DPR Construction prides itself on building "great things" through a focus on quality and innovation. To that end, the general contractor is including a 75,000-square-foot, large-scale research and development space as part of its new office in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
The 100,000-square-foot building entered the design phase in August 2020 after being in the planning stages for 12 to 18 months, said Nick Ertmer, business unit leader in the Raleigh-Durham region. DPR broke ground late last month on the new facility, which will also include 25,000 square feet of office space.
The targeted move-in date, he said, is at the end of this year or the beginning of 2022.
The new space, said Mark Whitson, a member of DPR’s management team in Raleigh-Durham, will allow the firm to tie together its strategies — improving performance through the use of data, virtual design and construction, self-performance of the work and prefabrication — to change the interface of how the company "designs to build."
Ertmer said that prefabrication is a key pillar in the company's strategy moving forward.
"We absolutely see that as what is going to change the construction industry," he said. "We want to be on the innovative side, the leading edge of that industry change."
That means more integration of prefabrication into the construction process, Ertmer said. And having enough space to facilitate that shift is becoming a necessity, not only to innovate with strategic partners but as a workplace for local projects where clients can view mock-ups of prefab assemblies, for example, or teams can test certain project game plans out before implementing them on a project.
The growth of prefabrication in construction, Whitson said, will be so significant that he envisions contractors will be "assembling buildings in the future, not constructing them."
This industrialization of the construction process, Ertmer said, also includes modularization but kicked up a notch.
"I think when we say prefabrication integration with virtual design and construction, that's a little bit more forward-looking than just what most folks think of traditionally as a modularized construction approach," he said.
The research facility, Whitson said, is also ideal for workforce development in a time when there is an ever-shrinking pool of skilled labor. It is safer to train them in a factory setting and also prepare workers for a future where prefabrication could mean they will be practicing their trades inside rather than on a jobsite.
The new space will also allow for full-scale mockups so that clients can experience their space as a finished product, whether it be a bathroom pod or a complete hotel room.
This isn't the first space of its kind for DPR. Whitson said the company also built a similar facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 7,000 square feet for offices and 13,000 square feet for R&D. The company has another 100,000 square feet in Austin, Texas, completely dedicated to R&D.
The innovation that these spaces allow has become critical for the industry, he said.
"Customers want things cheaper and faster," Whitson said, "but they want higher quality and better safety. So how do we deliver that?"