Architecture & Engineering Industry Overview
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THE RIVER REGION’S ARCHITECTURE AND ENGINEERING INDUSTRY plays a key part in our progress and prosperity—designing and building our homes, shops, offices, roads, bridges and more. But its impacts go beyond the obvious. According to Freddie Lynn Jr., AIA, Senior Vice President, Architecture at Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC), the industry adds a more abstract factor to the area too. “When you have more architects in your community, you have more people who value good design,” he said. “We [architects] want our community to be a vibrant place, so the people we hire, they come here and want cool neighborhoods and cool stores.” They don’t just make good-looking structures, they crave them and drive demand for them, so by their very presence, they contribute to a city’s aesthetics and livability.
Wes Osmer, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Architect at Seay, Seay & Litchfield Architects also pointed to the less tangible benefits of a large local architecture and engineering industry. “Whether we are talking with city officials to design the next sports complex for a local community, or meeting with police officers to discover critical design elements needed to better serve them in a new facility, we feel our designs are a direct influence on the lives and day-to-day activities of fellow citizens,” he said.
Indeed, whether a resident ever sets foot in a building designed or engineered by a local company or not, as Lynn explained, the vast experience and expertise of the area’s larger firms (like GMC) likely still touch their lives in some way. “Thanks to GMC’s reach, we bring a lot of knowledge and creativity to the community in terms of problem solving,” Lynn said. “The city reaches out for our ideas and help with recruitment and bringing new business here. We were highly involved in the effort to bring the F-35 here.”
Cedric T. Campbell, Regional Vice President at GMC and a civil engineer who mainly works on infrastructure design for both public and private entities, also noted the role he and his colleagues play in economic development. “Civil engineers do essential work for industrial sites, like HMMA, which we did,” he said. “And we do a lot of work for airports, and there’s so much economic development opportunity associated with airports.” Campbell and GMC had a part in the expansion of Montgomery’s airport.
There are more direct benefits too, things like creating high-skilled and high-paying jobs, which is always a positive for a local economy. Walter McKee, Principal at McKee and Associates Architects, explained why Montgomery-based firms that work all over the state make a bigger mark in this arena. “Ninety percent of our income comes from clients outside of Montgomery, so if we weren’t a statewide firm, that work would be done by someone else, and thus much of the money we bring home would go elsewhere,” he said. “And we in turn employ Montgomery engineers. Thirty to thirty-five percent of the money we collect goes to the engineers we hire, and 80 percent of those are local. Other firms working statewide—like GMC, one of the biggest firms anywhere that’s headquartered here— have a similar impact.”
McKee also believes that being in the state capital has advantages for local firms that pay off for the entire city. “With our closer exposure to state government, I think it’s sometimes easier for firms here to get picked by state agencies, and again, all that money comes back to this community,” he said.
But it’s not just the big firms who make a difference. Thanks to its wide range of sizes and specialties, the area’s architecture and engineering industry offers plenty of options. “The size and scope of the industry here is good for everyone; it means you can get a custom fit for your project,” Campbell said.
Most minds turn quickly to roads and bridges or sewer and water systems when they hear “infrastructure,” but Cedric T. Campbell, Regional Vice President at GMC and a civil engineer, stressed how critical another component is. “COVID showed us clearly how important broadband is as a part of infrastructure,” he said. “How important it is for everyone to have good internet access for things like virtual learning.” While roads and bridges connect us, the connection provided by broadband’s buried fiber is equally key to successfully functioning in today’s world and making it more accessible to more people is an engineering job. “Expanding broadband is part of our industry, specifically, electrical engineering,” he said. “At GMC, we help small rural cities with that service because it’s vital for economic development, and they need economic development wins to generate the revenue for the capital improvement projects they need us to do.”
While the roles filled by architects and engineers have not changed much through the decades, today there are new ways to accomplish their age-old tasks. Computers have made hand-drawn designs for architects almost obsolete; most who continue the practice do so out of personal preference.
Lynn remembers the good old days from his beginnings in the industry. “We were on drafting boards when I started, and I remember what a big deal it was when we got a computer with CAD.” Now, the most recent tools provided by advanced technology are ushering in additional substantial changes, saving both time and money. “It used to be that everyone on a project did drawings and then compared them and resolved conflicts,” Lynn said. Thanks to new software, one common live drawing is held in the cloud, and an entire team of architects and engineers can work off it, meaning things move quicker and making it easier to keep everyone on the same page. “It’s extremely efficient and allows collaboration across multiple offices for better results,” he said.
It makes the process faster, but it also allows the project team to better manage client expectations, which is key to satisfaction, as Osmer explained. “Today, things can be completed faster, and we can even use rendering software in our models to give our clients a photorealistic experience before the structure has begun construction,” he said. “Giving the client a visual of the facility during the design phase helps ensure that the result meets their expectations.”
Technology has streamlined engineering too. Using Google Earth, Campbell can do an initial site visit without leaving his desk, saving him huge amounts of travel time. “But there’s still no replacement for going out and kicking the dirt,” he said, “so we still have to physically go to these places at some point.” He also relies on digital versions of maps and “virtual” searches of courthouse records when looking for property deeds.
Perhaps the most significant advance ushered in by technology is the ability for even a smaller firm to have an extended reach, which according to Greg O’Neal, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP with SS&L, is a winwin. “There is now capability to practice in multiple locations, even globally. This is due to technology advancements and cooperative agreements between states and nations. With such accessibility and exposure, a shared knowledge and expertise of building types has increased, which in turn, results in improved public welfare,” he said.
There’s little doubt that technology transformed the industry, with one exception. “You can’t run any business today without the technology we now have and use constantly. The only area in which technology has not made sweeping changes is the actual construction,” McKee, who has been in the industry for 57 years, said. “Someone still has to pour the slab, lay the block, erect the walls.”
While technological progress continues to drive evolution in the engineering and architecture industry, so too do the demands of clients, themselves responding to shifts and developments in their industries. As teaching methods change, this is particularly evident in education, which is an area of focus for McKee and Associates. “In places where they are the most innovative, schools are creating more individual study spaces and less structured space,” McKee said. “We call them collaborative spaces, places where groups of students work together but not at desks or even necessarily in a classroom.” He pointed to a recently built high school in Alabaster, Alabama, as an example. “It has collaborative spaces all over the building.” Making other shared spaces, like cafeterias, more aesthetically pleasing and student-friendly is another trend.
“They want those spots to be a fun place to unwind while they have their meal, and in some places, that includes outdoor dining and creative furniture,” McKee said. He also noted how the latest and greatest in education design can be leveraged by schools in their quest for students. “We’ve seen somewhat of a competitiveness between school systems and private schools to provide more and better facilities,” he said.
The 1616 House at 1616 South Perry Street showcases true Southern elegance, and this grande dame was recently renovated to reveal her former glory and to allow her to shine again with a new purpose as an event space.
Built in 1913-1915 by Frank Pelzer, President of Alabama Machine and Supply Co. and director of First National Bank, the two-story, four-bedroom house is a lovely example of the classic Colonial Revival architectural style, which was popular during this period. It boasts notable features including a cement tile gable roof. Original plans for the home called for a third-story ballroom, but as World War I broke out during construction, to save the $5,000 it would cost, it was not included. Until 1985, various members of the Pelzer family owned and occupied the house. It was then sold to Dr. Earl and Geraldean Simmons, who kept the home in good order for another 40 years. Today, thanks to new owners Cristina and Spencer Cadden from San Diego, California, this jewel of Montgomery’s Garden District has been carefully and beautifully restored.
The couple bought the house in 2019 and transformed it into a wedding and event venue, doing much of the needed updates and other work themselves. They’ve preserved significant architectural details while ensuring the house is ready to welcome a new generation of guests. Learn more about the property and the process to restore and reimagine it at the1616house.com and follow the journey on Instagram.
There was a time when “LEED certified” (which denotes a high level of environmentally friendly, energy efficient design aspects) was a major buzzword in architecture, but now, it’s becoming more of the norm, whether the project pursues the actual certification or not, according to Lynn. “LEED is not as important now as it once was,” he said. “That’s because the products and technology have caught up to LEED standards. Most clients are choosing to get the benefits of the energy savings without jumping through the certification hoops.”
McKee echoed Lynn. “All architects are using green and energy efficient concepts now in buildings, whether they are certified green and sustainable buildings or not,” he said. “We really like to reuse existing sites whenever we can.”
Today’s big green goal is net zero, meaning a building can generate energy equal to the energy it uses. Thanks to an increase in the use of solar power, better insulation, and things like LED bulbs, which not only use less electricity but due to their lower heat output, help a space require less AC too, it’s more achievable than ever.
There are some industry-wide materials trends as well. “Mast timber [large wood beams and columns] is becoming more and more popular,” Lynn said. “We’re looking at it instead of structural steel even for multi-story buildings, and in areas with lots of pine, like the Southeastern states, that means access to locally sourced materials.” Using local means lower transportation costs. Plus, timber is a renewable resource.
Amid myriad advancements and developments in the industry, some facets remain the same. Jimmy Seay Jr., AIA, NCARB, LEED AP at SS&L shared a bit of history that proves this point. “In 1897, when Illinois required registration/ licensure of individuals who practice architecture, it involved a 13-year apprenticeship and passage of a state examination. In 2021, on average it takes about 12.8 years (from high school to college graduation) to complete licensure/ registration. Compared to the 13-year process in 1897, that aspect has not changed much,” he said. “Additionally, the skillset and fundamentals of the individuals inclined to become architects also have not changed much. Creativity, complex problem solving, mathematics, science, a servant attitude, and an insatiable appetite for learning all remain key fundamentals.”
ROBINSON AND ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTURE, INC.: Alabama Department of Transportation I-85 South Welcome Center
This new welcome center for the State of Alabama serves as a visitor information and rest area for those traversing the interstate. The major impact this facility will have is changing the image of the state by making it clear that “Alabama is Open for Business, Come In!” Some major challenges confronted and overcome throughout the construction were renovations to existing site conditions.
GOODWYN MILLS CAWOOD: Park Crossing High School
Park Crossing was Montgomery Public Schools’ first new, non-replacement high school to be constructed since 1968. Education is the cornerstone of a community, and the opportunity to positively impact Montgomery’s public education system is something GMC values tremendously. The state-ofthe- art high school was designed using nationally recognized 21st century learning environment best practices and has received national recognition, including being featured in the National Building Museum’s Designing for Disaster exhibit for its storm-safe design and American School & University Magazine. With community as a central theme, the team designed the building to fit within the community as a whole, in addition to incorporating small learning communities into the design of the school itself.
SEAY, SEAY & LITCHFIELD ARCHITECTS: The Trojan Fitness and Wellness Center
The Trojan Fitness and Wellness Center is one of the first landmarks to welcome students, faculty and visitors alike to the Troy University campus. Such prominent placement demands a significant physical presence. At 78,424 square feet, with three levels above ground, the facility accomplishes just that: valuable visual impact. It offers a multi-activity court, a basketball court, a free-weight training area, a circuit weight training area, special aerobic rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and four offices. Other features include a running track that follows throughout multiple levels of the facility, overlooking lower levels. Since natural light was an important element in this design, the cardio machines were placed in spaces designed to allow visitors to see outside views and receive natural light.
GARNER & ASSOCIATES ENGINEERING: Tuscaloosa River District Park
This project will stand out for numerous reasons, but one thing for sure is all the RGB lighting around the park and under the bridge. The most challenging thing to overcome on this project was fitting the owner’s wishes into a reasonable budget while material costs continued to increase.
CHAMBLESS KING ARCHITECTS: Auburn University Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory
The Auburn Structural Engineering Laboratory provides 47,000 square feet of state-of-the-art engineering testing capabilities and equipment for research engineers, faculty and graduate students as they work to solve the nation’s growing infrastructure issues. Along with an administrative wing and a variety of workshop and lab spaces, the building features a high-bay laboratory with a 30-foot-tall “strong wall” and a “strong floor” (capable of handling extreme structural testing loads) as well as a geotechnical test chamber that is one of the few of its kind across the country. Natural daylight and views are prevalent throughout the facility, and various structural systems are put on display in its exposed concrete, steel and mass timber construction.
HCS GROUP: 2 MW PV Solar Farm & Microgrid Controller at Soto Cano Air Base, Comayagua, Honduras
The project consisted of installing two megawatt (MW) of solar energy resources along with one megawatt-hour (MWH) of battery storage with a microgrid controller. The existing power system consists of six MW of diesel generators running 24/7 due to the location and unavailable utility. Project challenges included creating a more efficient and resilient power production system for Joint Task Force Bravo’s mission-critical facilities by integrating the renewable energy with a microgrid controller.
MCKEE & ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS, INC.: New Thompson High School for Alabaster City Schools
Thompson High School is one of the largest comprehensive high school campuses in the nation with approximately 431,000 square feet of facilities. Part of the comprehensive plan was to ensure that academics, arts, athletics and all of the functions of the high school were thoroughly considered during the design process. The end result is a facility that focuses on every aspect of student achievement and after-school student activities. And one that will stand the test of time.
CADDELL CONSTRUCTION: New Medical/Dental Clinic, Marine Corps Base, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii
The new medical/dental clinic houses primary care, physical therapy, optometry, radiology, immunization, occupational health, preventive medicine, audiology and behavioral health clinics in addition to a laboratory, pharmacy and training area. The project site is believed to be where one of the last and greatest of Hawaii’s kings, Kamehameha, held his councils when deciding important matters. There was a specially trained archeologist on site at all times during excavation.
VOLKERT: Pike Road Capital Improvement Program
This program includes nearly 92,000 square feet of new space and the renovation of 122,000 square feet of existing space. The current budget is $37.4 million and the projects include one new elementary K8 school, complete demolition and renovation to one historic middle school, a complete renovation to one high school, a modular building package, as well as new athletic fields for the Pike Road School District. Onsite sewer infrastructure was included for each of the projects. Volkert developed the design criteria for each project with the ease of future maintenance in mind as well as to ensure that amenities are consistent.
BARGANIER DAVIS WILLIAMS ARCHITECTS ASSOCIATED: Montgomery County Courthouse, authorized and owned by Montgomery County Commission
The project consists of renovations to each floor. One of the most noticeable changes will be the addition of a covered canopy on the front of the building. On the inside, the entire building will have updated variable air volume system and controls onto its recently replaced HVAC system. All public restrooms will be updated to meet ADA standards. The public corridors, select offices and all courtrooms will receive updated new finishes. The biggest challenge was creating the construction schedule with phases because the building would remain operational during the entire renovation.
JMR+H ARCHITECTURE, PC: Rouses Market Freret Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
The term “making groceries” is often used by New Orleans natives to describe a trip to the local market to procure weekly provisions. Locally owned Rouses Markets invested in this emerging neighborhood revitalization by repurposing an existing structure and giving it new life as the cornerstone of community development. Sustainable materials, spatial efficiency and advanced energy management systems ensure this market will be a gathering spot for making groceries for generations to come.
Q: What’s the most interesting trend in engineering right now?
“The current move to standalone Resilient Islanded Micro-Grids with sustainable renewable energy platforms. The focus is on clean reliable energy, integrating renewable energy Distributed Energy Resources (DER) into the global market to increase efficiency, decrease and/or eliminate the carbon footprint, which leads to economic benefits and a healthier environment.”- Kent L. Hornsby, PE, LEED AP (BD+C), President/CEO, HCS Group
“The most interesting trend in any project right now is dealing with escalating construction costs and trying to determine new ways and techniques to get projects in budget. We are spending a lot of time looking at projects from different angles to determine different approaches to getting projects in budget while material prices continue to increase.”- Morgan Garner, Principal, Electrical Engineer, Garner & Associates Engineering
“Coming through the pandemic, people have consciously redefined wants and needs. Now more than ever, peeling away the waste will be paramount to all design. I see a period of necessity-based design that addresses the notion of sustainability, efficiency of space and reuse of existing spaces rather than boldly casting aside one structure for newer, brighter and better. We simply must be better stewards of our environment, and I believe it took a pandemic to awaken that spirit.” - Tim Holmes, AIA, President, JMR+H Architecture, PC
Q: What’s the most interesting trend in architecture right now?
“I believe one of the most interesting trends in the design industry right now is sustainable design. One area in Sustainable Design movement is the term Green Buildings. This involves creating energy efficient buildings and spaces by managing the energy used before, during and after the building is constructed. When designers are sensitive to what goes into creating healthier buildings both on the exterior and interior, we are exhibiting good stewardship of built environment.” - Johnny B. Raines III, Principal of Barganier Davis Williams Architects Associated
“Designing with mass timber, especially utilizing cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, is an exciting trend that is continuing to gain momentum. In addition to being a cost-competitive and more sustainable alternative to concrete and steel structural systems, its natural wood components and simple tectonics can be used architecturally to craft beautiful spaces. Our firm recently completed the first project at Auburn University to incorporate CLT construction—the Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory. Glulam frames and CLT roof panels enabled us to create efficient spans and deep cantilevers while providing a beautiful material warmth for interior spaces. Auburn’s second CLT project is already under construction, and we are expecting to see more heavy timber projects continue to happen in our region.” - Nick Henninger, AIA, Principal, Chambless King Architects
“New requirements for the building’s envelope, including stringent requirements for more energy-efficient buildings.” - William Barry Robinson, Owner, Architect, Robinson and Associates Architecture, Inc.
Q: What is the key to success when it comes to partnerships on projects?
“Collaboration is absolutely the key to success. Even from before the kickoff meeting, our team is engaging with our design partner and working together to achieve the best value for the client. We are intentional about fostering an environment of open communication and mutual trust between all project stakeholders, but most especially our design partners.” - Mac Caddell, Executive Vice President, Caddell Construction