Winner: 2010 Construction Excellence Awards: Gold (Ceilings, West Region)

ESRI Headquarters

ESRI is a world leader in GIS (geographic information system) software. It was founded in 1969 as Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. and is headquartered in a multi-campus corporate setting in Redlands, California.

In 2009 ESRI completed an extensive upgrade to their corporate headquarters. 9Wood played an integral role in the project and pushed forward the boundaries of innovation and coordination in manufacturing engineered-to-order specialty wood finishes.

"We'll Do It All"

The original specification for the expansion listed one of 9Wood's competitors as the wood paneling supplier for the ceilings and walls. It was an attractive spec: much of the wood wall paneling surrounding "meeting boxes" in the main entryway is highly visible from the busy street in front of the building. But the competitor only wanted to manufacture the wall panels included in Phase II, the corporate office area. The intricacies of Phase I – which included some very complex engineering associated with the theatre – made the competition hesitant to submit a bid on the entire project.

Unhappy with the prospect of dealing with multiple wood ceiling manufacturers, subcontractor Ron Jeffrey contacted Greg Hollowaty, 9Wood's representative in the Los Angeles area. Greg's answer was unequivocal: "We'll do it all."

To successfully pull off the ESRI project, especially the theatre in Phase I, 9Wood would be required to develop new products, new manufacturing processes and take project coordination to a level unheard of, even in ETO manufacturing. It was a tall order, but one 9Wood accepted with confidence.

Embracing Complexity

The ESRI project was more than just a large job. The variety of products and design solutions 9Wood was required to offer in order to successfully complete the project was the very definition of custom. In all, 9Wood shipped to California 1,965 unique panel types, consisting of 25 distinct products. Among these product types were Acoustic Planks, bullnose trims, countertops, perforated and non-perforated wall and ceiling panels, angled ceiling panels, light cove panels, air diffuser grilles and door trims.

Melissa Hanson, project manager for Armantrout Architects recalls: "9Wood was able to bring to life the complex curves and angles in the theater. They were able to take the design ideas from our plans and produce shop drawings and fabricate the pieces, often building several mockups of elements for us to use onsite. In the theater we had not only aesthetic issues but acoustic issues to solve as well. Working with the acoustical engineer we were able to select and use several different materials to achieve the acoustic performance that was required."

Due in part to the large number of custom elements, and also in part to the high levels of coordination the project required, Greg Hollowaty visited the job site as many as three times a week throughout – a period spanning over a year. Likewise, Project Manager Joshua Crouch personally oversaw 9Wood's involvement for 17 months.

Engineering a Total Solution

Even more than the varied custom products required for the job, the biggest hurdle to overcome was the requirement that all the wood in the project be sequenced. Sequencing is arranging veneers such that they give a continuous and symmetrical wood grain pattern. To accomplish this, veneer leaves needed to be "book matched," where each leaf that comes from a flitch is flipped over to maintain a symmetrical and continuous grain pattern. Leaves were individually book-matched first end-to-end and then side-to side, alternating end and side to yield the best continuous grain pattern for length as well as width.

Sequencing is relatively common in high-end cabinetry or finish work. But the sequencing for ESRI would be much more involved than simply cutting adjoining assembly pieces out of a single sheet: the difference in this case was that a full 12,000 square feet of material had to be tracked and coordinated so the veneer leaf sequence would be the same on the installed panels as it was when the leaves came off the logs several months prior.

To meet the spec, Joshua Crouch devised and implemented a "chain of custody" style system that labeled and tracked the panels as they moved across the country to various vendors. 9Wood's involvement with the raw material began as far upstream as the original veneer vendor. Control points were established along the length of the supply chain, and 9Wood carefully tracked each and every panel as it moved through the systems of six different companies on both sides of the continent. "We were developing unique products, and acting as a one-stop design solution," says Joshua.

The sequencing also required innovative solutions to be developed downstream from 9Wood. As the products flowed from 9Wood's factory to the acoustical subcontractor and were eventually installed, the meticulous tracking had to continue. Otherwise all the benefits of the upstream coordination would have been lost. 9Wood went as far as to label and retain all off-fall from the manufacturing process to ensure replacement stock was available in the event panels were damaged during install.

Extreme precision was also required of the installers, as damaging one panel onsite would require replacing an entire column of panels in order to maintain the sequenced effect. Faced with the prospect of having to purchase up to eight new panels if a single mistake was made, the installers exercised extreme caution. In the end, 9Wood did not have to fill a single replacement order.

Coordination and Support

Another example of the unparalleled project support 9Wood offered were the coordination drawings for the curved proscenium around the theatre screen. Because the subcontractor did not want to field-cut the panels, and because the structure would require near-zero tolerances, 9Wood coordinated the exact positioning of the entire framing structure behind the panels.

Because any reference point derived from the concrete structure of the building would likely not be within 9Wood tolerances, arbitrary but exact references were engineered by 9Wood from which critical measurements could be taken. By establishing controlled reference points and developing drawings of the curvature accurate to within 1/32", 9Wood was not only able to ship panels to California that were ready to install out of the box, but also provided jigs for the framing crews.

"It is virtually unheard of for a manufacturer to be this involved on the front-end," says Joshua of the framing instruction 9Wood provided. "Typically a manufacturer just provides materials. We were designing the entire approach, not just the products."

Not Your Every-Day Job

The level of project coordination involved with the ESRI job was atypical. But that 9Wood was eager to accept the job shows skill and confidence as a manufacturer. And the outright success of the project shows that 9Wood can take ETO manufacturing to new heights of customer service and product quality.

"Many of our components were special and unique and each area had to be built specific for its application. The end product has helped create the beautiful elements of both the Theater and the Atrium" says Hanson.

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