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IMAGE CREDIT: John Muchow / Curtain & Leaf

Industrialized Construction Takes the Stress Out of Renovating Existing Buildings

A respected law firm retains their sense of history while moving into the future

Tradition is something they take seriously at the law firm of Brown, Hay + Stephens. They’ve been in business for almost 200 years. You might have heard of one of the lawyers who started on the team back in the day. His name is Abraham Lincoln. With such a storied history, the team had some thinking to do when their lease was up. Were they going to make the move out west to the suburbs like so many other businesses in Springfield, Illinois? Or would they stay downtown? 

They got their answer when they found out the top two floors in their building were going to be available. “Once they proposed that (renovating),” says Jeffery Wilday, senior counsel at Brown, Hay + Stephens, “the ability to really change the environment got a lot better.” 

Being a forward-thinking company, the option of building out a fresh space in their existing building had a lot of appeal. “It would save us from having considerable downtime if we had to move to a different location,” says partner Hugh Drake. They had been working on the seventh and eighth floor, but it was time to move up. “We were able to build out the ninth and 10th floors with virtually no disruption to our operation.” 

Upgrade on the upper floor

There was no doubt it was time for a refresh. Their existing space hadn’t been updated in about 20 years. Moving to a different floor was a great way to say goodbye to the floral wallpaper, but they didn’t want to lose the classic elegance of their wood paneling. 

They had been working with an architect to specify what the space could look like. Then they met with DIRTT construction partner agileResource. When the team saw what Brown, Hay + Stephens wanted, they knew that DIRTT would be a good fit. It jump-started a conversation about off-site construction. Even though they had been planning to build out Brown, Hay + Stephens conventionally, Wilday was curious about off-site construction. “This is really interesting. It would really change the feel and the look of our building quite a bit,” he says. “Tell me more.” 

Field research

This curiosity sparked a road trip. The team set out to tour other DIRTT projects in the Chicago and St. Louis area. Those visits, and recon mission to the Chicago DIRTT Experience Center, sparked inspiration. Brown, Hay + Stephens loved the veneer-wrapped panels. DIRTT was going to give them a chance to build something that spoke to their sense of tradition without looking exactly like the space they were leaving behind. They had a new plan. 

They worked with our proprietary design integration software ICE®, which allowed them to see a digital 3D render of the environment. Then the team made another trip to Chicago to check it out in ICEreality®. This virtual reality experience allowed them to walk around the proposed space and make changes. It’s a powerful way to create, but if we’re being honest, some of the lawyers didn’t want to go. 

A first look at the space in ICE®

I was a little skeptical to take the time to take the trip up to Chicago. I mean it took a whole day. I don’t work very well on the train. But going up there and seeing this in person was well worth the day.

Jeffery Wilday, senior counsel at Brown, Hay + Stephens

“You just don’t get a sense of the spatial relationships until you do something like that,” says Drake. “It improved our project a lot.” 

While they were in VR, they decided to change the design to include frameless glass panels. This saved them disappointment in the future. They got to customize their space without having to spend any more money. 

Dealing with an older building

But getting Brown, Hay + Stephens from the seventh and eighth floor up to nine and 10 wasn’t going to be as straightforward as the experience in ICE. The building was actually two L-shaped buildings forged together. Each part of the building had different columns and support structures. And as is usually the case with a building that old, there’s always a few surprises. 

The project required them to clear out the 10th floor and strip everything right back to the base building. What was behind that drop ceiling? What was trapped in that drywall? There proved to be several inconsistencies throughout the space. Even the windowsills were different depths. One of the bonuses of using DIRTT is that it’s completely customizable. When adjustments need to be made because of the base building, it’s easy to do. 

“Nothing in this building is plumb by a long shot,” says Wilday. “They seemed to be able to figure out a way to make things fit…. It was an adaptable product for a building that is this old. So that kind of surprised me.” 

When they tweaked the size of the DIRTT walls on one side of the building, those pesky windowsills stopped being a problem. And because DIRTT installs so easily, when the project fell a little bit behind because of the complex nature of the demolition, the install team was able to make up time to keep the project on schedule. 

“The install crew from DIRTT was very impressive,” says Wilday. He was particularly struck by how organized they were. And their ability to adapt on the fly made all the difference. When agileResource ran into something unexpected, they always had a way to deal with it. “They were really terrific to work with.” 

Partner office

IMAGE CREDIT: John Muchow / Curtain & Leaf

The new version of the 10th floor

IMAGE CREDIT: John Muchow / Curtain & Leaf

Being able to deliver

The other challenge of working in a building this old is access. The elevator is only so big, so getting materials upstairs was a logistical challenge. Because DIRTT is totally customizable, the size of the wall panels could be adjusted so they would fit in the passenger elevator. This helped keep costs down, but it also had an unexpected aesthetic benefit. Everyone preferred the look of the new panel size. That turned what could have been a problem into an asset. 

A space that inspires pride

IMAGE CREDIT: John Muchow / Curtain & Leaf

When the space was complete, the clients were thrilled. It was a big project for downtown Springfield, but it was also a big project for Brown, Hay + Stephens. They found a look that reflected their sense of longevity, tradition and being forward thinking. 

“I love bringing clients into the space for the first time,” says Drake. “They’re always very complimentary, and I have a sense of pride having been involved in it.” 

Smaller panels were a perfect fit

IMAGE CREDIT: John Muchow / Curtain & Leaf

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