2018 Construction Cost Trends

  • March 1, 2018
  • Author: Michael McManus

Changes are certain. Construction impact is not.

The Construction Cost Trends Newsletter is created annually by our construction services team — a multidisciplinary group offering clients an in-depth understanding of construction cost, life cycle cost, schedule and construction delivery strategies. The newsletter provides details on recent construction trends, as well as information relative to future costs, labor, materials and profit margins.

Take 5 With Our Engineering Leaders

  • October 26, 2017
  • Author: Michael McManus

At CannonDesign, our engineers tap into industry-leading technology, decades of experience, and thought leadership in nearly every building type to deliver integrated solutions that blend science, art and inventive new ideas.

Recently, three of our engineering leaders — Rob Garra, Paul Kondrat and Bob Ward — shared their thoughts on the profession, the challenges facing clients in the 21st century, and a few of the innovations they’re most excited about.

left to right: Rob Garra, Paul Kondrat, Bob Ward

What separates CannonDesign from other engineering firms in our industry?

RG – The question we get at every interview! The cliff notes response: We have a relentless pursuit of the why. This helps us not only understand how our clients work and what they are trying to achieve, but it also allows us to tailor a design that is suited just for them.

PK – In the past, building systems have traditionally been designed in silos.  We would optimize the system we specialized in (HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, etc). We relied on the innovations of manufacturers to improve our designs.  Manufacturers have hit a point where equipment optimization is reaching its limit and it is on us as designers to operate the systems in a more integrated and optimized way.  Having so many services in one organization with people that are willing to collaborate and be curious about each other’s work will allow us to bring this to our clients.

BW – I think there are several things: Our ability to bring discipline and market specific expertise to our clients, regardless of which office or geographic location they reside near (SFMO); our truly integrated approach to design, which allows us to be “at the table” from the start and positively influence the overall design of a project; and because our firm’s relentless pursuit of innovative, forward-thinking design. The fact that we were named one of the 10 most innovative architecture firms this year by Fast Company fuels our engineering teams to be more innovative in our own right.

What issues/challenges are our engineering clients most concerned about?

RG – Operational efficiency and doing more with less. Clients want the systems they have to be able to be effectively operated and realistically maintained.

PK – Facilities directors are simply overwhelmed.  Most are concerned about their buildings operating reliably and efficiently. Their maintenance staff tends to be lean so providing them with solutions that are easy to understand leads to greater long-term success. This is also market dependent as the next change in regulations can take even the best laid-out facilities operations plans off-course.

BW – Managing facilities with ever-increasing deferred maintenance needs with minimal budgets.  Infrastructure projects are not glamorous (although they are to us!), and it’s often difficult to get support for funding. This is why FOS is such a valuable service and differentiator for us. We can help facility managers prioritize and manage their needs, and also be their ally.

Name one innovation you think will transform the practice of engineering in the coming years.

RG – The biggest opportunity we see is in integrated building systems platforms. The ability to have most of your building systems talk and share data can be a powerful way to operate and maintain facilities. As the designers of these building systems, we are in the best position to identify the systems and the associated data that will be most useful to each individual client and facility.

PK – I’m excited to see what artificial intelligence (AI) will bring to the market. A large portion of our time-consuming activities are driven by multi-variable formulas that can be programmed and using AI could be optimized. Imagine if we didn’t have to draw ducts or circuits, or argue about if we can fit things above ceilings or in shafts — what could our human intelligence then be used to do in the building industry?

BW – The continued advancement and implementation of AI to create intelligent buildings. This will enable real-time optimization and feedback of all building systems as they interoperate with each other. This feedback will be a valuable resource for us to continually improve upon our designs.

Name an engineering project that amazes you; what about the project do you find so impressive?

RG – The garage built from Legos by my three-year-old son William for his cars. The way he thought it out and then executed his design was impressive. And of course, he was asking “why” all along the way – I think I learned that from him!

PK – I have always been fascinated by the Empire State Building. The speed with which it was designed and constructed nearly 90 years ago is amazing.

BW – The old Pittsburgh Civic Arena (“The Igloo”), which unfortunately no longer exists. I worked on a chilled water infrastructure upgrade there years ago. In doing field work, we discovered an abandoned underground labyrinth of huge ventilation tunnels that used to feed air handling units serving the seating bowl. We then discovered massive hydraulic pistons that had been disabled. They were designed to raise portions of seating like a clamshell for the orchestra section of the civic light opera. While very simplistic, the maze-like feel of the tunnels and scale of the pistons were impressive, and “historic” engineering is always interesting to me to see how much has advanced.

Reflecting back on your career to date, what’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

RG – It is ok to respond to a question by saying that you don’t know. That being said, however, be diligent in finding out the answer and following up with whomever asked the question.

PK – Having an outward mindset. Instead of entering into a job or meeting focused on my goals, I have learned to listen for and observe what others are trying to get out of our interaction. By not focusing on my own objectives I am able to provide solutions that more effectively meet the needs of clients.

BW  “You’re either getting better, or worse… nothing stays the same.” Kind of blunt, but I was told that a long time ago. Meaning, it’s a competitive world. Always continue to improve, to learn. If you don’t, the delta between you and your competition gets smaller and smaller, until they pass you up.

Learn more about our engineering practice >

Why Every Design Firm Needs an FBI Special Agent

  • April 28, 2017
  • Author: Michael McManus

MoskalAccording to Paul Moskal, CannonDesign’s director of compliance, there is no typical day in the FBI. Throughout his 30-year career with the bureau, he worked on matters ranging from bank robberies and cyber terrorism to issues of foreign counterintelligence —“spy stuff” in the truest sense.

He worked long-term undercover assignments as a marathoner (he was an avid runner), a hedge fund operator, and an organized crime lawyer allegedly using drug money to pay bribes and develop luxury hotels and golf courses. He supervised kidnapping and extortion squads, worked in the National Press Office, and tracked down spies from foreign governments. He traveled the world, working stints in London, Rome, Port-au-Prince and Toronto, among other cities.

Paul’s interest in the FBI stretches back to his childhood. For as long as he can remember, he had big plans to become the next Sherlock Holmes — solving mysteries and fighting crime, pipe in hand. This fantasy followed him into college where he earned degrees in political science and English, and eventually a doctorate of law. “I remember reading, at the time, that more than 400 members of Congress were attorneys,” said Paul. “That statistic made an impression on me, and I remember thinking that if I wanted to help people, law school seemed like a great place to start.”

Three months after college, Paul joined the FBI, pledging to commit his career to protecting the public and upholding the Constitution of the United States. He started as a special agent and worked his way up to Chief Division Counsel — leading younger agents, directing investigative programs, and overseeing every significant case that walked through the doors.

In 2014, Paul made the transition into the private sector, assuming the role of director of compliance at CannonDesign — which, at the time, was a fairly non-existent role within the industry. “Compliance, as reviewed and dictated by the government, has more traditionally been applied to industries like manufacturing, banking and pharmaceuticals,” said Paul. “But things have changed, and the government’s role in contracting standards within the A/E industry has grown. Federal investigative agencies are increasingly reviewing the conduct of A/E firms to ensure they are practicing within the law.”

Paul’s day-to-day job is similar to the Chief Division Counsel role at the FBI — making sure everyone in the organization, regardless of job duty, understands the law and the firm’s policies and procedures, and adheres to them to further the firm’s mission. Under Paul’s guidance, CannonDesign has launched a robust Code of Conduct, established an ethics and integrity hotline, and put its employees through more than 15,850 hours of compliance training. Based on results from a recent employee engagement survey, questions related to employees’ understanding of CannonDesign’s compliance protocols received the highest scores of any in the 150-question survey.

Beyond promoting a culture of integrity within CannonDesign, Paul has committed himself to furthering compliance adoption throughout the profession. “Since launching our program, I’ve met with more than 24 A/E firms to share our knowledge and help kick-start their efforts. This is new territory for most firms, but they’re realizing that the risks in today’s business climate are just too great. The public, our clients and the government all expect A/E firms to have robust compliance programs in place.”

Although Paul’s life has slowed down a bit since his days in the FBI, his pledge to protecting the public is unwavering. Now, rather than spend his days under cover, Paul is proud to be leading the discussion about compliance in the AEC industry. He recognizes that bringing the topic out into the open is the best way to safeguard design firms.

“There really shouldn’t be any hesitancy to talking about compliance in our industry” adds Paul. “Through discussion, education and training – that’s how you build understanding and ensure AEC firms around the country are best prepared to conduct business in this new era.”

Learn more about CannonDesign’s Compliance program > 

On Display: Mimi Lam Talks Exhibit Design

  • February 27, 2017
  • Author: Michael McManus

Mimi LamIn 2013, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles opened a permanent exhibit focused on the life and legacy of Anne Frank. At just under 4,000 square feet, the exhibit is relatively small, but its impact hits you straight in the heart. Aside from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it is the most extensive exploration of Anne Frank’s life in any museum.

The exhibit draws attention to the devastation of the Holocaust while highlighting Anne’s infectious spirit and the future life she hoped to have.

Working alongside Mehrdad Yazdani, Mimi Lam, a senior designer in our Yazdani Studio, led the design of the exhibit. In what she calls both an honor and a challenge, the experience taught her much about what it takes to create successful exhibits, and how design can be harnessed to educate, inspire and entice.

Anne Frank Exhibit

Project: Anne Frank Exhibit, Museum of Tolerance

In what ways did the Anne Frank exhibit affect you personally?

“The exhibit was pivotal personally not only because I was inspired by her searing voice to fight for human dignity, but also because it was the first time I realized the spatial design skills that I utilize as an architect can be used to create interior spaces that are both aesthetically innovative and profoundly impactful. Mehrdad has always been keen on telling a story with every project that comes out of our studio. Over 10 years of working closely with him on many projects, I learned the central role storytelling plays in connecting with clients and users on all levels. ‘Anne’ the exhibit was a unique opportunity to implement architectural concepts for the purpose of communicating information in a provocative and engaging manner.”

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem


You’re currently working with the Museum of Tolerance on their new museum in Jerusalem. Can you talk a little about that?

“Mehrdad has had a wonderful relationship with the Museum of Tolerance for almost 20 years, which has led to quite a bit of work with the institution. Over the last few years, we’ve been working with Rabbi Marvin Hier, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center [the Museum of Tolerance is the education arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center] to create a number of permanent exhibits for the new museum located in the heart of modern Jerusalem. The museum has three main exhibit spaces: The People’s Journey Exhibit, which pays tribute to the core human values that ensure the survival of a population, using the Jewish people as a prominent example. The Social Lab, which challenges visitors to confront difficult political and social topics and engage in a dialogue about those topics with the museum and other visitors, some of whom may have differing perspectives. And finally, the Children’s Museum, which walks children through a journey based on the story of Moses and introduces them to some of the core values that we explore in more depth in the adult museum. We also designed the outside garden space, which includes a number of public exhibits.

The project has been one of the largest permanent exhibits we’ve ever worked on, and also one of the most challenging — in a good way. This is our firm’s first time working in Jerusalem, so we had to learn a lot about the culture and the best approach to work with local consultants. There’s also, of course, quite a bit of conflict in the city. We consulted with a number of local scholars from diverse backgrounds in an effort to create a safe and inclusive environment that respects differences and promotes tolerance. The exhibits focus on Jewish culture, but the values and stories we present are meant to resonate with people universally.”

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem

What has exhibit design taught you about storytelling?

“Storytelling is everything when it comes to exhibits. Personally, working so closely with Rabbi Hier has taught me a lot about the topic — after all, Rabbis have thousands of years’ experience teaching through stories. What I’ve learned is that the most successful way to tell a story is to create memories. Attach emotion and meaning to the events that transpired. Facts and figures are fine, but being able to relate to an audience and be authentic is the best way to connect. Also, the content shouldn’t be the only driver of the story. The space should be part of the storytelling, too. A great example is the infinity wall in the Anne Frank exhibit. The wall is a central element of the exhibition that guides the movement of the story. It is made of clothing that transforms as the story unfolds, fading from bright colors when the story describes Frank’s childhood to gray and black as she is swallowed up by the Nazi regime. The wall leans in at times to create a claustrophobic experience and it opens up at the end to symbolize optimism for the future.”

What do you think is the next frontier in exhibit design?

“Our current generation learns in different ways than previous generations, and many museums are at a crossroads where they’re trying to adapt the latest technology in response. Museums today are much more interactive, using multi-media and immersion to allow patrons to experience the exhibit rather than just look at it. These multilayered environments are a big part of making exhibitions accessible. By using multiple mediums with multiple opportunities for interaction, we’re able to meet the learning needs of diverse groups of people. As key pillars of their communities, museums have to evolve in order to stay relevant to each generation. In the case of MOT Jerusalem, we harness the latest exhibit technology to help museum visitors make sense of life’s challenges, contextualizing the past and the future and improving the circumstances of the people the museum serves.”

In what ways is exhibit design different than simply interior design?

“In exhibit design, form follows content, but content can’t stand on its own. As designers, we are constantly collaborating with content curators, interactive producers, media experts, educators and museum leaders to harness spatial planning, storytelling, form and lighting to create environments that communicate the content we’re showcasing in the most impactful and provocative manner. Every exhibit is completely different, so we’re always learning on the go, and in a way, becoming specialists in the content the exhibit is featuring.

We’re also typically designing for a set amount of time. For example, it takes about 60 minutes to get through the Anne Frank Exhibit. To keep the audience engaged in the story, we’re challenged to strike a delicate balance. We do not want to overwhelm the visitor, but we want to orchestrate the experience from start to end with elements that pique visual and emotional interest and elicit a profound response.”

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

CannonDesign + NEUF architect(e)s Release Films of Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal

  • December 9, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

For more than seven years, CannonDesign + NEUF architect(e)s has been engaged in the design and construction of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) – the largest healthcare project being built in North America. Spanning two full city blocks and rising 21 stories tall, it’s easy to get captivated by the sheer enormity of the building. But as the designers responsible for drawing every line and planning every space within the 3.5 million SF structure, we’re most proud of the art and craft that went into each detail.

Over the last few years, we’ve been working with filmmaker Karine Savard and designer Annabelle Beauchamp to capture some of these details unfolding. The result is a series of short films that capture the essence of what makes CHUM special – from the illuminated passageway floating above Sanguinet Street, to the preservation of the Saint-Sauveur steeple, the construction of the grand atrium spaces, and the artistry that went into creating the rooftop terraces along with NIP Paysage.

Below is one of the videos.

VIEW ALL THE FILMS HERE >

A Man on a Mission: Jeff Jackson Shares Stories and Lessons Learned from the Army

  • November 15, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

Being All He Can Be

Jeff Jackson’s life story is the American dream. Although he grew up poor and lived in the “projects,” his life turned around. He joined the army, married his hometown sweetheart, rose to First Sergeant of over 200 soldiers in the Army Reserves, and today, works at CannonDesign as a leader in our federal group. Although he experienced a hard-knock life in the truest sense, he overcame adversity, and even to this day, he’s becoming all he can be.

Jeff Jackson

Like most, Jeff will never forget the eight weeks he spent in boot camp — a moment in life where he learned discipline to the 100th degree.

One painful but important lesson came by way of a bee. “A bee flew into my helmet, and as is natural, I reacted,” said Jeff. “The next thing I knew I was doing pushups on the ground and my Drill Sergeant was yelling at me because my response could have gotten me and other soldiers killed in battle. He made a good point.”

After boot camp came nine months of technical training where Jeff developed a skillset focused on electronics and engineering, and four years of active duty. He then joined the Army Reserves and began working as a civilian technology technician and consultant for a number of companies, until reconnecting with an old colleague who introduced him to CannonDesign. Jeff joined CannonDesign in 2008, and six months later, he was deployed to Iraq.

Jeff’s assignment in Iraq was focused on working with the Corps of Engineers to help rebuild the country. On his first night, his base was bombed with mortars. “A mortar went directly over our building and I could hear the roof material peeling off. It was an eye-opening first day experience to say the least.”

Jeff Saddam Hussein

Jeff in the palace of Saddam Hussein.

For almost two years, Jeff acted as a project engineer, project manager and contracting officer representative for a number of large-scale construction projects in Iraq. He led teams in completing the Basra Children’s Hospital — the largest and first specialty care facility in Basra, Iraq — in addition to multiple police stations, the Iraqi Navy Seaport pier and a military base with 50 buildings. In 2010, Jeff returned home for a year before being deployed again — this time to Afghanistan. As a third world country, Afghanistan lacked the skilled labor force and leadership needed for large-scale construction projects, so Jeff spent much of his time training Afghan engineers.

“We were starting from scratch,” says Jeff. “For example, one day, an Afghan soldier without boots kept climbing into a bull dozer to learn, but I had to have him kicked out for safety reasons. After the third time, I told his sergeant that if the soldier did not have boots the next day I would give the sergeant’s boots to the soldier. The next day the soldier had boots and the sergeant had the knowledge that leaders take care of their people so they can do their jobs.”

Barsa Children's Hospital

Barsa Children’s Hospital

Even with the language barrier and religious and cultural differences, Jeff connected with the Afghan people and engineers in ways he hadn’t experienced before. He began teaching English and math classes, which is a level of education typically experienced only by the wealthy. “I was teaching them the simple concept of ‘You can feed a man a fish and you fed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a life time,” adds Jeff.

Jeff even went as far as fasting during the month of Ramadan. “I didn’t tell my team until the fast was almost over. I wanted the Commander and his staff to learn the concept of not asking your people to do something you would not do and to treat them as they wanted to be treated. ”

After a year in Afghanistan, Jeff was deployed yet again with the USACE to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan where he worked with the host nation government and US Embassy to turn around a number of failing construction projects, before coming back to his civilian life.

When asked to reflect on the lessons learned in his 37 years of service, Jeff laughs and says there are many.

The Army changed my life. It taught me that being a leader has nothing to do with self-interest and everything to do with being a servant to others.

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

A World Unbuilt: Troy Hoggard on the Moral Implications of Design

  • October 7, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

Imagine you are designing a hospital for one of the poorest communities in the world. There is no infrastructure for water, power or waste. Roads are rough and unreliable. Medical supplies disappear in the dead of the night to be sold on the black market.

The average life expectancy of residents here is 42.5 years old, and 257 out of every 1,000 children born here will die before they celebrate their fifth birthday. Now imagine you are designing this hospital over a bad Skype connection, without ever stepping foot in the country where it will be built.

This was Troy Hoggard’s reality in 2009 while working with a team of fellow CannonDesigners to develop a 100-bed prototype hospital in rural Afghanistan. Says Troy, “It’s surreal. You never get to meet any of the people you are designing for. You quickly realize that the people on the other end of the phone are relying heavily on what you recommend, because they have minimal clinical expertise. It was very empowering and very scary.”

Troy and Scott Kessler of our Engineering group pose with our client (Steve Mosser of Holy Name Medical Center), Sister Ann (“The spiritual heart of the operation,” says Troy) and local children we provided with soccer balls—a big treat in Haiti

The communications challenges don’t even begin to compare to the inherent challenges of designing for a developing nation. “We had to design a three month fuel and water supply because in the winter, fuel trucks may not be able to reach the hospital and all power is created by on-site generators,” Troy explains. “There are no building codes. They would just ask ‘well, what do you use there?’ Suddenly I’m modifying U.S. codes for a country that I’ve never even visited. There would be these moments when we’d ask something simple like, ‘Can we talk to your anesthesiologists about where to put the gas lines?’ and there would be a long pause on the other end of the line. Finally they’d say, ‘Well, we don’t have any physicians yet. We don’t know who our anesthesiologists are going to be.’”

His experiences working in Milot, Haiti had similar challenges. Haiti ranks just eight spots above Afghanistan on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (#163 and #171, respectively— the US is #8) but after the devastating 2010 earthquakes, they saw an influx of support from international relief organizations and US hospitals, including Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ. In 2012, Holy Name Medical Center assumed control of The Crudem Foundation, which has been providing financial, volunteer and medical resources to Hôpital Sacré Couer since 1986. Following the change in leadership, a team from CannonDesign, including Troy, has been engaged in planning and design work ranging from small modifications to existing facilities to a complete replacement hospital that could triple their site capacity.

Hôpital Sacré Couer in its current state.

Hôpital Sacré Couer in its current state

“Hôpital Sacré Couer stands out in northern Haiti because it is well-managed through its partnership with Holy Name, so it attracts a high caliber of talent. The medical staff is actually a level above what the facility can support. With a better building, they can quickly improve both quality and quantity of care.” Troy returned from his first trip to Haiti with a wave of motivation and sense of duty to design for these caregivers. “I knew they needed a design that was not only buildable and appropriate for the climate, materials and culture of Haiti—but it also had to inspire people to donate so that The Crudem Foundation can fund the construction.”

Rendering for the new Hôpital Sacré Couer

Rendering for the new Hôpital Sacré Couer

The lack of government-funded infrastructure also poses a challenge, as it does in Afghanistan. “Many roads in Haiti are basically a riverbed. There’s no ambulance service, no police force, no fire codes—instead of saying ‘where do we put the fire extinguishers?’ it’s ‘where do we put the bucket of sand and who’s going to be the bucket brigade?’” Troy recalls. “I tell my friends: ‘Don’t complain about paying taxes.’ Say what you want about waste in U.S. government, but no government at all is a much bigger waste.”

Rendering for the new Afganistan International Organization for Migration

Rendering for the new Afganistan International Organization for Migration

When asked for his final thoughts on his experiences in Afghanistan and Haiti, he evokes an idea from international strategies leader Carson Shearon: “Working with Carson in Haiti, he often used the term ‘global best practice’—meaning, what is our position on minimum standards for healthcare, no matter where you are in the world or what your GDP? What do we believe in as a firm? Our work abroad has taught me how important it is to have a philosophical underpinning behind your design. When you design a hospital in a developing nation, you have to be serious about your priorities.

Design is foremost and fundamentally a communications tool, and there’s a great moral responsibility to reflect the values of the local community, and our values as CannonDesigners.

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

CHUM Recognized on the Red Carpet in NYC

  • May 13, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

TeamThe architects for the new Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) — CannonDesign + NEUF architect(e)s — were on the red carpet in New York City yesterday evening to receive an Architizer A+ Award alongside some of the leading architects from around the world. The CHUM took home the People’s Choice Award in the Unbuilt Hospitality category of the awards program. According to Architizer, more than 400,000 public votes were cast from more than 100 countries.

Read the CHUM case study >

Chicago Office Practice Leader Talks Age, Family and the Future of Design

  • April 28, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

Tim Swanson

Tim Swanson, Chicago Office Practice Leader.

A breath of fresh air in the windy city

Chicago office practice leader Tim Swanson—or the “Swansonator” as he’s become known to some—is a pretty unlikely guy to be leading a 200+ person design studio in one of the most competitive markets in the U.S. He has tattoos, a slick side part in his hair, and regularly pairs graphic t-shirts with blazers and pocket squares.

When he attended a meeting meant for the leaders of Chicago’s largest architecture firms, he was told that he was in the wrong place. “One of my peers said that to me,” notes Tim. “When I explained who I was and walked into the meeting, his reaction was a mix of criticism, confusion and fear. I thought it was pretty funny.”

But his age doesn’t define him—or so he says as he quotes Aaliyah’s 90’s hit “Age Aint Nothing but a Number.” Tim is where he’s at today because of his youthful approach to leadership and his profoundly inspiring, human-focused, future-ready, pretention-free perspective on design. Here’s a peek into Tim’s thoughts on a few topics he’s excited about.

On the future of the design industry

Tim Swanson working with students

Tim discussing design and planning with students.

“Every industry is going through change. To be successful, we have to embrace a sort of child-like curiosity and explore the unknown. We can either continue doing things the way we always have, or admit everything is changing and everything is a little confusing. When we do that, we can have honest dialogue about what’s happening and how we fit into it. The simple act of being honest—and hearing our clients say—’we don’t know what the future has in store, but we want to try and figure this out together’ is incredible. And we’re doing that with clients every day. It’s through this vulnerability and honesty that we’re discovering one of our greatest strengths as a firm.”

On Chicago

“My career has taken my little family all over the world—at age one, we had to get our son a new passport because his was already full—but Chicago is home and I love it. It’s one of the greatest cities for architecture in the country, but there’s also so much drama and complexity in the human condition here. It’s the tale of two cities—the struggle between those who have and those who have not. From a design perspective, Chicago is ripe for design intervention.”

On work / life balance

“When I travel, I take the worst flights humanly possible so I can put the kids to bed and have meaningful time with my wife, Beth. When I’m home, I make sure I walk my five-year-old son to school every day and talk about all the twisted things that pop into his mind. After work, I turn my phone off from six until nine. This window of time allows me to have meaningful time with Beth and our kids.

I suppose it helps that I struggle with anything more than three or four hours of sleep, so I get many productive hours of the day that are otherwise usually unused. And I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out my girl Siri. Whether on my phone or watch, the dialogue I have with Siri keeps me sane and organized.”

On fatherhood

Tim Swanson and his family

Tim, his wife, and their ‘pile of babies.’

“Beth and I have a pile of babies. We have a five-year-old-son and ten-month old twins. Fatherhood has taught me an insane amount of practical knowledge. That even in the chaos of the world—at work, in politics, with humanity or with my son’s tantrums—there is still joy. Kids are hopelessly emotional little creatures, and that’s OK. There’s also so much value in that moment in a child’s life where they want to know everything. The Japanese notion of the 5 Whys is essentially baked into every toddler. If adults could show the same amount of emotion, joy and curiosity as a child, our relationships would be so much more meaningful.”

On music

“This may show my age more than anything else, but right now, I’m really captivated with Chance’s collaboration on The Social Experiment Album and Common, two artists from Chicago. They unabashedly share the realities of the complex city dynamics we face—whether that’s race relations, education, opportunities, violence or development differentials between different parts of the city. It’s a mix of politics and poetry. We have to have this kind of dialogue if we want to advance as a city.”

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

Meet Mike Cavanaugh, CannonDesign’s New Sustainability Leader

  • February 16, 2016
  • Author: Michael McManus

Last week, CannonDesign announced Mike Cavanaugh as its new firmwide sustainability leader. As part of that introduction, Mike took time to answer some key questions about his new role, sustainable design and key industry initiatives.

mcavanaughWhat’s your elevator pitch when explaining sustainability at CannonDesign?

Sustainability is a moral, ethical and professional imperative; it is a standard of care that we owe to our clients, our colleagues and our future generations.

CannonDesign has the breadth of experience and expertise to deliver design solutions that innovate within our industry, operate at peak efficiency and stand the test of time for our clients, and minimize impacts on our natural environment.

For our clients who understand the links between design excellence, high quality, high performance and sustainability — we deliver. For our clients who want to better understand those connections, we can help them define a vision for how their organization fits into our shared ecosystem and how to have a positive impact going forward.

Simply put, the world is moving toward a sustainable future and we inspire and assist our clients to move with it.

What are some of the most important issues affecting sustainable design today?

There are many issues pushing our industry and indeed our world toward sustainable design. The most obvious is energy consumption. In the U.S., around 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which, when burned, damage our atmosphere with CO2 (a greenhouse gas) and other pollutants. Barring a full and immediate transition to clean, renewable fuel sources, we need to consume less energy. The less energy our buildings consume, the less damage to our atmosphere. Another major issue is our growing global population. Our earth has a finite amount of natural resources. The ways we plan our cities, construct our buildings, operate our systems, manufacture our goods and feed our people needs to treat these resources more carefully. The manufacturing and construction industries have gotten a lot better in the last 20 years at re-using and recycling waste in factories and on job sites. As designers we need to support these advances and help to drive them further along. Finally, our climate, unfortunately, has already started to change and will continue to do so for another generation even if we stop polluting our atmosphere today. We need to prepare for the upcoming changes through resilient design — which for me brings the idea of sustainability full circle — because sustainability by definition is all about adapting and enduring.

What’s the AIA 2030 challenge and why did CannonDesign sign it?

The 2030 Commitment is the AIA’s response to the 2030 Challenge, by which all signatories will strive to gradually reduce the energy consumption of the buildings we design to be carbon neutral by the year 2030. CannonDesign was an early adopter of the 2030 Commitment – we signed on in 2009 and began recording and reporting results that same year. We did this out of a recognition that buildings are responsible for nearly half of all energy consumption and CO2 emissions and that as designers of those buildings, we need to do our part to minimize that impact. The energy reduction goal increases every 5 years, and in 2015, we moved into the 70% reduction target. Achieving a 70% reduction from the average predicted energy use intensity (PEUI) for any particular building type is not an easy task but it is one we need to strive for on all of our projects.

The Health Product Declaration is a sustainability initiative we hear about often in our industry. What is it and why was CannonDesign a founding sponsor?

Health Product Declarations (HPDs) are the result of years of questioning and research about the life cycle of the materials we use in construction and their impacts on the environment and on human health. Our industry is already well aware of the importance of choosing materials that have a high recycled content and low volatile organic compounds (VOCs – i.e. chemicals that can evaporate into the air we breathe). HPDs look further into the make-up (chemical and organic) of the materials themselves and grade their various effects on human health due to prolonged exposure in production and final installation. Similarly, EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) offer more detail on the effects that materials have on the environment, for example, during manufacturing or as rainwater runs off installed applications. Our Materials Working Group was a key, early contributor to and supporter of the HPD Collaborative — the working group responsible for raising the issues, developing a grading system, and then incorporating these requirements into LEED V4. As a result of the work we did in these early stages, the building product manufacturers are thinking even more deeply about how they make their products and what materials they use.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in talking to clients and colleagues about sustainability?

My interest in sustainability — energy conservation and renewable energy in particular — was sparked in late 2008, right before I joined CannonDesign. Since that time I have been involved in many conversations in various capacities: as the chair of my town’s Energy Task Force (2011 to present), as a presenter in various local environmental groups such as the Massachusetts Climate Action Network, as a colleague and data collector for the AIA 2030 Commitment (2010 – 2012), as the coordinator for the Boston office’s first EAW live speaking event (2011) and as a Project Architect in the healthcare and science & technology markets. One thing I have learned is that there is a limited percentage of people who are drawn in by the ‘doom and gloom’ scenario of environmental destruction and/or climate disaster. The human psyche has adapted many ways to deal with fear over millions of years of evolution and more numbers and data sets are no match for denial. The best weapon against fear, then, is hope. For this reason we need to find ways to present the solutions to the very real problems we face as opportunities for greener forests, cleaner air, clearer water, healthier food and lifestyles, smarter cities, cooler technology and higher-quality, more beautiful and more enduring design.

In your free time, you can be found…

Sitting at the kitchen table, drawing with my daughters, who at ages 11 and 9 still, to my surprise, proclaim that I am the best ‘artist’ they know.

Learn more about out Sustainability Services >