"Box Office firm’s ticket to success"

By William Hamilton
January 18, 2010 PBN Staff Writer

It was exactly the type of innovative, one-of-a-kind construction project business partners Joshua Brandt and Andrew Keating were looking for.

The job of transforming a pile of metal shipping containers into an 11,000-square-foot office building presented new challenges, and the design included sustainable features. The building, what has been dubbed the Box Office, would be unlike any other structure in the region.

Brandt’s and Keating’s construction management and design firm, Stack Design Build LLC, participated in the design process and has served as construction manager on the high-profile project along Providence’s Harris Avenue. It’s due to be completed this spring.

Because of the Box Office’s unusual look and its visibility along Route 10, Brandt and Keating hope it will serve as a billboard of sorts for the type of work they’ve done since launching the Pawtucket company in 2008.

“It has gotten us in the door,” Brandt said recently. The project shows that “we are innovative and we’re capable of anything.”

Stack Design Build already has picked up another job as a result of the Box Office project.

Dover, Mass.-based nonprofit Containers to Clinics hired the firm to design and convert portable shipping containers into health clinics – complete with lab, pharmacy and exam room – that can be transported to poor regions globally. A prototype was completed in November.

“It’s designed so that it’s not only easily delivered to places like India, the Dominican Republic and Africa, it’s also a design that is totally repeatable,” Keating said.

Now that Stack Design Build has worked on two projects related to shipping containers, however, both Brandt and Keating are concerned their firm might get pigeonholed.

They insist they can do much more. The firm has completed several “turnkey” projects – designing, estimating jobs, hiring engineers and contractors and setting timetables for intricate and green residential projects in Westport, Boston and Pawtucket.

Stack Design Build has also collaborated with nonprofit Community Works Rhode Island to renovate a three-family, stick-built apartment in Providence with sustainability features.

Right now, Stack Design Build can handle the design and construction-management duties for projects as large as $5 million, but Brandt and Keating say they plan on handling much larger jobs as they grow.
They already have the experience on big projects. Both men worked in the Providence office of Shawmut Design and Construction, overseeing such projects as the construction of the 35,000-square-foot, $12 million laboratory for marine research in Woods Hole, Mass.

In fact, Stack Design Build was born out of conversations Keating and Brandt had as they carpooled daily to Woods Hole a few years ago.

Both wanted to venture out on their own, and they developed a philosophy on design and construction management that in part called for greater collaboration earlier among the designers of a project, the construction managers and the builders.

“We thought we could do it better, faster, cheaper,” Brandt said.

The Containers to Clinics project, for instance, took a speedy 10 weeks between the initial call from the client to completion of the prototype.

Brandt and Keating left Shawmut in 2008, launching Stack Design Build just as the credit crunch has put a crimp on the construction industry.

The firm started on a residential project, but the economy added to the degree of difficulty in getting the enterprise off the ground.

A $1 million project Stack Design Build had lined up next suddenly evaporated in the economic downturn.

Keating said the recession’s timing was a good thing in the long run. If the venture had started in the boom a few years earlier, the quick growth would have made it difficult to weather the lean times.

“We started out thinking about overhead, about how to deal with the rainy days,” Keating said.

They said the slowdown has also allowed them time to “crystallize” their identity and brand as an innovative design-build firm with a green and sustainability bent that employs new technology to complete jobs faster.

Stack Design Build can install vegetative roofs, and the firm’s Web site details one project in which it developed a fabrication system for an interior wall of recycled paper tubes.

“We can take on some of those unusual projects – types that [bigger companies] weren’t interested in,” Brandt said. “We’re much more interested in doing innovative work.” •


Stack Design Build LLC

OWNERS: Joshua Brandt and Andrew Keating

TYPE OF BUSINESS: Integrated design, build and construction-management firm

LOCATION: 10 Exchange St., Suite 411, Pawtucket