Yes, correct. The structure of the client is a crucial aspect in how we manage projects. The big clients have their own experienced teams. The typical SME on the opposite maybe has built its last factory in the seventies or eighties in Europe. We need to guide these clients through the process of controlling a project from the beginning to the end. Their management needs a good partner like VIRTUARCH who is strong enough to achieve the requested quality. This is our core competence: We understand architecture, engineering and project management. We help the clients optimize their projects and make sure that the projects are realized within the time schedule, the budget, and in the requested quality.