3 Questions for Lou Mendes, WTC MemorialDec 07, 2009
It occupies the majority of the World Trade Center (WTC) site, and after years of coordination, planning and fundraising, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is finally taking shape. The Memorial’s elaborate designs and construction plans involve a large team that came together to complete this very intricate and unique job and Lou Mendes has been a key decision-maker in the process.
Mr. Mendes is the Memorial’s Vice President of Design and Construction and is charged with coordinating the project — including the vast logistics and phasing necessary for the complex — with various consultants, Port Authority planners, contractors and other stakeholders.
Mr. Mendes has a long history at the WTC, having worked at the site during the post-September 11, 2001 cleanup effort, then again as a construction specialist at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2005. He assumed his current role at the Memorial Foundation in 2006 and ever since has been devoted to completing the plaza, museum, pavilion and associated infrastructure on schedule and within budget.
We asked Mr. Mendes three questions about the challenges of his work and about this complex project the whole world is watching.
With such a large and involved project as the Memorial, what has the process been like between concept to design to construction?
Mendes: Well, in any other job out there it is kind of a standard practice. Here it’s a little bit different because of the complexities of structures that intermingle, especially from structure to mechanical — for example, the Memorial intermingling with the Transportation Hub structure, intermingling with the Freedom Tower structure, and with existing infrastructure. This means a lot of the mechanical systems are actually being built to serve all of the site.
So really, one set of compiled design documents is being used, and they are influenced by about eight to 10 other stakeholders. The design drawings deal with structure, mechanical, and architecture finishes, and they have to be put together in a certain way because of the many stakeholders who need to coordinate their own work all around, under, and over our project. Design drawings have to pick up those logistic schedules too, to avoid change orders that may cause delays.
Port Authority owns the site and they are managing the [Memorial] construction, but the construction only works if there’s constant coordination between us. There is a whole world of design and planning and logistics that inform us how things should be done, and the system is working. The efficiency in the field of construction has gotten much better. I look at this as a partnership with the Port Authority because at the end of the day we share all of our issues.
What have been some of the challenges of coordinating construction-material being shipped from other states and countries to Lower Manhattan?
Mendes: We took everything into consideration. We knew that even though that part of the steel was coming from Luxembourg, like the heavy steel sections, it would take a couple of months. We went out to bid with those particular items earlier, so the schedule would not be impacted waiting for fabrication. You’ve got to think of all these little things.
This is a multi-faceted puzzle that we constantly have to piece together and take apart, because the schedule now may not be the same in six months. In other words, a budget that we can afford now because of other packages’ costs may have to be changed in four months as we do the design drawings.
So how do we do that without impacting the scheduling? Basically, we have to constantly picture the entire logistics of the site — the entire project mapped out. We need to know these details, because every time we make a schedule, a drawing, or a decision, or [WTC owner] the Port Authority decides to change something, it may impact my budget, and we need our information ready. There is a lot of dedication. But you know it is not just me, it’s a bunch of people from LMCCC, the Port Authority, the stakeholders — a lot of people contributing to this one major project.
And the coordination is working, and next year we start building the Memorial Plaza on schedule, for a September 11, 2011 opening. I can say that with a lot of confidence because right now everything is in place. For the Pavilion structure, we ordered the steel, we ordered the concrete. The building will be enclosed by the Plaza opening in 2011; the interiors will still be in progress.
What is it like working on a construction project that is literally out of view of the public but is really being watched closely by the whole world?
Mendes: We are so engulfed and involved in the job that we don’t even think about those things. But I see people every day and the first question they ask me is, “Is that being built yet?” For me to even explain what is taking place, they wouldn’t understand. It is very hard to explain what it takes to build, after all the infrastructure was destroyed. It takes a long time.
To build a job on top of an active railroad is already complicated, then you add all the stakeholders, the logistics — people have no idea the amount of engineering that needs to be coordinated. I’m talking some really sophisticated engineering. There’s really cool stuff out there — we have some really good engineers on this job.
Contractors take this work seriously too. Today I met a guy and he couldn’t wait to be on this job because he wanted to be part of it.
It’s a large job and I love it, even though sometimes I complain, I love it.