Designing, enhancing office buildings

Office buildings might seem like relatively simple structures, but engineers with experience in the field know differently. Words of advice from several professionals show how to make such deceptively complex projects work.


Christopher Arnold, Vice President, Wick Fisher White, Philadelphia. Courtesy: Wick Fisher WhiteSaied Nazeri, PE, CPD, LEED BD+C, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, San Francisco. Courtesy: WSP | Parsons BrinckerhoffReardon D. Sullivan, PE, LEED AP, Principal, WFT Engineering Inc., Rockville, Md. Courtesy: WFT Engineering Inc.Jill Walsh, PE, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of Mechanical Engineering, OLA Consulting Engineers, Hawthorne, N.Y. Courtesy: OLA Consulting EngineersMichael Walsh, Project Manager, PEDCO E&A Services Inc., Cincinnati. Courtesy: PEDCO E&A Services Inc.


Christopher Arnold, PE, Vice President, Wick Fisher White, Philadelphia

Saied Nazeri, PE, CPD, LEED BD+C, Senior Vice President, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, San Francisco

Reardon D. Sullivan, PE, LEED AP, Principal, WFT Engineering Inc., Rockville, Md.

Jill Walsh, PE, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of Mechanical Engineering, OLA Consulting Engineers, Hawthorne, N.Y.

Michael Walsh, Project Manager, PEDCO E&A Services Inc., Cincinnati

CSE: Please describe a recent office building project you've worked on.

Christopher Arnold: Wick Fisher White (WFW) recently renovated 125,000 sq ft of office space for a major pharmaceutical company based in southeastern Pennsylvania. The facility is approximately 20 yr old and was designed to be traditional office space with individual offices along the building perimeter and cubicles in the interior space. To enhance collaboration among the staff, the building was renovated and changed to an open-office concept. Individual offices were removed as were specific space assignments. The perimeter partitions were removed to allow daylight to reach most of the office area. Small conference rooms and quiet areas were placed in the center of the space. Lighting was converted to LED-type with individual sensors to allow energy savings and use of daylight. The HVAC system was refurbished for energy-efficient operation, and variable air volume (VAV) systems for conference rooms and quiet areas were controlled by occupancy sensors associated with the lighting system. The design produced a healthy, collaborative, and more energy-efficient environment for the occupants of the building.

Saied Nazeri: One notable project is a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED Platinum, 30-story office building in downtown San Francisco. The project design architect is SOM San Francisco and the client is Kilroy Realty Corp. The project uses a highly optimized chiller plant, underfloor air distribution (UFAD) system, air-side economizer and radiant cooling and heating system in high volume spaces, ultra-high efficiency lighting, and water conservation measures such as low-flow fixtures and recycled water.

Reardon D. Sullivan: WFT Engineering typically designs more than 1 million sq ft of tenant improvements each year, ranging from large nationally known law firms in Washington, D.C., to small spec suites for developers. WFT Engineering has recently been the engineer of record for a 250,000-sq-ft renovation of the Washington, D.C., offices of law firm Arent Fox, and is currently designing the in-place renovation of the 240,000-sq-ft Washington, D.C., offices of law firm Steptoe & Johnson. The Arent Fox project was a first-generation tenant in a new building so the base building systems could be modified to accommodate the tenant while the Steptoe & Johnson project is an in-place renovation scheduled to be constructed over a 2-yr period in eight phases.

Michael Walsh: The Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) needed to renovate its historical wing of the Fabric & Home Care Innovation Center located in Cincinnati. The 235,000-sq-ft, five-story facility was originally constructed in 1930, with a first addition in 1944, a second addition in 1960, and multiple renovations over the years. The historical wing had outdated and extremely inefficient electrical, air, exhaust, and plumbing systems. PEDCO provided engineering design services to renovate the historic wing, which included a phased demolition and remodel of the entire five-story building interior, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems.The new design of the building consists of 24,000 sq ft of laboratory space and 211,000 sq ft of office common areas. The new engineering systems and interior building modifications helped turned this historic building into a high-performance building, resulting in 17% annual energy reduction and winning an honorable mention in the 2012 Cincinnati Design Awards.

The total renovation of San Francisco’s 50 United Nations Plaza office building included mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems and seismic upgrades, with the objective to obtain LEED Gold (it ended up LEED Platinum). Courtesy: WSP | Parsons BCSE: What business development techniques are you using to gain office building clients and/or projects?

Nazeri: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff is a multidisciplinary international engineering firm, with extensive experience in design of high-rise and super-tall commercial and residential buildings. We work with renowned architectural design and real estate development firms, and most of our business is from repeat clients. In my opinion, the best business development strategy is to consistently deliver excellent client service and the highest quality design. The projects will follow.

Michael Walsh: Business development begins and ends with relationship building. While this includes clients and end users; as engineers, a large emphasis is placed on our relationships with architecture firms. Architects are historically most involved at the beginning of projects and, in a lot of instances, are asked to partner with engineers they are comfortable working with as a team. Being involved in the local community is another great way to build relationships. PEDCO hosts an annual high-performance building seminar in partnership with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State with the purpose of discussing industry trends as well as case studies of things that work and things that do not. The seminar is a great opportunity to share knowledge and network with clients and peers. PEDCO is also involved in the greater Cincinnati community, serving on local boards, volunteering time and resources to numerous nonprofits, and supporting our employees in organizations they are passionate about. Our community involvement allows opportunity for PEDCO to develop long-term relationships and partnerships with clients and end users.

Arnold: We have found over the years that our designs are our best marketing tools. WFW has been involved in the design of many existing and new buildings in the southeastern Pennsylvania region. Many of these projects have a high level of visibility and are sustainable designs, having met LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum criteria. We find that as our experience in this sector increases, our client base similarly grows. Our history of good design and good customer service is our best tool in obtaining new clients and projects.

Sullivan: We have found that much of our commercial business is by word of mouth and referrals. If you do a good job and meet the client's expectations, you will be in a better position to get the next project. You are only as good as your last project. Conversely, if price is the common denominator then it is the only deciding factor ... these tend to be the most problematic projects, ranging from client expectations to payment delays.

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