Los Angeles, CA
Armand Hammer Museum
Michael Maltzan Architecture
The Hammer Museum and MATT Construction: A Study in Successful Collaboration
Insights from a Long and Fruitful History between the Hammer Museum and MATT Construction
Talking the Talk: Clear Communication Styles
MATT Senior Project Manager Nathan Miller says of his team, “We take special care to be in constant communication so that the Hammer knows what’s going on, can anticipate what kind of work is ahead, and can prepare for it.” Likewise, the Hammer Museum engages actively with MATT’s personnel, lending a hand when needed. Sam Ragsdale, Senior Project Manager at MATT, appreciates the fact that MATT’s serious and open-book approach to jobsite operations has earned a great level of trust with the museum and that in turn, the museum keeps up a healthy dialogue. “They’re clear about their vision,” he explains, and they provide MATT with everything they need to meet their goals.
Ragsdale also credits their fair, collaborative and open nature with being especially helpful when the team needs to modify an existing plan. Discussion during one weekly OAC meeting, for example, centered on finding a solution for replacing a storefront door system without closing it down for two weeks. The group’s collective ability to balance the museum’s programming needs with the crew’s activities and then to proffer suggestions for alternative strategies has yielded many workarounds. As the Hammer’s Director of Operations Henry Clancy says, sometimes it’s a simple matter of “suggesting CAB instead of ABC to open another window of possibility and achieve timeline goals.” With multiple projects underway in different areas of the museum at any given time, this team-wide problem-solving effort pays dividends.
Clancy appreciates MATT’s availability to honor what matters deeply to him, especially as someone who had extensive experience in the field of residential construction prior to his current position as Director of Operations. His background equips him with informed understanding around any issues that may come up relating to feasibility, sequencing and scheduling. It also results in fruitful and productive real-time troubleshooting. “I really like that we can all contribute to the success of the project itself, not just stay narrowly within our roles,” he shares. Miller adds that Clancy’s sharp eye for detail complements MATT’s keen focus on executing those details to the highest standard.
Keeping Up Appearances: Conducting Work In a Functioning Museum
As an important cultural center in Los Angeles, the Hammer Museum prioritizes remaining open to the public and easy to navigate, even during major construction. In relation to work being within the museum’s public space for example, Clancy explains, “We care deeply about keeping the space open and accessible as long as possible.” Clancy and museum leadership do not want visitors “to feel like they’re at a construction site.” This translates on the ground to noise and dust mitigation measures as well as scheduling night shifts, which in turn makes timely deliveries of materials especially critical.
Deliveries to the site’s loading dock already present a special challenge, because the museum’s external event teams and UCLA both make use of it regularly. Miller explains that MATT’s team therefore prioritizes the scheduling needs of the Hammer and UCLA, fitting their own deliveries in when it’s convenient for all parties. Careful coordination is also a key to success between the daytime operations personnel and the evening team members. If any unexpected questions or conditions come up in the middle of the night, MATT’s superintendents are empowered to make critical decisions rather than place a 3 a.m. phone call.
The Hammer appreciates MATT’s sensitivity to a host of other needs particular to a museum space, such as monitoring humidity and temperature levels to protect artwork stored in rooms adjacent to construction. Additional, ongoing challenges at the busy site include working around tight deadlines for gallery openings, public programs, corporate events, concerts and film screenings, all with hard deadlines. To minimize disruption to operations, the crew takes such measures as acquiring attractive shrink wrap to conceal major scaffolding around a second-story promenade and setting up demising walls that look like real walls to separate construction zones from the rest of the museum spaces. These “minimal visual cues,” as Miller calls them, diminish the sense that any construction is happening. Similar maneuvers may include anything from changing the sequence of a project to splitting the team into different areas at different times. “MATT gets it. They’re adaptable,” Clancy affirms.
Building Bridges, With a Personal Touch
Jim Muenzer, a retired Senior Vice President at MATT who worked extensively with the Hammer over the years, says of his time there, “It was a pleasurable experience. They’re great people to work with. They became like family.” Clancy echoes this sentiment: “MATT are like family. They will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and they don’t see it as just building something. It’s hard to cultivate that personal touch.” He goes on to say that people like Muenzer “epitomize a bridge between MATT and the museum. He and the MATT team bring a level of detail and care that you might normally find in estate home building rather than commercial institutions.”
This eye for detail comes in handy when tackling unusual designs, which present a unique set of obstacles. The John V. Tunney Bridge, a beautiful and brazenly elegant structure, created engineering and construction challenges due to its curved, tapering width and uninterrupted span. The team had to solve the structural engineering puzzle without infringing upon the architectural vision. Clancy’s positive, problem-solving presence as an involved liaison throughout the process helped the Hammer, MATT and architect Michael Maltzan cultivate a dynamic approach to troubleshooting as the design ran up against fabrication and constructability dilemmas. Their dedication to finding a solution without sacrificing the design led to an Award of Merit at the 47th LA Architectural Awards, an achievement that honors both the daring vision and its complex execution.
Laying the Foundations for Lasting Success
The Hammer recognizes the challenge inherent to carrying out a general contractor’s tasks, coordinating everything from schedules and budgets to subcontractors. In turn, Ragsdale reflects about MATT’s approach to the relationship with owners and designers, “We represent their interests and put ourselves in their place. If there’s a design element that’s challenging to build, we will go the extra mile to figure out how to do it. Whether that means bringing in other subcontractors or thinking out of the box, we won’t stop until we’ve satisfied their vision.”
Creative thinking and transparent communication, borne out of a long history of teamwork, have led time and again to overcoming tough hurdles. Both MATT and the Hammer appreciate detail, demand excellence and embrace the construction process as a journey with countless unexpected twists but a hugely rewarding conclusion.