How the Principles of an Iconic Author and Educator Sets a New Standard for Lean Design and Construction

By Derek Sampson, Partner, BR2 Architecture, in partnership with  aodbt architecture + interior design, and Clark Builders 

Dr. Anne Anderson High School was awarded  LCI’s 2021 Lean in Design Award in September 2021. 

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, Dr. Anne Anderson High School is the largest project undertaken by the owner using deliberate Lean practices. Using an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) format, this 21st Century school is a first in the region in terms of innovative design elements and building methodology. The unique features of this school support learning predicated on the provision of rigorous programming, ensuring authenticity in experience, fostering community and collaborative connections, and having a future focus to ensure students are prepared for an ever-changing world.

Dr. Anne Anderson, the project’s namesake, was an indigenous author and educator recognized by the Order of Canada for her respect of all people, preservation of the Cree language and culture, and her focus on cultivating a flourishing community.  The design team engaged in significant community consultation, both locally and with indigenous elders, to envision a project that reflects the legacy of Dr. Anderson.  With a focus on “Respect for People”, the design included gathering spaces, a living green wall, outdoor classrooms, and a central agora featuring a “teepee” fireplace to reflect an atmosphere of warmth and inclusion. Team onboarding events were influential in creating a supportive team environment and this continued throughout construction with a “Golden Wings” peer recognition program garnering well over 250 nominations and creating a team atmosphere not known to have previously existed in the local market.  This program was so captivating, a senior trade supervisor was even willing to postpone retirement if the project could be repeated with the same team. Standard trade partners were so encouraged by the level of collaboration that they measurably slowed in production as their scopes completed, and tradespersons mentioned that they wished “all projects were like this one.”

Generation of Value

Key design features in this 21st Century learning environment included expansive natural lighting, an outdoor stone amphitheater, large indoor community gathering spaces, architecturally stunning “trees” which were structural supports running the length of the agora, and a culturally significant feature fireplace and living wall.  Much of the design vision and Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) were organically focused on the legacy of Dr Anderson, and were what contributed to the uniqueness of the project. The team was able to achieve this level of excellence through a focused target value design process built upon preexisting team relationships and trust. A team including many rookie IPD practitioners completed the validation process in record time (28 days at less than 0.15% of Allowable Cost) and enabled the design team to move quickly into implementation documents and procurement. Project Implementation Teams ensured efficient functional and systems designs that field level craftspeople and supervisors helped develop, allowing the incorporation of over $4.3M of added value items during the design and procurement phase. The team's ability to lower target costs through design integration led to further creative opportunities including enhanced lighting, flooring, and interior finishes. The Last Planner System® allowed a 13% acceleration of the schedule releasing funds for $1.2M of added features during the construction phase without increasing Final Target Cost or impacting the Milestone Schedule.

Optimize the Whole

Project optimization began with a deliberate retrospective on challenges experienced on a past “trial” integrated project by the owner and other team members in a market not accustomed to Lean. One resulting innovative solution was a financial limit on allowable design costs. The focus on efficiency and productivity with key designer and builder pairings (structural, envelope, mechanical, and electrical) eliminated individual design efforts by encouraging the full support of the respective builders.  Deliberate collaboration time was made possible by encouraging the entire team to collaborate three days each week, while allowing flexibility to respond to other project commitments and demands.  The effectiveness of having the whole team available to each other on a casual basis throughout the design and procurement phase resulted in effective design flow for everyone. Several designers also partnered with firms outside of the region to augment design resources and increase focus time by the overall team. Management and process risks during construction were mitigated by a secondary, field level trade supervisor collocation space that demanded day-to-day interaction on a continuous basis by those responsible for putting the work into place, thereby optimizing the whole of the supervision process.  

Removal of Waste

Significant waste is created in the construction process by overlapping systems and effort. As a team, we collectively identified areas both in design and construction that were overlapping and generating waste during the validation phase and throughout design and procurement. Examples included the redrawing of systems and components (i.e. design details and then shop drawing details) by various parties throughout the process which the team addressed by ensuring that fabrication drawings did not overlap with design drawings and the waste in hand-offs between disciplines was eliminated. 

During construction, the team sought out and prioritized general construction costs where efficiencies could be maximized by an integrated approach that could optimize the whole. For example, these efforts included shared distribution and use of equipment and tools, a single source for all logistics in material handling on site, and a single source for all housekeeping duties ensuring the craftspeople could focus on their craft.  Construction teams conducted gamble walks at other school projects concurrently during construction to evaluate, analyze, and learn from any systems tools or strategies being deployed on similar projects to eliminate waste and benefit the project overall.

Focus on Process and Flow

The optimization of process and flow on this project was facilitated by two distinct and adjoining “Big Room” spaces. The first space was the command center during design and procurement where the team was able to collaborate for the entire project to ensure efficient flow of information and documentation. BIM execution, management, and deployment were enabled by immediate access to work implementation teams by the designers. Once construction commenced, a second “Big Room” was established adjacent to the existing designer/builder management team for the trade partner foreman of each discipline.  This collaboration incubator served a multitude of purposes including daily huddles, weekly work plan formulation, and PPC determination and it also served as an intentional collision space that allowed the leaders of every trade discipline to eat their lunches, manage their individual email correspondence, and solve daily problems in a common and comfortable space. Work production flow was streamlined through careful and detailed make ready planning and such planning and monitoring would not have been possible without these critical spaces.

Continuous Improvement

The many design challenges encountered were resolved by leveraging the allocation space, and from the outset, those challenges would be resolved by conversations before documentation. One early design goal was the use of mass timber to support the clerestory as represented by a “forest” of tree limbs. The design team was unable to utilize mass timber due to the unique geometry of the structure and the engineering loads imposed. Through conversation and exploration of ideas, the innovative solution that evolved was a structural steel frame which was later laser scanned and modelled to facilitate custom, prefabricated glue-laminated timber cladding to match the geometry. This determination to explore and collectively analyze ideas from all sources was ingrained throughout the project values established during validation.  A “crazy ideas” board was developed to ensure that innovations in either design or construction could be identified and supported from across the full spectrum of the team.  Regular “values check-ins” were conducted where the entire team would anonymously and individually score the team’s commitment to these values and then jointly act to make improvements where required on an ongoing basis. 

Cost approach

Funding for Dr. Anne Annderson High School was provided by the public funding authority based on programming and space needs indexed against historical average costs for similar school projects. In keeping with this methodology, the team quickly established a base target cost as verified by several recently completed school projects with similar size, programming, and learning objectives. Leveraging the extensive experiences of many of the project partners in school construction, the team was able to both target value design to below base target costs and incorporate significant added value items as the project progressed through design and procurement. Following the establishment of Final Target Cost, the team established an innovative mechanism to allow the owner to recapitalize anticipated project savings into the project without adjusting Final Target Cost during construction, which was strictly governed by applying the Last Responsible Moment principle to each item. This strategy has facilitated the incorporation of additional scope and programming goals even beyond Substantial Completion to maximize available funding where appropriate. Regularly scheduled cost forecasting meetings were attended by all integrated partners and provided an accurate and dependable insight into the Final Actual Costs which promoted the monitoring of any project cost risk that could impact a successful outcome.   

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