What makes one building harder to make than another?
April 12, 2016 5:39 PM   Subscribe

A high rise condo has been erected near my work, seemingly overnight. Meanwhile, a local shopping mall has been undergoing renovations for seemingly ages. What could account for this?

It just boggles my mind a little that a whole new building can go from hole in the ground to nearly complete in a span of months at most, while renovations on a building which is already there are taking three times as long.

I am curious about what factors might influence such things. Is it that the mall is close to a subway station? But then why would that slow down even minor-seeming stuff like cosmetic re-panelling of the interior columns? Is it that the condo project is bigger and so employs more people who can complete the work faster? You would think, though, that this would be off-set by how much of the shopping mall project was inside work and could be done in all weather.

The shopping mall is still laboring to complete a small addition and interior cosmetic updates. Meanwhile, a whole new building is nearly done. What gives?
posted by JoannaC to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The condo had more financing and fewer permit problems.
posted by rtha at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

Might be permit related, sometimes it's funding related, the shopping mall might have had some funding fall through. Very often this is reported in the local business news outlet.
posted by jamaro at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since the high rise is new, it likely has neither tenants nor traffic yet, whereas the shopping mall does. Both of those things impact the completion of a project for a variety of reasons.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:48 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

being "in the trade" - you'd be astounded by the difference a really good contractor who charges a little more can make, as opposed to the really inexpensive lousy contractor who wants to battle over a million little change orders they come up with.
The more expensive contractor realizes it is in his best interest to finish the job on time, get paid, and get invited back.
I've seen this on a project involving putting a retrofitted sloped metal roof on two identical barracks buildings at an army base. Same building, same set of drawings, one is done in three months and gone, the other still dragging along a year later.
posted by rudd135 at 5:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

Oh man, it could be soooo many things. To expand a bit on the answers above and offer some other ideas:

Financing: the project that has more money goes faster. Probably the biggest factor. Why might the condo project have better financing than the mall? There is a developer with a business plan, possibly with some units pre-sold, whereas the shopping mall is probably mostly hoping and praying that cosmetic upgrades will help in any way, and they are allocating (meager) resources accordingly.

Permits/inspections: new construction goes faster because they are doing everything the right way right from the start. If they have a well-organized contractor team (see below), they planned and spec'd everything to be up to code right from the get go, and they are building on a lot properly zoned for condos, so they can just roll along. Whereas the mall is probably getting bogged down in "now that we opened up THIS wall we found THIS thing that's not up to code and we have to bring it up to code or else we won't pass inspections so that's going to be an extra $X," which the client didn't plan for and can't really afford right now, of which more below.

Relative organization of contractor teams: there is a HUUUUUUGE variance in quality of work across contractors. Some teams are well integrated from the architects down to the guys pounding nails, others are a ragtag assembly of lowest-bidders who haven't coordinated their visions of how the project should go or even their schedules. So you'll have random multi-week delays where everybody has to wait for a certain part to come in because nobody knew they needed it until the last minute. And/or, one or more subteams is super over-booked and just won't show up for weeks on end as they work on other projects instead because other clients are yelling louder.

Contractor / client interface: Kind of a theme underlying many aspects above is that the client and the builders can just be out of sync in a lot of ways. Like, starting out asking for the absolute cheapest option then being upset when it looks kind of shitty. Or disputes can arise when the work turns out to be more difficult (for example because of older work not being up to current codes, see above); the client thinks they're being ripped off and the contractor wants to get paid for the extra work and everyone's just pissed. Or, the client can barely afford the project and everything slows down until they can get enough money together to pay for (some version of) what they actually want.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:56 PM on April 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

The shopping mall is under enormous pressure financially.

I mean, changing old things is always harder than building from scratch. But my bet would be it's a money problem, because shopping malls are usually on the very edge of survival.
posted by SMPA at 6:01 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

A lot of the condos that I see rising rapidly are using partially prefabricated pieces, which can go up very quickly. In addition to the speed that gives, sometimes the quality is not so great - the developer makes the money selling the units and may not care if it doesn't hold up well over time. A mall has to maintain quality pretty consistently or it will lose stores and shoppers.

Depending on the age of the mall, there could be lead based paint or asbestos, both of which require time consuming remediation.
posted by Candleman at 6:15 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

New construction is clean, redevelopment is messy.

It looks like you might be in Toronto. Those people building the condo towers in Toronto have a lot of practice. The Toronto skyline is peppered with new condo towers and construction firms can put them up very efficiently.

The mall is a different story. There may be existing leases in place that need to be addressed. Malls are often older properties, with expensive issues like asbestos and lead paint.
posted by Ostara at 7:17 PM on April 12, 2016

It could be a lot of things. But let me give this example of one possible difference. I'm currently renovating an old classic camper trailer. I'm having to work around everything to do this a little at a time. Move this so I can replace that and then put this back and so on and so forth. But if I were building this thing from scratch, I could probably have had this done long ago because I'd be building with nothing in the way. New construction often goes faster than renovations for similar reasons. When they built that high rise, they didn't have to worry about what would happen when they took the old stuff down. They could just go and build it.
posted by azpenguin at 8:02 PM on April 12, 2016

In a renovation they are trying to keep some of the stores open, so there is a cost benefit to tiptoeing around existing renting retailers.

The condo doesn't make a dime until it's complete, so they need to finish fast.
posted by nickggully at 8:13 PM on April 12, 2016

It's probably also worth mentioning that when they're building a hi-rise, it looks like it pops up overnight, but what really happens is they spend months and months and months working on the foundation (noisily and early in the morning, for the ones near my house), and then they build the main structure super-fast, like a floor a day, and then they spend like a year finishing the interior walls and plumbing and electrical stuff and cetera. The last unit is ready to lease/sell long after people have moved into the first unit they finished.
posted by aubilenon at 10:05 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My spouse is an engineer on construction - lots of building retrofits and a fair amount of new construction. New construction is so much easier that it's unbelievable. Bringing stuff up to current code from whatever hodgepodge exists is more difficult than just building from scratch. Just figuring out what exists can take a lot of field work because the building specs are always out of date.

If the mall is occupied, there is a lot of coordination. When can they bring the primary HVAC off-line? Is there a secondary? Are they bringing in portable units? What about the fire systems? How can parking be rerouted? Dealing with existing tenants it a big construction administration headache and it's time-consuming.
posted by 26.2 at 12:06 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

It can have a lot to do with how the contractor bid the job. If he bid the job dirt cheap, and the opportunity for a better paying gig presents itself, he will put the cheaper gig on hold in order to do the better paying one, and then come back to the cheaper gig in his downtime.

Generally speaking, contractors will not take on a partially completed job. So if your contractor starts stalling in favor of another gig, you kind of get stuck there waiting for him to come back. A "replacement" contractor does not want to get stuck with mistakes that a cheaper / less reliable contractor made (corners cut, permit problems, the potential for change orders in order to bring something up to code that wasn't done right the first time).

The flip side is, as others mentioned, that the customer is having funding problems. Maybe the contractor assured the customer that there was no asbestos in the building, so the customer didn't budget for it, but they get into demo and guess what??? And now the customer has to find the money to fix that because you can't just leave it. Maybe you get into demo and find out that the plumbing is about to fail, and now you have to find money to replace it, which wasn't in your original plan. In the case of a commercial property, maybe you get into the project and then your anchor tenant says "hey, if you would make these extra changes we'll sign a longer lease" and they are negotiating who will pay for what. Etc.

It's pretty much always about the money.
posted by vignettist at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

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