A sampling of projects from firms that made our Top 100 Giants ranking in 2018.

Submit your best products and projects to the 2018 Best of Year awards today!

The final significant legal chapter played out this month in the decade-long aftermath of a terrible gas explosion that killed four people and injured more than 60 others at a factory in Garner, N.C.

Judges in a courtroom 1,271 miles away in Lincoln, Neb. ruled that ConAgra, the owner of the plant where Slim Jims were made, owed Jacobs, the engineering powerhouse, more than $100 million that Jacobs and its insurers had paid to settle lawsuits from the explosion. The appeals court decisions upheld a jury verdict reached in March, 2016, following a long trial. The jury assigned all the blame to ConAgra and another contractor.

What is unusual is that Jacobs and its insurers made the payouts in lawsuit settlements despite Jacobs having little if anything to do with the disaster.

Jacobs was one of the defendants in the numerous lawsuits over the accident. But the case is unusual in that Jacobs and, presumably, its insurers made the payouts despite Jacobs having little if anything to do with the disaster.

ConAgra was updating the plant’s water heating system. After rejecting Jacobs proposal for the project as too costly, it hired the engineer to play a limited support role on the work. In the work agreement, ConAgra and Jacobs indemnified each other for damages caused by each parties’ own negligence.

ConAgra hired Energy Systems Analysts (ESA), a high-efficiency water heater contractor, to design and install a 5-million btu gas-fired water heater. And Jacobs designated an employee, Donald Pottner, as onsite project manager for its work. But two ConAgra employees—engineering manager Timothy Yost, and John Puff, the plant’s utilities manager—were supervising the work.

When the time came to commission the new water heating system, Pottner was ill and could not be present so ConAgra agreed to supervise that part of the work itself.

What happened next is a textbook example of why not to purge gas lines into the interior of a building, according to a report by the federal Chemical Safety Board.

Puff was responsible for determining the procedure to connect the new equipment to the plant’s gas supply, according to the account by the appeals court judges. On June 4, 2009, Puff instructed the crew to purge the line to the boiler with a hose leading outside, but he failed to provide the instruction to purge the line to the hot water tank. Puff stated that “[w]e just didn’t get to it.” Yost admitted the line to the hot water tank should have been purged before startup to prevent an explosive mixture.

At Yost’s direction on the next day, a ConAgra senior safety specialist inspected the pump room where the new water heater was located and reported “[e]xposed wires” as possible ignition source hazards. On June 9 an ESA employee, Curt Poppe, came to the plant to commission the water heater, but Puff did not provide the connection procedure to Poppe, the judges wrote, and no safety plan was created.

A ConAgra employee worked with him and unrated temporary lighting was brought into the room. Poppe had difficulty lighting the water heater, making 32 failed attempts. Over the next 3.5 hours he repeatedly cracked the valve on the pilot line and placed a gas meter in front as he released small streams of gas into the pump room to “bleed” the pipe.

Gas Odors Triggered Worry

Danger signs triggered mental alarms but not enough action. Employees smelled gas and worried whether the gas meter Poppe was using was functioning properly. Puff admitted he did not tell Poppe that the line had not been purged, even after Puff realized Poppe was struggling to light the heater.

The fateful moment approached.

According to the appeals judges, Puff interrupted the commission process so that he and Poppe could walk outside to allow Poppe to calibrate the gas meter in fresh air. Puff then left the plant to pick up supplies for another project. Puff left Poppe with another ConAgra employee even though Puff testified that he did not believe that person was qualified to supervise clearing air from a gas line. The employee thought something was wrong and went to the roof to try to locate an alternate purge point. Poppe returned to the pump room and released gas by opening the cap on the 2-in. gas pipe.

The room flooded with gas in less than 60 seconds. Puff admitted he “should have stayed around a lot longer” and had given the contractor “more credit’” than he should have. When asked about Poppe’s opening the cap on the gas pipe, Puff testified that if he had stayed, he “wouldn’t have allowed that.”

With the explosion, walls collapsed and the roof section fell. Altogether, four people died and 67 were injured.

Payouts Made in Lawsuits

Facing numerous lawsuits, Jacobs agreed at Conagra’s request to pay out settlements expecting to be reimbursed. But Conagra then said the indemnification didn’t apply, triggering Jacobs lawsuit against ConAgra in state court in 2014. Following a weeks-long trial in March 2016 with hundreds of exhibits and depositions, a jury awarded the contractor $108.9 million, the full amount of the settlements.

ConAgra continued to resist paying. Attorneys for each side recently faced off in Lincoln, Neb. in front the appeals court judges.

ConAgra’s attorney, Christopher Landau, argued that the district court erred because ConAgra’s liability should be limited to what it would owe under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. “It’s an end-run around the workers compensation system,” he said.

Jacobs failed to prove that its losses resulted from ConAgra’s negligence, he said, or others “under its control.”

Finally, Jacobs didn’t qualify as a real party in interest with standing to seek indemnification by documenting exactly what it paid in settlements or insurance payout. “I can’t see how you can affirm without knowing that they paid a penny,” Landau claimed.

Attorney Stephen B. Kinnaird, representing Jacobs, noted that the contract between the two companies plainly stated that ConAgra had a duty to indemnify for all claims caused by ConAgra’s negligence and by those under its control and that “Jacobs was only liable to extent of their negligence.”

Prior rulings in the various lawsuits over the explosion had shown that, while the insurance settlements had been redacted from the public record, the insurance policies in the record required Jacobs had a 10% copay or deductible of $35 million. In addition, Jacobs had an insurance tower—additional coverage that kicked in when lower levels were exhausted.

“The trial court found that more probably than not Jacobs paid part of the $108 million,” Kinnaird argued.

The North Carolina Dept. of Labor also found no negligence by Jacobs.

In its investigation of the disaster, the state wrote that Jacobs performed no work that could have contributed to the accident, had no knowledge of the hazardous condition and that its work scope deprived it of knowledge of the hazardous condition. The appeals court judges noted that ConAgra “accepted what the authorities determined” and did not conduct a separate investigation.

Two years after the explosion, ConAgra shut the plant and moved its operations to Ohio.

As investigations continue into the cause of last month’s Polcevera viaduct collapse, with consequences of possible criminal liability, the Italian government has taken steps to replace the structure in Genoa and safeguard infrastructure around the country.

The viaduct, also known as the Morandi bridge, collapsed on August 14, causing 43 deaths. Failure of one of the large concrete-covered stay cables on the multi-span crossing is widely believed to have triggered collapse of two spans of the 51-year-old structure. Operator Autostrade per l’Italia S.p.A., had ordered major reinforcement work on the collapsed section.

On Sept. 18, high-level officials at a meeting in Genoa chaired by Italy’s Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte discussed details of the viaduct’s reconstruction plans and other matters covered by an emergency decree. A key goal is to build “the most beautiful and safest bridge ever and return it to Genoa,” according to Conte.

Architect Renzo Piano (left) reviews proposed design for new span in Genoa. Photo: Shunji Ishida

An offer by Genoa-born architect Renzo Piano to design a new bridge has been supported by Giovanni Toti, President of the surrounding Liguria region. Calling the proposed bridge “safe and easy to maintain,” Piano said it will have 22 spans of 50 m, and 43 lanterns to commemorate those killed in the collapse.

Toti has called on Autostrade to provide the site and pay for the construction to be led by state-controlled ship builder Fincantieri, supported by companies with relevant experience.

Danilo Toninelli, minister of infrastructure and transportation, has blamed the privately-owned Autostrade for the collapse and threatened it with huge fines and termination of its operating contract.

Autostrade claims to have spent nearly 1,000 days working on the bridge in 2015-2018, and says it invested in maintenance between 2000 and 2017 on its overall network $230 million more than contractually required. The Genoa public prosecutor started investigating several Autostrade officials, among others, earlier this month.

The emergency decree, adopted on Sept. 13 by the Council of Ministers, includes the creation of an Extraordinary Commissioner to oversee the viaduct’s reconstruction. It also provides for the establishment of national a surveillance agency, responsible for safety of highways. And it allows for extra resources for the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport to monitor infrastructure safety.

Each year we highlight topics of growing importance in the gardening realm. For 2018, our trends emphasize the concept of providing pleasure to people in their gardens—whether it’s growing new foods, providing a refuge for wildlife, or creating a relaxing place to share a meal with loved ones. Enjoy!


These days, space is at a premium—but, designers are determined to make even the smallest of gardens useful and attractive. While small gardens are by no means new, we’ve noticed great progress in the way they are designed. In this case, less really can be more.

Here are two popular ways to make the most of a small garden:

Multipurpose Features: “Everything in a small garden needs to have multiple uses,” says Seattle-based designer Scot Eckley. “This concrete fire feature is a perfect example: It creates a bold element that runs through the space. It’s also a curb edge for the deck. It’s a planter. It collects water from downspouts on the house. It’s a seat wall. And, of course, at the end of the day it turns into a fire feature.”

Small Garden, Fire Pit, Modern Garden
Scot Eckley Inc.
Seattle, WA

This fire feature saves space by serving a variety of purposes. Design by: Scot Eckley. Photo by: Alex Crook.

Container Combinations: One of the best ways to appreciate and explore combinations is in a container. A plant may be exquisite on its own, but its assets can be magnified when placed in a context—with plants that complement its color, structure, or textures.

Click here to read the full article in Garden Design Magazine.

Select pieces from B&B Italia’s inaugural Luigi Caccia Dominioni collection, from left: ABCD armchair, Base Ghisa lamp, Catlinia chair, Cilindro ottomans, Imbuto floor lamp. Photography courtesy of B&B Italia.

B&B Italia has inked a licensing agreement to acquire the trade rights to Italian furnishings manufacturer Azucena, with the first reissues available this month through B&B Italia’s namesake stores and select retailers.

Submit your best products and projects to the 2018 Best of Year awards today!
The Toro upholstered lounge chair from 1973 is among the Azucena reissues debuting in B&B Italia’s Luigi Caccia Dominioni collection. Photography courtesy of B&B Italia.

Founded in 1947 by Italian architects Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Ignazio Gardella and Corrado Corradi-Dell’Acqua, and named for a character in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore, the line was an outgrowth of the custom furniture designed by the trio for their private clients.

Luigi Caccia Dominioni’s Nonaro outdoor ensemble from 1962 spawns a sofa in the late architect’s namesake collection at B&B Italia. Photography courtesy of B&B Italia.

The manufacturing and distribution alliance debuts with the Luigi Caccia Dominioni collection, consisting of “re-editions” of the first 20 products designed by Dominioni in postwar Italy. Dominioni died just weeks before his 103rd birthday in 2016.

Seating highlights include circular Catlinia chair in powder-coated steel from 1950, overstuffed Toro lounger (1973), spunky Cilindro ottomans (1963), and Nonaro outdoor ensemble (1962). Metallics rule the lighting assortment, such as the Base Ghisa (1953) and Imbuto floor lamps (1954).

B&B Italia is also launching a dedicated website for the collection later this month at azucena.it.

Buildings use about half the energy in the United States, and close to half of that powers heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Next time you’re at work, stroll around and you’ll see why. The spacious lobby, high-ceilinged rooms, empty office spaces—they’re all typically heated to about 70 °F or cooled to about 73 °F. That’s incredibly wasteful, says Edward Arens, director of the Center for the Built Environment, an industry-university research consortium based at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Buildings are way overdesigned and overconditioned for what people actually need,” he said. Arens aims to change that. In March, at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in National Harbor, MD, he and his colleagues presented a “personalized comfort system”— a set of devices that warm or cool parts of the body that are especially sensitive to heat or cold. They’re designed to let workers maintain the temperature they prefer, no matter how warm or cool the office is, and they cut building energy costs dramatically.

A workstation equipped with a personal comfort system. Image: University of California, Berkeley

The system’s components include an under-desk foot warmer that uses an average of 20 W, a 5 W wrist warmer and a heated mouse that keep hands warm, 2 W heated insoles, and a 1 W desk fan that blows a light breeze across the worker’s face from as much as six feet away.

Arens’s team also hacked a commercial ergonomic office chair to heat or cool the body for an office worker’s comfort, using heating coils in the seat and the back, an air plenum inside the chair, and a wicking, non-insulating fabric.

The combined wattage of the entire system is less than one-fiftieth of the 500-1000 W a typical building HVAC systemconsumes to heat or cool a single person.

The chair also contains sensors that detect occupancy, temperature, and humidity, and relays that data via WiFi to the building management system. This lets the building operator turn down the heat or reduce the AC in part or all of the building to save energy.

To see how much energy the office chair saved, the researchers had 25 U.C. Berkeley office workers work in the customized chairs for 16 months and report twice daily whether they
felt warm or cool, and if they were comfortable. Most workers preferred office temperatures between 74 °F and 77 °F in ordinary chairs, but four of five people in the customized chairs were fine with office temperatures as low as 68 °F and as high as 80 °F. This saved an astonishing 60 percent on building energy costs.

An earlier six-month test of the foot warmers alone saved 48 percent of the total heating costs over a cool northern California winter. The Berkeley project is unique in tailoring their localized heating and cooling technologies to individuals, said Jennifer Gerbi, program director for ARPA-E’s DELTA program, which funded the work. “People feel comfort in different ways,” Gerbi said, “And I think they’re really amazing in looking at that.”

Learn about the latest trends in energy solutions at ASME’s Power & Energy Conference and Exhibition.

Across the United States, primary and secondary school buildings are leading the way in the so-called zero-energy movement, in which structures are designed to generate at least as much energy as they use. They tend to be owner-occupied, are located on roomy sites with plenty of roof space for solar panels, and have predictable energy usage patterns, making them the perfect candidates.

THE IDEA OF DESIGNING buildings that generate as much energy as they use goes by many names. “Whether people are talking about net zero, zero net, or zero energy, it’s basically all the same thing,” says Paul Torcellini, Ph.D., P.E., a principal engineer for the Commercial Buildings Research Group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. The different terminology is largely regional, he says. Those on the West Coast tend to refer to zero-net energy, while those on the East Coast prefer net-zero energy, but policy makers and federal groups have opted for the more streamlined zero energy. Regardless of what it is called, however, “the nice thing about the whole zero-energy discussion is that it is a goal that can be measured operationally about a building,” Torcellini says. “At the end of the day, you want to look at the meter and say, Have I bought as much energy as I have sold?’ And it’s kind of as simple as that—conceptually.”

It may sound simple, but the end result remains challenging. To attain zero-energy status, a building or site must, over the course of a year, generate as much energy on-site as it consumes, or export as much energy from its own on-site generation as it purchases from the grid. Typically, most zero-energy buildings generate that energy from renewable sources.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE At the Ameican Society Of Civil Engineering.