Getting it right in mixed-use buildings

Mixed-use buildings—often a combination of retail and residential—are unique structures with varying needs. Tenants, sustainability, HVAC, and a host of other factors must be considered.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer September 29, 2015


Michael Albanese, PE, LEED GA, Senior Associate, Kohrs Lonnemann Heil Engineers, Fort Thomas, Ky.

David Callan, PE, CEM, HBDP, LEED AP, QCxP, Vice President, McGuire Engineers, Chicago

Donna Miller, PE, PEng, LEED AP, Vice President, Engineering, WD Partners, Dublin, Ohio

Gary Poole, PE, Principal, Bury Inc., Houston

Andrew H. Smith, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Principal, Jordan & Skala Engineers, Dallas  

CSE: Please describe a recent mixed-use project you’ve worked on.

Michael Albanese: One of our recent, very successful projects was U Square @ the Loop, located across the street from the University of Cincinnati campus. Financed by the university and managed by the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., this $80 million development includes 80,000 sq ft of street-level retail and 161 upscale apartments above.

Gary Poole: In recent years, our firm has been involved in many mixed-use projects of different sizes and scopes. Some of Bury’s best-known mixed-use projects include The Domain in Austin (Texas), Texas Watters Creek in Dallas, and Memorial City in Houston. Our mixed-use projects have generally included some combination of office spaces, living spaces (both hotel and apartment), retail spaces, and parking facilities. These types of facilities, often more than others, greatly benefit from the creativity and cohesive vision that often come with teams who frequently work together. The typical team we see for this type of project is an experienced project manager using construction and design team members that are familiar with the project type and have an existing working relationship. For Memorial City, in particular, owned by MetroNational Corp., we have been involved with the project for many years. Memorial City includes numerous office buildings, apartments, a retail shopping mall, multiple parking garages, a hospital, and a hotel.

Andrew H. Smith: Jordan & Skala is providing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering design on a Dallas downtown mixed-use development with Forrest City Development and GFF Architects. The project combined high-end and in-town living within a hybrid of high- and low-rise apartment buildings. The development includes a large, structured parking garage and street-level retail and restaurants. Tenant amenities included a large fitness center, two-story clubhouse, outdoor swimming pool, and leasing area.

CSE: How have the characteristics of mixed-use projects changed in recent years, and what should engineers expect to see in the near future?

Smith: The walk-up 2- and 3-story garden-style apartment development, with adjacent retail and restaurants, are less often constructed. Building high-density and mixing "live-work-play" on one site is desired by the millennial generation and is also green/sustainable. Minimal commute time is just one advantage of mixed-use developments. Current amenities are resort-style living with amazing clubhouse areas, fitness centers, yoga rooms, coffee/smoothie bars, and much more. Expect more high-rise in lieu of low-rise due to increasing land costs.

Donna Miller: The characteristics of mixed-use projects obviously vary based on location, but generally we’ve noticed a shift from enclosed malls and destination shopping to more lifestyle, community-type developments. The focus of the engineering systems in lifestyle communities has been directed more to sustainable systems. Sustainable systems that are budget-friendly, with low energy consumption and a short return on investment have been the most favorable with our clients.

Poole: The biggest change we have probably seen is greater support for a sustainable approach to the design of systems (energy and water, primarily). We have also seen greater concern for the security of the users and facilities, heightened requirements for fire and life safety systems, system design to support operational flexibility, and very aggressive cost control. I would expect to see these trends continue in the near future for mixed-use projects.

Albanese: Mixed-use projects continue to change just as often as the spaces are designed. Commercial office space can be quickly converted to retail, or apartment buildings can be switched to condominiums, with little renovation needed to complete. Engineers should anticipate these changes and consult with their clients on the design implications and potential issues. Engineering will continue to meet the standards set forth in energy standards and codes; however, modifications to our construction standards and methods will need to shift. A sample of proposals to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) include ductwork insulation requirements, lighting allowances, and building envelope commissioning.

CSE: On what aspect of mixed-use buildings do you see the most emphasis being placed by building owners? In what areas is your firm doing the most work?

Albanese: Building owners continue to focus their concern on the occupants. This drives decisions that center around life safety, energy consumption, thermal comfort, and environment. KLH continues to see the building envelope as a critical component in any mixed-use project. Apart from aesthetics, the thermal envelope and vapor barrier are critical in addressing a building’s heat loss and humidity control. It is paramount that the owner understand the design and potential limitations of the mechanical system.

Miller: We have noted the focus of our clients has been related to the marketable aspects of mixed-use developments with the secondary focus related to sustainability.

Smith: Due to the mixed-use element, our firm is offering mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, green (sustainability/U.S. Green Building Council LEED/National Green Building Standard/Energy Star), commissioning, and low-voltage services (communications, security, and audiovisual).

Poole: The greatest emphasis that we see from building owners is on maximizing their users’ overall experience at the facility, addressing parking needs, and prioritizing the importance of cost control. Our work is pretty varied across the board.

CSE: How has your engineering firm met the needs of mixed-use clients in other countries?

Miller: WD Partners has operated an office in Mumbai, India, since 2007. Our Mumbai associates provide architectural and engineering design services for our international clients as well as our domestic clients. The approach that WD uses to provide design services for our international clients can vary depending on the location and specific code requirements. We have performed a range of international design services, from architectural and engineering design services for Tim Hortons in the Canadian market to developing an umbrella mass-market/value-brand concept for Zensho in the Japanese market.

Poole: To the best of my knowledge, we have no experience with mixed-use projects outside of the U.S. Generally, when we do any type of overseas project we staff it with an appropriate team that’s sent to the location for an extended period of time.

Smith: Jordan & Skala Engineers has provided MEP design for two international mixed-use projects, Camana Bay (a residential/office project) in the Grand Cayman and the International Waterfront Development (a hotel/office project) at the Port of Spain in Trinidad.

CSE: What business development techniques are you using to gain mixed-use building clients and/or projects?

Poole: For our existing clients, we tend to let our work speak for itself. We believe in partnering with our clients and taking personal responsibility for their projects’ successes. Furthermore, we strive to maintain a consistent dialogue so that we are aware of how we may need to adjust our services or designs to keep up with new trends. As for new clients, we attempt to engage our full services of land planning and development, civil engineering, structural engineering, MEP and fire protection (FP) engineering, and landscape architecture as early as possible so that the client and the project has the full benefit of the multiple disciplines we offer. As a company, we are consistently adding service lines to meet the needs of our clients. While each of our individual services lines are strong, service lines that function together seamlessly are an additional draw.

Smith: Many architects and developers have shifted their multifamily focus to include one or more of the following product types: retail, restaurant, office, and/or hospitality. Few AEC firms have diverse project experience, and they often lack the multifamily sector entirely. Knowledge of the multifamily product type illustrates confidence sought by owners and developers. The technique we use to sell mixed-use developments is our breadth of experience in all building types.

Albanese: Business development for mixed-use projects is natural for each of our engineers. The engineers involved with these projects have a passion for urban renewal and an understanding of its impact. Many choose to live and socialize in urban areas close to many of our projects. Often, this becomes the basis of lasting relationships with our clients, project teams, and the individuals that use and reside in mixed-use developments. Our clients and owners understand that they have a relationship with their design engineer that lasts the life of the building.

CSE: What unique tools, software, or systems do you use when working on mixed-use projects?

Smith: Designing mixed-use does not require software or tools beyond that of any other commercial or industrial project-type needs. Trane TRACE, Carrier HAP, and Manual J are software programs used to perform heating-and-cooling loads and energy modeling.

Miller: WD Partners uses both Autodesk AutoCad and Revit for the design of our mixed-use projects. These design tools are not unique to a specific client or building type but are consistently used for our projects. We are flexible with our approach to building design and work closely with our clients to determine the best tools, software, or systems that meet their specific requirements.

Poole: We typically use Autodesk Revit for document production and Trane TRACE for load calculations and energy modeling.

Albanese: KLH continues to see responsiveness as a critical component to the success of a project. We are committed to providing exceptional customer service by exceeding industry trends in submittal and requests for information response time. To facilitate this effort, custom project management software has been developed to manage the process and continuously improve timeliness. Design software remains consistent with industry practices and uses the same tools, software, and systems on work in all market segments. We’ve made a major commitment to BIM technology since 2007 and have become a leader in its application to MEP design. Our staff has worked with Revit’s creator, AutoDesk, to further drive development of this program for use in designing MEP systems.

CSE: Describe your experience working with the contractor, architect, owner, or other team members in creating a BIM model for a mixed-use building.

Smith: Jordan & Skala Engineers has adopted Revit and BIM. Most wood-frame projects are designed using AutoCAD. BIM design is best-suited for steel and concrete projects. Overall, BIM requires a longer project schedule and will have higher soft costs. BIM often includes the electro-mechanical characteristics of MEP equipment to help with design coordination and contractor takeoffs. Unfortunately, the equipment bid and purchased by the subcontractors is often different and does not match what was specified. BIM has its place and offers pros and cons to each project.

Poole: Our experience has been that architects and engineers have been working in the BIM environment longer than have the contractors, particularly the subcontractors and the sub-subcontractors. However, this is changing fairly quickly as the supplier and vendor groups that support the contractors begin to move away from the document management systems they have used for many years to more BIM-friendly systems.

Miller: As an integrated services firm, WD Partners provides both architecture and engineering design services to our clients. This integrated service offering allows WD Partners to develop a single BIM model for a project or prototype retail facility. We have found that this integrated approach combined with the model can significantly reduce construction costs, energy and operating costs, and ultimately time-to-market.

CSE: Have you specified any unique water treatment or conservation systems in a mixed-use building?

Albanese: Although no system comes to mind for mixed-use buildings, we have designed several unique water systems. We’ve designed the water purifying system (which goes through six stages) for a major grocery store chain throughout the country, and water features at public parks. We recently provided design for a pumping system, valves, sen­sors, and associated water-level controls that were installed with two primary goals in mind—the first was to reduce the number of stormwater-overflow events and the second was to increase the amount of stormwater that can be used for irrigation of the property.

Smith: Some projects are using a central hot-water system to deliver tenants unlimited hot water. These systems support higher apartment rents. Central hot water eliminates the individual electric water heater in each apartment that occupies valuable real estate and has a 5- to 7-yr lifespan.