DPR: collaboration and sustainability in construction

Damian Farr, Managing Director Europe at DPR Construction, on the company’s technological and collaborative approach to data centre construction

DPR Construction is a global specialist in technical construction, working in five core markets - advanced technology, commercial, healthcare, higher education and life sciences. Damian Farr is Europe Managing Director at the company. “We’re proud builders,” he says. “Fundamentally, I think we understand that construction is a service industry. We're striving to be an extension of our customers’ organisations by putting their projects and end goals first, and always thinking about how they need to use the building.”

DPR is playing a big part in fulfilling the ever growing need for data centres, as Farr explains, “In the last four to five years we've built close to $3.5bn of mission critical facilities across 200 separate projects, but our data centre heritage stretches right back to our founding.” DPR has grown rapidly since its foundation in Silicon Valley in 1990 and is now one of the 10 largest general builders in the US. “In those 30 years, something very special has happened, which is the idea that everybody's working together to achieve the same thing: we exist to build great things - not just great buildings, but people and relationships as well. It’s an idea that’s very sincerely held throughout the business.”

The company has far from a conventional structure, operating with a shared leadership model. “We very much have a model of distributed leadership throughout the company, and that resonated with me profoundly,” Farr explains. “We’re title-less internally, which empowers employees at every level to be independent, do their best and make change for our customers and our business. Put simply, it’s really about eliminating barriers between two people having a conversation.”

Effective collaboration has, from the start, been DPR’s desire. “We pioneered integrated project delivery. We bring stakeholders together - architects, customers, trade partners, our own team - right from the outset,” explains Farr. “We work in five core markets and we seek to know them very well. We want to work on buildings that matter and also that challenge our teams. That's what we enjoy doing. The collaboration that we bring to our projects is therefore key. We really do like working with customers that we enjoy - a true partner who wants to help us change the world as well.” 

Construction technology

Virtual design and construction, in broad strokes, refers to the practice of using digital tools to drive real value in the construction process. It’s a trend that’s long been transforming the industry, and one which DPR embraces whole-heartedly. “First and foremost, our role is really to try and innovate in the areas that we can control such as construction technology and best construction practices. And that's where we've had the greatest success, whether it's in the field of virtual design and construction, or prefabrication, or integrating project teams and improving collaboration.”

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Quotables

We are working for customers who are delivering buildings that have become absolutely critical to our infrastructure.

Damian Farr | Managing Director Europe, DPR Construction

Digital technology is a hallmark of the firm’s approach, but it is always used purposefully. “It's all really about collaboration and providing that single source of truth that the whole team can go to and talk through. Things like building information modeling and consulting, and then execution. We use model-based quantity takeoffs for our estimating. We then use the model to generate prefabrication processes and go straight from the model into manufacturing.”

Alongside a host of other applications, DPR is also investigating the use of emerging technologies to further refine their approach. “We're now looking at artificial intelligence applications, of which we were an early supporter. There is the potential to create AI constructability analysis. The hope is that, if we’re missing something, the software and the technology can generate some different thinking around how we might optimise the construction sequence.”

People, planet and philanthropy

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Sustainability as a whole is highly important to DPR, with the company following a model of global social responsibility. “We want to be integral and indispensable to our communities, and that's been a long held view of the business.” DPR has three pillars guiding its approach, namely: people, planet and philanthropy.

In thinking about data centers and the first pillar - planet - efficiency is key. “The energy efficiency of the buildings we're constructing is important. And as governments start to worry a little more about data centers and their energy use, we have a role to play in helping our customers figure out the best solutions.” Avenues being explored include the use of thermal aquifer storage. “That's an important step that we can make in the here and now. We take it very seriously and we are trying to play our part in solving the problems that our customers are facing.” 

When it comes to taking care of the planet, DPR takes a more active role, leading by example with six net-zero and three WELL Certified offices throughout the business to date. “DPR walks the talk. We have net-zero energy offices that we've built ourselves and we’ve led the way in that. We take our responsibility to reduce our impact on the natural environment very seriously and embody that through pretty much everything we do.”

With the people pillar, Farr is clear that DPR puts diversity, equity and inclusivity first.

“We truly want to look the way that our communities look. I know it's an easy thing to say, but it's not enough to level the playing field - some people in some communities are going to need extra help.”

The latter pillar includes community initiatives by local office teams as well as a separate DPR Foundation that issues direct cash grants to causes. “There's a strong volunteering ethos within the business,” says Farr. “We have year round initiatives such as volunteering directly to renovate a building or volunteering on a pro bono basis to provide organisations construction advice.”

What’s next

Like all companies, DPR has had to face up to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Farr emphasises the company’s readiness, being pre-existing heavy users of collaboration software. Of course, as a construction company most work cannot be carried out remotely, but DPR has found a way through. “In Europe, we haven't had a single project closed down to date. We have adapted, and I'm very proud of the ingenuity our teams have shown to keep job sites safely moving, because we are working for customers who are delivering buildings that have become absolutely critical to our infrastructure and our new ways of working.”

Farr believes that construction after the pandemic will move to a ‘next normal’, which has been some time coming, the pandemic hastening its arrival. “In the future there may be fewer people on site, but we'll create space for prefabrication and offsite construction to really come into its own. We can build parts of our buildings away from the job site in controlled environments where we can make sure that any physical distance requirements are upheld.”

With things like 5G and cloud coming down the pipeline, well-built data centres are set to become ever more necessary. Farr believes DPR is well suited to thrive going forwards. “We're a company that's incredibly agile - that’s always been our way. Our founding principles are as relevant today as they ever have been. We respect the individual and we change the world.”

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