From Weitz Thought Leaders: Building an Office that Works

The October Harvard Business Review issue features office space design and its effects on productivity, creativity and overall engagement. In leafing through it, I was taken back 15 years when I was responsible for creating flexible, collaborative work environments for a Fortune 500 company. Back then, we concentrated on how to attract and retain young, bright (and highly sought after…it was the tech boom) IT pros. The physical challenge was how do you transform buildings designed with long hallways and walled-off offices into open, collaborative working spaces that are edgy and fun?

Today, many of the facilities and construction challenges of the late 1990s have been erased. For example, wireless technology has nearly eliminated the need for two to three CAT 5 cables per person. You don’t need to sit near a voice and data plug; your wireless devices go where you go. That being said, we still face some of the same old challenges in designing and building these flexible, fun environments.

Floor-to-ceiling improvements

To answer the call for flexibility in the physical environment, many solutions are available. Access flooring can allow for power and data to be moved virtually anywhere very quickly and with minimal disruption. These floors can be retrofit into existing structures, driving the needs for ramps and steps in some areas. While most people find this undesirable, it’s definitely not a show stopper.

The other hurdle to overcome in this approach is now that the floor is raised, the ceiling height becomes lower. Making any changes to increase ceiling height typically gets complicated and expensive. Above those white ceiling tiles you’ll typically find electrical conduits, air conditioning ducts, fire sprinklers, and often voice and data cabling. Getting two to five inches of height could cost you $3 to $7 per square foot. Going for more can reach $15 per square foot, and well beyond. The cost of the flooring itself can range from $3 per square foot to $7 per square foot for moderate heights (2 to 8 inches). If your building is designed with this flooring in mind, the aforementioned challenges go away, but like anything else, there is a cost.

To facilitate increased floor-to-ceiling volumes, often the height of the building itself is increased. We find this often adds $60,000 to $175,000 or more for each additional foot, and this is totally dependent on the overall building perimeter and exterior wall construction. There is a better way, though. By implementing tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and close coordination with multiple building trades and internal experts, we have successfully minimized building heights and at the same time increased ceiling heights. On one project in Colorado, this process allowed us to save 12 feet of building height for a client.

Outside the (walls of the) box

Another barrier to buildings that can quickly change inside are the walls themselves. Typically these physical partitions are framed with metal or wood and covered with drywall.

To move them requires demolition and fairly extensive refinish work. Many times they house electrical wiring and doors which further complicate things. I have seen a demountable wall system used in many buildings, which improved the ability to move/reconfigure walls. This is a compromise solution at best, as these walls tend to be flimsy and do not stop sound transmission very well. Additionally, they are roughly twice as expensive as typical drywall solutions.

Furniture vendors have attempted to address this issue as well, by making self-supporting walls that can be moved around. Unfortunately, they contain many of the same drawbacks as outlined above with the addition of greater cost on the magnitude of two to three times the cost of drywall partitions. In addition, these demountable systems are treated as furniture and hence depreciate much faster than the building itself — seven years for the furniture and 30 for the building. Your CFO would be the deciding vote on that long-term benefit.

The trend that I first encountered 15 years back is fewer interior partitions for offices and more shared common spaces such as conference rooms and even phone booth-sized spaces that allow for sound and visual privacy. The Weitz Company has actually implemented this in our Phoenix office. Upon entering this space, you feel a sense of energy and fun. It is so prevalent, we have begun to spread this concept to our other offices.

Know your boundaries

Over the years on the facilities side of the business, and now for the past eight years on the construction manager side, I have seen the very issues highlighted in Harvard Business Review wrestled with – and the end result is amazingly similar. Typically, a progressive leader decides that the new facility or new space should be designed to support the work process and create a fun environment for its workers, as they spend so much time there. The designers show them tons of ideas, some of them totally wild, and they wrestle with whether the ideas will work for them.

I think the Harvard Business Review article, “Workspaces That Move People” is the absolute best I have ever seen in that it quantifies with data the different ways people are most effective at their jobs. It will be interesting to see how great designers take this information and incorporate it into their future approach. If you set out on this road, rest assured there are designers that do this well, and it is worth talking to them. To save yourself time and money, be sure to know your boundaries and communicate it in writing to your design team.

After 25 years of working in, designing, building, and experimenting with office spaces, I suggest: keep it open and flexible. Choose a furniture system that is easy to reconfigure. Finally, use a quality construction manager like The Weitz Company to optimize the build around these parameters.

– Written by Jim Wells, Vice President, The Weitz Company






Senior living space and specialties trend with demand, price increase

As demand and price for senior housing continue to increase, so does the trend toward larger, more amenity filled facilities, according to The Weitz Company. A national full-service general contractor, design-builder and construction manager, Weitz has built more than 18,000 independent living units and more than 29,000 senior living units in 37 states.

“Today’s senior living facilities are a collision of three worlds: healthcare, hospitality and residential. The trend is certainly towards a resort style and away from a healthcare setting,” said Brendan Morrow, Director – Senior Living, The Weitz Company. “The Baby Boomer generation is accustomed to a lifestyle of personalized, nearly on-demand entertainment and fulfillment. We must plan for that in future senior living environments. This means that the 350-unit development with three unit plan options won’t address the Boomer’s desire to be unique and experience things totally different from their peers. The type of facilities, the locations and the services offered will need to change on the fly.”

The Weitz Company has tracked the square footage of common areas in relation to units since the 1970s. Common areas have gone from 193 square feet/unit in the 1970s and some surpass the the 300 square feet/ unit threshold today.

“Increased common areas definitely comes with a cost, as the ratio between rentable and non-rentable is a major driver of the overall construction and operational costs of a senior living facility,” said Morrow.

The Weitz Company is also seeing an interest in sites with a more urban setting. “There is some thought out there that the next generation coming in will want walkability to arts, entertainment and social life outside the walls. Whereas today’s facilities are keeping residents on property, the surrounding neighborhood in an urban setting become a major selling point and strategy,” noted Morrow.

According to the latest National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI), builder confidence in the single-family 55+ housing market is up year-over-year, reaching levels not seen since 2008. This trend ties to consistent rise in home equity due to climbing economic recovery, allowing consumers to sell their homes and move to a 55+ community, or from 55+ into the high quality senior housing market. With the increase in demand, comes an increase in cost.   According to a supplemental quarterly report for The 2014 Senior Care Acquisition Report, published by Irving Levin and Associates.


The Weitz Company wins ENR magazine’s 2014 Best Project in Southwest

The Weitz Company, a leading national full-service general contractor, design-builder and construction manager, announces its winning entry in the Landscape/Urban Development category in Engineering-News Record (ENR) magazine’s 2014 “Best Projects” competition for the Melrose Gateway Monument in Phoenix, Arizona.

“The Weitz Company is thrilled to once again be recognized for our work by ENR,” said Mike Bontrager, executive vice president, The Weitz Company. “The Melrose Gateway Monument provided a valuable opportunity for us to not only contribute to the enhancement of the community, but also to collaborate with outstanding partners in the process, including Bell Steel, Gensler and the Melrose District.”

Located at the threshold of the Melrose Neighborhood District in Central Phoenix, the new Melrose Gateway Monument creates a contemporary icon with an authentic mid-century modern aesthetic prevalent throughout the community. The monument is designed with an abstracted organic floral pattern made of more than 175,000 plasma cuts in half inch steel plate. Weighing more than 55 tons, the monument was erected to span the six lanes of 7th Avenue just north of Indian School Road using two cranes in a single lift. A time-lapse video of the monument installation is available on YouTube (

Gensler was the lead design firm on the project, with The Weitz Company serving as general contractor. The project was developed by the City of Phoenix.

The Weitz Company is ranked 120th on Engineering News-Record’s list of Top 400 Contractors.

From Weitz Thought Leaders: Mechanical Systems for Senior Living

Senior living communities pose some unique challenges to the design and construction of the physical environment that will become the platform for care and sense of home for older adults. The financial realities of developing or repositioning a community constrain both construction and ongoing operating costs. Of course, of utmost importance is the health and comfort of the senior living community’s potentially frail residents.

Having built more than 25,000 homes for seniors, The Weitz Company has explored mechanical systems of all varieties. While some systems are more appropriate for senior living than others, the balance between first costs and operating costs is always delicate.

With variations in climate, acuity, utility rates, local codes and regional trade practices, no one system can be declared universally “best” for all situations. That being said, one innovation in mechanical systems has recently proved to be optimal in its balance between low operating costs and low first costs.

The chart below distills are 50 years of research and expertise into mechanical systems for senior living by distributing each into one of four quadrants: Sustainable (low operating costs but higher first costs), Budget (low first costs but higher operating costs), Infeasible (high first and operating costs), and Optimal (low first and operating costs). Only one system reliably proves to fall in the Optimal category for senior living communities.

Mechanical Systems Image










The Weitz Company Senior MEP Systems Manager Greg Blythe helps senior living developers and owners evaluate the right system (or systems) for their communities. Reliably, a one-pipe system that meets the demand load through managing BTUs to a terminal unit rather than varying GPM flow can deliver exceptional comfort and savings. A one-pipe system uses roughly 40% less piping and smaller horsepower motors which lowers construction labor and material costs. The even and steady flow of hydronics takes advantage of water’s inherent thermal inertia to deliver steadier temperatures which are critical to seniors’ comfort.

Additionally, a dual-coil terminal unit can be used that provides the ability to heat and cool at the same time, a feature traditional two-pipe systems fail to provide in shoulder seasons and/or moderate climates. In fact, much like VRF, a dual-core one-pipe system with paired loops can balance the load across southern and northern exposures to reduce energy consumption at the central plant. And most important to residents, each apartment individually controls its own terminal set point and heat/cool mode.

– Written By Michael Hass, Director of Senior Living, The Weitz Company






From Weitz Thoughtleaders: “The Changing Look of Senior Health Buildings” (

“The next generation coming in will want walkability to arts, entertainment and social life outside the walls of their senior-living property.”

Read more from senior living expert and The Weitz Company Project Executive Brendan Morrow, in this October 20, 2014  article from