February 18, 2022

The Future of Engineering: Thoughts from Our Discipline Leaders

Engineers Week is always a good time to check in with our Engineering Discipline Leaders about future trends and happenings within the building engineering industry. Read on to hear their thoughts about new sustainable commitments, advancements in smart buildings, decarbonization of systems and more.

Brian Alesius, PE, Structural Engineering Discipline Leader

What are you most excited about within your discipline?
I‘m most excited about joining the SE2050 Commitment. The structural engineering community is dedicated to changing our practice as we work toward a goal of net-zero embodied carbon by 2050.

I’m extremely proud of the work our structural engineers have already completed to date on this challenge. CannonDesign is not just a signatory of the SE2050 commitment, we also have staff contributing to the direction of the program itself.

Check out our announcement and Embodied Carbon Action Plan (ECAP) to find out more on how we will combat climate change.

What is the biggest challenge in your discipline and how is your team trying to address it?

Our biggest challenge will be reducing embodied carbon in structural systems. We need to consider the embodied carbon impacts of the materials we use through their life cycle stages: material extraction, manufacturing, construction, repair and end-of-life.

One example is concrete. Cement contributes more to global warming than any other structural material. Concrete will not go away completely, but how will we reduce its embodied carbon? Our specifications already allow for the replacement of cement with industrial byproducts such as fly ash or slag, but what else can we do? Currently, we are working on changing our concrete specification to a performance-based specification. This will allow concrete manufacturers to optimize their concrete mix designs, further reducing the quantity of cement required.

Sal Bonetto, RCDD, EIT, CDT, Technology Engineering Leader

What are you most excited about within your discipline? 

By building off the success of our Buffalo office renovation, we are excited about taking our technology integration practice to the next level in developing smart buildings. Over the past few years, we have seen several projects promote smart/intelligent buildings, only to find cost implications have left them skeletons of their promises—leaving much to be desired.  However, we are finding that clients are becoming more informed about smart buildings and their profound effect on employee wellness and productivity.

I am really excited to be a part of the Spire Smart Building Assessment program, which is a rating system that measures components of a building with the intent to quantify the “smartness” of the building.  The program itemizes the following characteristics: connectivity, sustainability, wellness, safety, energy optimization and cybersecurity. These align quite well with Living-Centered Design and our clients’ goals, so it will likely gain a lot of traction as employers and employees recognize that Spire accreditation equals a smart building as a great place to work, improve and be at your best.

In addition to that, we are also seeing lots of interest regarding 5G and WiFi 7 and how that will be integrated into buildings, campuses and cities to improve data rates and lower latency.

What is the current biggest challenge in your discipline and how is your team trying to address it?

The technology discipline changes rapidly and requires constant monitoring of the equipment lines to understand what the new technologies are and how they can impact the design of our buildings. The recent Consumer Electronics Show was ripe with new ideas but there was clamor regarding supply chain issues limiting the manufacture of the equipment.  To combat this, we have been working more closely with our manufacturer reps to learn about new products and just as importantly, their availability and focus on where the equipment is manufactured.

Kate St Laurent, LC, Assoc. IALD, Lighting Design Discipline Leader

What are you most excited about within your discipline?

Lighting has gained tremendous respect within the last five years.  I am seeing more and more clients asking for lighting designers on their project teams. One of the best moments I have experienced in the last year was at the end of a presentation when the client said, “Wow—I never realized how transformative lighting can be.”

What is the biggest challenge in your discipline and how is your team trying to address it?

Pricing transparency continues to be a challenge. One would think that the price for one light fixture would be the same across territories, but it’s not.  There is not a lot of transparency in the pricing, and when that is the case it can be easy for a lesser quality products to be substituted. We have added language to our specifications to help protect our choices, and are proactive in communicating the established budget as early as possible, then designing to it using budget numbers. Then when we get asked to substitute because a project is over budget, we can point back to the data to show we met the established budget, and any review for additional savings then becomes an add service for the design time.

Keith Hammelman, PE, Mechanical Engineering Leader

What are you most excited about within your discipline?

I’m really excited about the future of building decarbonization and what that is going to mean for the evolution of HVAC design. This will drive the use of innovative technologies that will decrease our reliance on fossil fuels along with increasing the use of other technologies such as geothermal systems and other energy recovery equipment. This push towards decarbonization is also going to drive the need for increased collaboration between all disciplines, including the increased importance of energy modeling in our design to achieve these goals.

What is the biggest challenge in your discipline and how is your team trying to address it?

I really wish there was just one big challenge our discipline was addressing, but to focus on one would be how we continue to use Revit to the fullest extent possible to streamline our work effort. Some of the items we are working through are the automation of calculations, sizing, and tools to increase coordination amongst the disciplines. We have also undergone an effort to produce “Smart Control Diagrams” to continue to streamline our effort in the production of our documents. Our “Skunk Works” division in the Boston office has been working on a thermal comfort tool which will be used to visualize areas of concern for thermal comfort in our designs.

James Lessard, PE, Electrical Engineering Discipline Leader

What are you most excited about within your discipline?

It’s interesting, we are living through a significant cultural shift in many respects! I think the pandemic, the supply chain issues that the industry (and everyone) is facing, the investment in green technology to address climate change…these driving factors are necessitating novel solutions to new challenges. We are being asked to find creative ways to advance early design packages (as an example), to accelerate procurement of long lead-time items. But, it is also has afforded us opportunities to explore all-electric buildings, providing solar PV, energy reduction, and other green strategies that, in the past, have been avoided due to cost implications on projects.

What is the biggest challenge in your discipline and how is your team trying to address it?

Supply chain issues are a big challenge right now. We are working closely with clients, construction managers, and electrical contractors to identify those facets of our projects that really need to be ordered early in the project. Maintaining a schedule is critical in our industry and is a driver for how projects are managed and implemented (both during design and construction phases). Early design packages, well-coordinated phasing plans, and design-assist efforts are all strategies that we are deploying to mitigate schedule impact.