Upbrella turns conventional construction on its head
Ever since you started building, you’ve erected buildings from the ground up. Whether it was your first set of Legos or your first high-rise tower, you basically started at the bottom and worked towards the top. It’s hard to imagine that bedrock of conventional construction being turned on its head. It’s hard to imagine reversing that order by installing the roof first, and then erecting the rest of the structure later. It seems crazy. Well, it’s not.
Montreal-based Upbrella Construction is taking exactly that top down approach to building. And their patented system doesn’t just represent a new way of thinking, it’s also safer and more efficient than traditional construction.
Under my Upbrella
Growing up in Montreal, Upbrella Construction founder Joey Larouche was one of those kids building Legos from the ground up. But after working as a mechanical engineer that developed lifts for heavy machinery on automobile assembly lines, he realized those principles could be applied to construction.
“I like to come up with ideas that are simple, can be used very widely in the world and are extremely different from what was being done before,” Larouche told us. “That’s the way I do business.”
So how does Upbrella actually work?
Here’s the high-level explanation: The foundation and first floor of the building are built conventionally. Then the roof is temporarily perched on the columns of that first floor, so it can be raised by a special lifting system as additional floors are constructed. The synchronized lifting system — which features customized hydraulic cylinders similar to elevators — is also used to hoist the individual floors into place.
Before a new floor is lifted, its steel structural beams and decking are assembled on top of the previously poured concrete floor. The new floor is then hoisted to its final height so columns can be installed underneath it. Once the floor is raised and resting on its permanent columns, the concrete is poured and cured. It takes less than an hour to lift the floor and roof so that the crew can continue working. The process is repeated until the building’s desired number of floors are completed.
Here’s the basic construction sequence:
- Build foundation and first floor
- Install and raise roof to clear space for second level
- Assemble second level structure on top of first level
- Lift second level and roof together to install columns under second floor
- Pour and cure concrete for second floor
- Assemble third floor on top of second floor
- Lift third level and roof to install columns under third floor
- Pour and cure concrete for third floor
Check out the infographic below for more details:
Upbrella’s greatest benefits are realized on buildings with floors less than 10,000 square feet as well as structures with simple shapes and façade systems.
One of the biggest advantages to Upbrella is safety. The workers are more safe because they are building in a controlled environment. In addition to working under the building’s roof, there is a heavy canvas enclosure wrapped around the structure that shields them from the elements.
Taking weather delays out of the equation also means Upbrella can build more cost effectively. While the enclosure allows crews to work 365 days a year if necessary, traditional jobs often pay workers overtime to makeup for weather delays.
Upbrella is fast too. Depending on the project, Upbrella erects 10 to 20 percent more rapidly than a traditional building that is the same size. The first floor of a 20-story structure can be finished in 10 weeks. That includes pouring the concrete and constructing the envelope, complete with windows. An additional floor can be completed every two to three weeks after that. On a typical construction project, the concrete can be poured in four or five days but the rest of the floor wouldn’t be completed in such a short timeframe.
Upbrella is best for smaller urban buildings that don’t have room for a tower crane because the job site is sandwiched between two buildings. Without a crane, Uprella uses a vertical transport platform that climbs up and down one side of the building to lift materials and labor.
The system is also designed so that the owner can simply stop building at any point during construction if the economy slows down. That’s because the roof is already installed and the elevator shaft is built to be extendable. So owners can button up a structure if they decide they can’t afford to keep building as originally planned.
For his first project using Upbrella, Larouche courted one of Montreal’s most successful young real estate developers, Luc Poirier. Poirier is using the innovation on a 10-story condo building in Montreal called Rubic. The 47-unit project broke ground at the start of 2015 and is slated to open this summer.
“I’m not afraid to be the first to try a good idea,” Poirier told us via email. “Some people think I’m crazy. Some people think I’m visionary. I’m fully comfortable with both perceptions.”
Poirier is so pleased with Upbrella that he’s considering employing it on one of the largest real estate developments in Montreal’s history at the site of the city’s former Children’s Hospital.
As for Larouche, he’s looking beyond Canada’s borders. Upbrella is patent-pending in Mexico, Asia and Europe. It is already patented in the United States so don’t be surprised if you start seeing buildings being constructed with Upbrella in your backyard sometime soon. Just don’t get too ambitious and try to build your kid’s Legos from the roof down too.