PCS Stories: Northwest Airplane Hangar


The Northwest Airplane Hangar is an elegant structure. What was challenging about the design and construction process on this project?
The hangar featured very high-end architecture with a lot of unique features incorporated into the building skin. In order to accomplish those details, a lot of secondary structure was necessary. A typical façade might be metal stud infill with metal panels, but this design required several framed-out openings. We helped the entire design team realize very early-on just how much steel this secondary structure would require—truck loads.
How did you connect with the design team to address this issue?
The contractor was brought on-board shortly after schematic design, so they needed to establish a budget in short order to keep things moving. The amount of secondary steel needed would critically affect the budget, so we decided to model those building elements much earlier than usual to help us all visualize the structure.
What did that process look like?
First, we modeled the project and created a 3D rendering compatible with VR, so you could get a feeling for standing in the hangar and seeing the structures as you looked around. Second, we also created a much simpler, more portable visual, which was a 2D isometric model of the building. Ordinarily, figuring out all of that secondary steel would happen much later in design, but we worked with our BIM technicians to communicate the rough magnitude of how much was needed.
How did the model help the design team communicate better?
The team’s concern was that contractors would base their bid on the exterior skin shown in the architectural renderings, without realizing the amount of secondary steel needed. If you don’t come up with that cost up front, you’ll probably have to sacrifice something else later. So, we created this intuitive, quick visual to help everyone get on board right away. We cut our picture of the building in half to show two different perspectives, and we modeled the secondary steel beams in red so they vividly stood out.
How did the team react to the models?
They were really excited to get it so early, commenting, “Wow, our structural engineers are already model rendering? That’s really forward!” By creating this easy-to-understand visual, we got all the disciplines coordinating earlier and deeper.
What did you take away from this project?
At the end of the day your most effective solution isn’t always the fanciest, most high-tech one. We produced a 2D image of a 3D object—a simple visual that instantly and efficiently portrayed the critical information and saved time for everyone. We used a simple tool to connect the entire design team and unite our understanding of the project.
Jason Collins has been with PCS since 2003. A Principal of the firm, his work encompasses a broad range of project types, including private development, healthcare, and residential projects featuring inventive structural design. Jason leverages his creativity and collaborative skills to brainstorm out-of-the-box solutions to design challenges.