Top 16 BW News Stories of 2016

Oculus lift: Santiago Calatrava’s spectacular $4-billion transit hub opened at NYC’s World Trade Center site last spring.

When you’re a startup, every year is precious, to say the least. So, this week, as we prepare to face our third New Year’s Eve as a growing media and events juggernaut, let’s take a moment to look back on one of the wildest years in U.S. history.

Even focused just on the AEC industry, one finds that 2016 was still a raucous year marked by notable product launches and technology advances, played out against a backdrop of epic engineering feats of derring-do and manmade stumbles and challenges that reasserted the urgent need for massive infrastructure investment, particularly in growing cities around the world.

Indeed, so many notable events transpired this year that it was not easy to narrow down our year-end list of “top” BuiltWorlds stories. What follows is a very subjective chronological compilation of written content that mixes both reader favorites with editors’ picks. Together, they help to advance the narrative of BuiltWorlds’ growth as an industry taste-maker. Combined with our Top 10 Videos compilation, posted yesterday, we trust these multimedia highlights of story-telling and thought leadership will help to answer that question we still get all the time: What is BuiltWorlds?

So, without further ado, here are our Top 16 Stories of 2016:

16. Procore leads surge in 4Q tech investment (Dec. 13)

For the second December in a row, Procore Technologies received a $50-million injection of venture capital to build on for the coming year. But the cloud-based project management specialist was hardly alone. In fact, all of 2016 saw considerable VC dollars pouring into the AEC industry, typified by a boffo fourth quarter that saw multi-million-dollar deals emerge involving names like BuildingConnected, DronomyiSqFt, OnCenter, ConstructConnect, and Roper Technologies.


15. Seven big bets from #au2016 in Las Vegas (Nov. 18)

From the return of the DAQRI Smart Helmet and the launch of HP’s new Z2 Mini Workstation for CAD to the continuing emergence of field apps on large projects in China and the post-election political stand taken by CEO Carl Bass, this year’s Autodesk University just seemed different. Heralding a new “Era of Connection” and an imminent rise in machine learning, the broad forum for ideas exchange and creative collaboration seemed the perfect venue for recharging one’s inner engine for change.


14. Virtual groundbreaking breaks new ground? (Oct. 27)

Perhaps starting a national trend, Boston-based Suffolk Construction spiced up the traditional shovel ceremony with a modern tech twist this fall. Suffolk CEO John Fish and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh took part in a “virtual groundbreaking” to mark the start of construction on the firm’s $51-million, 38,000-sq-ft addition and renovation project at its downtown headquarters. It appears to be an industry first.

Turning virtual dirt: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was the first to try out the VR headset at the October ceremony.


13. Fired UP! Tall timber tower passes key test (OcT. 20)

This fall, the designers behind Framework, a 12-story, mass-timber tower in Portland OR put out several fires to pass extensive testing on what would be the tallest U.S. wood structure ever built. The results allayed many concerns about the ability of key structural components — including glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) — to maintain their integrity during a two-hour blaze, according to Thomas Robinson, principal with Portland-based project architect Lever Architecture.

CLT fire testing was done at a facility in Texas. Here, workers prepare the column-to-beam connection for the test.


12. SF’s sinking tower poses myriad challenges (Sept. 30)

Soil testing began this fall on downtown San Francisco’s 58-story Millennium Tower, the height of luxury condominium living in the Bay Area, but now more famous for sinking into its footprint. Grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons, the 400-unit, $350-million high rise built in 2009 is the largest reinforced concrete structure on the West Coast. It is now also a giant headache for litigious tenants.


11. Gang: Design-build dorm ‘supreme success’ (Sept. 19)

Hogwarts in Hyde Park? Well, yes, actually. At least that’s the image that architect Jeanne Gang happily conjured in designing the University of Chicago’s new $150-million, 400,000-sq-ft dorm, which opened this fall to 800 students. Studio Gang worked as part of an innovative, time-saving, design-build contract led by Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction. It was UofC’s first major use of design-build.


10. Chicago Hackathon peppered with good ideas (Aug 9)

After hosting Chicago’s first-ever AEC Hackathon in 2015, BuiltWorlds welcomed the industry’s flagship weekend of collaborative problem-solving for a return engagement. Some 50 adventurous souls from California, Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and quite probably the future all descended on our offices for 45 hours of challenge and reward.

Pepper Vision: Winning team sought to use AR to visualize hidden or obstructed components in the built environment.


9. Panama’s epic, wider path between the seas (July 19)

When the Panama Canal opened 102 years ago, it was one of the greatest construction achievements of the last century. This summer, it doubled in size, after a mammoth, $5.4-billion, 10-year effort to add a third set of wider and deeper locks. The new, 48-mile-long, “path between the seas” showcases the extra-ordinary advances made in engineering technology, medicine and multinational cooperation since 1914.


8. Blame it on rio? olympic builders in dire race (jul 5)

The 2016 Summer Games would go on to capture hearts and headlines around the world for inspiring triumph and inescapable scandal, but in the weeks leading up to the global event, all eyes were on the builders. Here, our own John Gregerson took a detailed look at the final, frantic preparations.


7. Tuning fork design conquers tight site (Jun 27)

One of Chicago’s most challenging engineering projects has also been one of its most visible. But now all can see it has been a success. Next month, the $250-million, 150 North Riverside, a 54-story, 1.2-million-sq-ft office tower will start receiving tenants. Last summer, we told how the developer and AEC team all engaged in unusual acrobatics to crack the puzzle for developing one of the city’s most vexing parcels.


6. Modern marketing: Why stories still matter (May 27)

Recounting a luncheon panel hosted at BuiltWorlds for the Chicago chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Service, this opinion essay took on the short-form media tide. Here, even for marketing purposes, I argued the importance of taking the time to use complete sentences to tell complex stories to thoughtful readers otherwise beset by Twitter and both video and audio soundbites. See if you agree.


5. Behold! BW CEO Forum points way forward (APR. 26)

Without a doubt, one of BuiltWorlds’ proudest achievements this year was its first CEO Tech Forum, held last April at the beautiful Chicago Athletic Association. Here is just one of our three stories covering the event, and it includes links to our other coverage. Of note, the event is returning next May as the BuiltWorlds Summit 2017. Already far along in planning, click here to learn more about what to expect.

Miracles & wonder: Autodesk’s Stacy Scopano set a tone of humanity with opening night keynote stressing site safety.


4. Clean energy challenge’s jolt of optimism (apr. 19)

Despite a rising tide of geopolitical anxiety, the 6th Annual Clean Energy Trust Challenge brought together hopeful students, mentors, judges, civic leaders, energy executives, and prospective investors. None was more optimistic or inspiring than author & keynote Jim Rogers, retired CEO of Duke Energy.

Blue sky, high hopes: Luncheon keynote Q&A paired Katherine Hamilton (left) with energy evangelist Jim Rogers.


3. Modular rising: An Idea grows in Brooklyn (Mar. 14)

On Dec. 1, we reported that developer Forest City Ratner Cos., after opening the world’s tallest modular high rise in Brooklyn NY, had sold its modular business to former project executive Roger Krulak, who now heads Full Stack Modular. Here is our original feature story on the landmark project.

It grew in Brooklyn: 461 Dean Street (formerly B2BKLYN) is now receiving tenants, after years of delays and disputes.


2. Following Flint lead, Milwaukee acts next (Feb. 9)

On Dec. 19, President Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN). Among other provisions, it allocated $170 million “for communities facing drinking water emergencies, including funding for Flint MI, to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system.” Here is some of BW’s coverage of that wider national crisis from 10 months ago.

Getting the lead out: Crews in Milwaukee last winter scrambled to catch up on $500M in overdue water pipe repairs.


1. How Secret teamwork averted a nyc disaster (Jan. 2)

A personal favorite, I can’t claim to have broken this story, or even to have been aware of it growing up in the NYC area in 1978. But I was not alone. So I am more than happy now to help spread this good news about our oft-maligned industry to any and all who love heroic tales of high-stakes problem-solving.

The Disaster That Never Was: Eight weeks of emergency welding in 1978, performed at night and on weekends during a newspaper strike in NYC, saved the new, $175-million Citicorp Tower, a best-kept secret for many years.