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.

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