This is the second of three roundtables on the future of engineering presented by the ACEC Research Institute. www.acecresearchinstitute.org

The world today is full of extraordinary volatility, yet the engineering industry has risen to the challenge. Uniquely positioned at the forefront of designing buildings for work and home – engineers are solving for the new normal and exploring what is needed for commercial, high-rise, healthcare, and mixed-use buildings of the future. How do we design them? How do we rehab or retrofit them? What is really needed for the future when designing work and living spaces in this new paradigm. Join this exciting panel discussion that explores the future of the buildings we live and work in.

Panelists:

• Dino DeFeo, Managing Partner, AKF

• Peter DiMaggio, Co-CEO, Thornton Tomasetti

• Arathi Gowda, Associate Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

• Kate Wittels, Partner, HR&A Advisors

• Moderator: Joseph Bates, ACEC Research Institute

 

Transcript:

Daphne Bryant:

Welcome to our second roundtable in this series, The Future of Engineering. A big thank you to our donors who have made this session possible. We have a great group of thought leaders here today that are going to share their insights and expertise with us on the future of buildings, where we live and work now without further ado. It's my pleasure to introduce two of my colleagues at the ACEC Research Institute, Joe Bates, who will serve as our moderator for today's session and Kevin McMahon, who will be monitoring the chat box and fielding your questions during the session, Joe, it's all yours.

Joe Bates:

Thank you very much, Daphne, and thank you all for joining us today. First, I'd like to introduce you all to each of our panelists. We have Dino DeFeo, who is managing partner at AKF. Dino is a respected and admired leader whose market knowledge and passionate commitment to clients have formed the foundation of a 25 year career. He understands the importance of working as an integral part of a design collective with the express goal of realizing the direct client's vision. We also have with us, Peter DiMaggio, co-CEO of Thornton Tomasetti. Peter is responsible for defining, articulating and driving the firm's strategic vision. In addition to leading the development and execution of the overall business plan, he directs key strategic initiatives, such as identifying new markets and merger and acquisition opportunities, as well as instituting mentorship and professional development programs. I'd also like to welcome Arathi Gowda, who is Associate Director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Arathi is a team leader for the company's Chicago's performance design group charged with researching new technologies and recommending integrated environmental design solutions that are substantiated with computer simulation for SOM project teams worldwide.

Joe Bates:

And finally, I'd like to welcome Kate Wittels, who is a Partner at HR&A Advisors. Kate specializes on the future of work and how to best shape places, train people and deliver infrastructure to make today's cities ready for tomorrow's opportunities. She creates strategic plans, public private partnerships, policies, and programs to guide governments, developers, and businesses on growing tech and innovation ecosystems in cities around the world. Thank you all very much for joining us today. I'm going to jump right into our questions. It's obviously no surprise that we're living through this pandemic and it's completely changed the way that we live and work. I think we have all within a blink of an eye, had to create new ways of working and communicating and, and some of the participants and viewers who were with us during the pregame show might have heard us talking about some of those challenges we live with. So my first question, I'd like Pete, to start out with Pete, are we going to see a fundamental shift in where we work in the future?

Peter DiMaggio:

I do. I think we're going to see a fundamental shift. What I think is less clear is what that shift actually looks like. Let me give you my example on this right before Kobe, we have about 1500 people and the large majority of them were working in the office. COVID hits. We send as many people as we can almost close to 1500 to work remotely. And early on, it really looked like as we were learning from this, that we were going to have this situation where more and more people want to work remotely. That was an early indicator. What we're seeing now actually is a lot of people want to be back in the office, whether it's for that social interaction, their ability to be more effective. And I think in the last two or three weeks, and this is how uncertain this future is, what we're getting from our employees is they want flexibility, which is a really interesting challenge.

Peter DiMaggio:

They don't want to be full time at home and they don't want to be full time in the office. And if I had to make a guess, I would think that that is going to be something that stays with us where people want that ability to do some time at home and some time in the office. And it's a really big challenge, right? It's a challenge to get people really effective in the office. It's also a challenge to get them really effective at home, but just think of what this means from an IT point of view, right? How many different computer systems do you have? Do you have monitors? Do you need the right working environment, both at home and in the office? The second challenge that comes from that is again, early on, it's really interesting to see how things progress over the last month.

Peter DiMaggio:

Early on, I think the immediate reaction was we're probably going to need less for real estate for our entire office structure because clearly people want to be at home. Now, all of a sudden we're saying, but if they want to be partially at home and partially in the office, you still need less real estate or do you just need different real estate? So the simple answer to your question is, yes, I think you'll see a fundamental shift, a much more complex question to ask is what do we think this is going to look like? And if you really want to challenge the group, I think it's going to look very different in suburban areas than it may look in urban areas due to the challenge of public transportation. So are people able to do both of these and still use public transportation to get to their office?

Joe Bates:

Kate Pete mentioned public transit. What do you think is going to happen with public transit and you're in New York city. So how's that going to affect people that are working and living in New York city?

Kate Wittels:

Yeah. I mean, it's a big, it's a big unknown about transit, but I think as Pete was starting talking about the mood changes so quickly, if you ask people a month ago, six weeks ago, you get on the subway? No. But if you asked me last week or yesterday and you're starting to hear stories and be like, I want, I'm taking the subway. It's clean, it's the cleanest it's ever been. And so I think to what Pete was saying is that there's going to be this half in half out experience and we're going to figure out how we best travel to the places. And it's really about, what's the role of the physical office in how we work and that's really what we need to figure out. And that will change how offices are laid out, but it used to be that we had to produce everything in the office.

Kate Wittels:

And now we're realizing that somethings that we can produce it's more effective to produce it, the knowledge economy stuff in our home, and maybe having recurring meetings in our homes, but the culture, brand, desire for you know, interaction. And I think as an amenity to employees for retention and attraction, the office will play a role in that sense. And so I think it's, it's really thinking through what the role of the office is going to play for businesses. And then what does that mean for neighborhoods? And then what does that mean for the need for transit? Cause maybe the demand will be actually less or only half of us are going in half at a time.

Joe Bates:

It feels almost like we've let the genie out of the bottle here with having people working from home that in the past, there was a lot of pushback from many companies that were saying, Hey, we don't want you working from home. And now everyone was forced to do it. And somehow they're making it work. So I don't know, Arathi, do you, what do you think about that? You know, have we just let the genie out of the bottle, not going to be able to put it back in?

Arathi Gowda:

I think so in a lot of ways, and I don't think it's necessarily about trust even though maybe sometimes that was an issue. I think it was about collaboration and so engineering, architecture, planning, we're very collaborative disciplines. And so there was always this idea that you had to have the groupthink in the office. And I think obviously now as Kate was mentioning some of the things that are a little less efficient remotely, but people are seeing that actually we can be very collaborative in our home environment. And I think this is actually very positive because we've been talking about that for a long time. There's an emissions reduction, there's a positive, personal benefit. There's a lot of good things that are happening or silver linings as a result of this. But we almost needed to have the push. And I think that does speak a little bit to what Peter was saying about, there's a little bit of a multiplicity of futures, but let's face it. We're a complex society and we'll, we'll keep going the way we were going if it's working and this has forced us to maybe shift faster. And I think in a good way as we're all seeing there's some benefits. I don't think we're going to go Back to the way we were.

Joe Bates:

Dino, any thoughts on this?

Dino DeFeo:

I think everybody has some good points. You know, you start thinking about what is the role of the office and in our environments. And you know, it has a huge impact on the culture of your firm, your interactions in the office, how you work with one another, your collaboration, but nowadays with the tools you have online and the collaboration that you can do online, it will change the way we work. And you will start seeing some more decentralized offices in headquarters might not be the size they used to be anymore, but you still might need the office space for more of a a collaboration area or a conference center, you'll see more hoteling, all the things that we've been talking about for years, this has really accelerated that.

Dino DeFeo:

And I think it's going to continue to accelerate and things are going to be like this until there is a vaccine. I mean, a lot of people won't be comfortable coming back to the office until that's the case. So until then, you know, we're still going to be experimenting with the conditions that we're in and seeing how things work and what doesn't work.

Joe Bates:

So Dino, I have one thought on that sort of a follow-up question for you, maybe dive a little bit more deeply into this issue of there's this near term, of course, but and then let's, let's assume we're going to have a vaccine and, and everybody is able to return to some level of normalcy, but what's the long-term implication on how buildings commercial buildings will look in the future. This pandemic will, I think be fresh in everyone's memory for a generation at least to come. And so what kind of design considerations will we need to make in terms of health and safety, you know, cleaning the offices, elevators, things of that nature?

Dino DeFeo:

Well, I mean, you know, we're an MEP firm, so, you know, I could just stick to some of the things that we've been dealing with in, with our clients on the MEP side, you're starting to look at buildings that are going to be much more robust in engineering infrastructure. We've spent a lot of time looking at the energy efficiency of buildings and we're going to start spending more time looking at the wellbeing of the occupants of the building. And there's going to be a push and pull there. There's still the energy codes we're going to have to comply with, but a lot of things that we'll have to do to make people feel comfortable with coming back post pandemic and let's keep in mind, this is not the only pandemic we've been through.

Dino DeFeo:

This is the worst by far, but we've had SARS and a number of others. And every couple of years, it seems like there's something else that we're talking about. So the infrastructures of these buildings will have to be much more robust, much more flexible, you know, greater ventilation rates, greater air changes, higher humidity because we're finding that, you know, humidification is great for the wellbeing of the person, regardless of during pandemic or not. So all of these things impact the energy efficiency of a building. So we will try and we will need to figure out how do we balance the wellbeing of the people within the building, and yet still comply with the energy efficiency mandates that are being required of us. So that's kind of where we're going to, we're going to have to be whether it's UV lights that we're adding into systems, greater filtration, decentralized systems, you know, there's going to be a number of challenges on you in the engineering world in order to make people feel more comfortable with how buildings are performing and how they're protecting the people within the building.

Joe Bates:

Arathi, what about the elevators? We were talking about that before we went live here, are we going to have, you know, elevators that are 10 times the size as they are now? Or are we, how are we going to move thousands of people up and down? You know, these high rise buildings?

Arathi Gowda:

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, there might be some things even to Dino's point, there, there are things in the market that are already stacking elevators and others that increased capacity. But I think, you know, we haven't been able to always sell those on projects. So I think what's going to happen is these things that were harder sells before are going to become better or easier sells now. So this nexus of energy and wellness, particularly to elevators, you know, I think it's, it's touchless, it's called button sensoring, it's stacked elevators. I think there's also maybe a reality of a public health response. So by nature, these are more confined spaces. And what would be more like Asia, you know, look to our Asian friends and say, they're very used to masks. It's not an issue for them to wear masks or wear gloves.

Arathi Gowda:

Because some of those things can't be solved strictly with social distancing, but I do think it's a very important time. And even in the environmental movement, it's always been planet first and not people. And there's been a real problem with messaging with that, that mentality, because of course we know the eight ball is energy efficiency, carbon reduction, but until we connect that to stories that people can relate to, then it's very hard to change hearts and minds. And I think that this piece of wellness it's very relatable, people can understand. So I think there are going to be some very important conversations in the engineering community about how we can do the things we've been even talking about humidity for years and advanced filtration. And we're building on that with code policy and rating systems. These are not always things that our clients opt into. So I think there's a lot of opportunity for us to be asked to do those things more consistently have the cost of it dropped so that it can become more ubiquitous in the market, which is essentially what we want.

Kate Wittels:

I think what's interesting about this right now is this is an opportunity for building owners to become really creative and force them to really differentiate themselves and try the new systems that they we've been talking about and pushing for them. Because now buildings aren't just competing with other commercial buildings in their own sub market. They're competing with other sub markets. They're competing with residential products, they're competing with retail products. People are working out of restaurants now. And so I think this is a real interesting opportunity for what the building will actually offer in the long run to make companies want to continue to pay rent and to make employees want to come back in. I mean, you can offer up that you're going to have better air in your office, then you are in your home for example, or sound quality or other things. That's, that's where the building would have the opportunity to really keep, keep their asset as it is.

Peter DiMaggio:

I think that's such an important point. I, you know, as Kate was talking, it struck a nerve. If you think back to September 11th to 9/11 when, when that event occurred the first response was we're never going to build high rise buildings again, right? People aren't going to. And so of course that's not what happened, right? So it took a while. And then people started talking about how do we address this issue? And then people got creative and then people started to figure out how to build security. And, and one of the questions I just saw in the chat - what happens to existing buildings that aren't ready? You know, this was a really good example. People upgraded those buildings, they invested in them, and then they use that to try to draw tenants back in. And the big difference I see now is we're only a few months into this and already you have some of the smartest people on the planet talking about how do we solve this issue and get back to work.

Peter DiMaggio:

And to me, that's one of the biggest differences. It took us a long time after 9/11 to say, we're going to go back into a high rise building. How do we address this now? We're saying, and, and again, look, the first month of COVID people were staying in the office is that nobody's ever going to go back when, and I though the speed at which the design community has started to attack this problem to me is a really positive thing. And so I think, you know, to the point of how much is it going to cost and what are people going to do if groups like everybody on the phone, right? Even people listening in are already starting to try to solve this. I'm really excited to see where this ends up because we're not stuck on the problem. We're already talking about the solutions.

Dino DeFeo:

This is going to be a balance. I mean, there's going to be so many different solutions that are kind of come out of this to your point. I mean, there are a number of different ways to tackle this and whether it's you know, office space, that's spread out a little bit more, you're going to have social distancing within the office. You're going to need that office space to, in order to keep people. I mean, we used to talk about densification. We did a tremendous amount of studies about how many people we can put on a floor. You're not going to have that anymore. That's not really going to want to be what people want to do. So office space is going to be a necessity a long time. It's not going away. So it's a matter of, I guess the question came in. What do you do with the older building stock? We're going to have to figure out how to convert those buildings. So people feel comfortable again, just like after 9/11, just like after Sandy, you know, things are going to be different, but things will be, you know, we'll still need those that office space.

Joe Bates:

I want to come back to that issue and question in just a few minutes, but first Kevin, do we have any questions from the audience on the topic of the buildings that we live in our buildings that we're working in?

Kevin McMahon:

Yeah, we do. Joe. We have a couple of really good ones. The first one is about what we've been discussing. And the question is how much of the effectiveness working remotely is due to the fact that we know our colleagues. when we got put into the situation there, the audience members asking, what strategies would the panel recommend for bringing new team members into the group, collaborative culture effectively while they're working remotely?

Dino DeFeo:

I could start with that because we actually hired people pre pandemic and they started post pandemic. So it was a matter of introducing them to the people who they were going to be working with via something similar in zoom or via teams. And it's a daily and sometimes multiple times a day collaboration with them. And it's a challenge to make sure that the culture of the firm you're imparting that on new people. And we're going through something now where we're bringing EIT and interns in. So we're also working with our interns and it's again, multiple touches a day and making sure that they're, they're getting the education that, that, you know, we promise them and that they need as they go back to school. And also for the EITs that we're starting to culture and then starting to introduce the culture of our firm to them from the beginning. So you have to work with them daily, you have to make sure that they have someone who is their partner, that they can reach out to with any questions, but you have to make sure that there's a connection back to the firm consistently.

Kate Wittels:

I think, you know, we've talked about mentorship and collaboration and kind of those types of things are just going to have to happen even more so. And I think that's great, right? We, not, every firm really prioritizes mentorship and now it's going to happen and it's going to happen across offices. I think you'll actually get to know more people than you would of just the people that were within your team or on your, on your floor now. And so that's an exciting opportunity.

Peter DiMaggio:

And I think that that point that Kate has made is even more powerful if you are a very diverse spread out organization. So we have 50 offices. And so it's clearly more difficult for us when we onboard somebody now in that local office for all the challenges that come. But one of the things we've been really successful with is building a culture between offices. We've gotten very good at this kind of a call and getting to know people in the old days, what would happen is you'd be in your local office and everything would be on a voice, a conference call. And I don't know how everybody else feels, but I like it this environment so much more than the non facial conference call. And we, I think we build culture and get to know each other. So this Zoom call has been a clearly a challenge, but I think going forward, it's something we're going to use. We're talking about, you know, trying to keep the carbon footprint down, having a lot more meetings in this environment and being able to bring more people into those meetings rather than flying them from 50 places. So I think there's an opportunity to really take advantage of it.

Joe Bates:

Kevin do we have any other questions on the buildings that we work in before we move on to the buildings where we live?

Kevin McMahon:

Yeah. This is an interesting question, Joe. It's about the cost of, of the existing buildings in many cities that require retrofitting. And a lot of these retrofits may become too expensive and cost prohibitive. What will happen to these buildings?

Joe Bates:

Arathi? Do you have any thoughts on that one to start us out with?

Arathi Gowda:

I think we were talking about it or touching on it a little bit or, but I think obviously there's a lot of fun costs and we know the real estate market is, I mean, this is a, and one of the biggest financial engines and hard to move slow to move and change, but that makes, I think all of us believe that no, we are not going to abandon these, which is a good thing from a carbon sink perspective. And I think the technology is all there. And many people touched on that already in the panel, but there are a multitude of retrofits that are already starting to happen. I think at som we have a getting back to work plan. I'm sure Kate, you know, Peter has similar words, you know, we're looking at different things. How do we space out?

Arathi Gowda:

How do we have shifts? How do we have advanced filtration? How do we have flush out? How do we have twice daily cleaning? And you know, again, those aren't cost prohibitive measures for people to undertake. It's not talking about a whole a to upgrade or change. It's about how much extra outside air can we bring into this space. So and when we can in a certain space how do we socially distance more you know, and think about those other, other issues. So I think people are being very flexible, which is quite interesting as we get back into this space. And again, thinking, not build new, but how do we, how do we work with what we have, which is, is really important.

Dino DeFeo:

Yeah, the solutions are not a one size fits all. You're going to have, you know, air handler, retrofits

Speaker 6:

And upgrades that are going to be relatively inexpensive and some that are going to be very expensive to do. But, you know, let's be honest. The building stock is very expensive. Leases are very expensive. And if in order to attract people and charge the leases that you're charging, you're going to have to ensure that the occupants of the building are safe. So it's going to be probably something that is going to be demanded of landlords in order to make their building stock of value. So I think there's going to be ways to afford it. And as technology gets more affordable, it's going to be easier and easier to do.

Kate Wittels:

I also think there's going to be a lot of adaptive reuse. I mean, we're going to see, we were seeing a mix of uses that before this people wanting to live closer to where they work, people wanting to have more options. And so for some buildings that can be adapted really just because, and they can't be easily upgraded. They're going to turn into residential or they're going to turn into some other function. And that's just how we're going to continue on to live.

Joe Bates:

So what I'm hearing is we're gonna be doing a lot of retrofitting and not, not whole scale demolition of city blocks and making new buildings. It's just too expensive. I'd like to now turn to the next topic that we're going to discuss, which is the buildings in which we live, obviously we've started working from home, but what kind of w what kind of considerations are we going to have when it, when it comes to where people are living, making those buildings more healthy, especially multi-dwelling buildings RFP, do you have some thoughts on that one?

Arathi Gowda:

I think this is again, it's a, always listening for the glass is half full, but I think this is again, another opportunity in a market that's been really tough. So, I mean, when we look at the history, the historic trends of energy efficiency residential is the lowest in this country and globally even in multifamily housing. And why has the lowest energy efficiency? Well, it follows the cost. It's the lowest cost per square foot. And I think of course, right now everyone's rethinking. I mean, I personally am rethinking, why did I get that parking space when I do own a car, because I'm a greenie, why didn't I get the balcony instead? But it was resale value, right? And so those of us in cities are thinking about options like that. But I think people, again are thinking more about space gardens, other features that had people historically in the suburbs.

Arathi Gowda:

But I think it will again, drive up what the cost per square foot is that people are willing to invest. And what they're willing to invest in, which I think is very positive because they've gotten to this is the biggest investment of most Americans' lives. And it's very, very commodified in a way that's not good for health and it's not good for carbon either. So again, looking at this health and energy carbon nexus I think there's a lot that people are rethinking now. And I don't think that it's going to mean you know, an exited to the suburbs. It might be, people are looking at different kinds of cities where they can afford a little bit more space. It might be, again, it's not the parking spot anymore. It's something else. Or maybe it is the car because now I can move around. But I think people are thinking about it in a much more nuanced way than historically just bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger space, which was the, usually the driver.

Joe Bates:

Yeah. It seems like there's been this sort of initial knee jerk reaction of we're going to get outta here or we're moving out to the country. In, in my neighborhood, I live on a mountain and the Blue Ridge West of DC and four brand new houses have gone up in the last four months. So highly unusual. What, what do the rest of you think about that? You know, is this just sort of an initial reaction that people are going to leave the cities? Or are we, are we going to adapt and how?

Peter DiMaggio:

I'll jump in on that? I think one of the most interesting things about the cities and this may be, even appear off topic, but I don't think it is, is, is how much of the cultural institutions people come back to whether it's sporting events or Broadway or restaurants or bars or whatever you can think of. In a lot of ways that has been something that has drawn lots of people into the city, right? And so if that comes back and it comes back powerfully, I think you're gonna see a lot of people stay. And then that, to my original point, if people really want to spend some time in the office, they are also going to need to be, and those offices are in an urban environment. They can't really move so far to the country, which is why I think originally when we started talking about everybody's gonna move to the country, that was a knee jerk reaction to, I can work from home.

Peter DiMaggio:

If I can work from home, I don't need to be near my office. And I think people are rethinking that because they don't want to be so isolated. So I, I think it's a combination of, do you want to spend some time in your office, which I think the answer will be yes, for most people. And can we get these cultural institutions that have really, in my opinion, made our cities what they are, if we can get them up and running safely, I think you're going to see that, that draw to be in a city again, to that nine 11 quote, I think 10 years from now, we're still going to want to be in our urban environments for the same reason we want to be there now. So I think it will come back around what it looks like and how fast we get there. I'm not sure.

Dino DeFeo:

Yeah. To a, to Joe, your point about the homes being built. I've already heard a couple of stories in my area of bidding Wars for homes, which is, you know, unusual in the suburb of New York lately. I mean, we used to have that years ago, but not for quite some time. So we're starting to see that, but I, you know, I, I do, I do agree with Peter. I think you're going to start seeing people want to come back and just the, how long will that take? I mean, if we go through another pandemic, would you rather quarantine in a 500 square foot apartment without the balcony? Or would you rather quarantine in a 2,500 square foot house with a backyard? And maybe if you have a spouse who works two offices built into the house as well it's going to be a, it's going to be a little bit of a balancing act. And I think if, if you can work from the office part time, like we were talking about earlier, you might choose to move a little further away from the city, knowing that you're not doing that long commute every day. If you're doing it a couple of days a week or three days a week, you might be willing to sit on the train for longer than to, than to be close to work.

Kate Wittels:

I think this is a call for cities to work with their regional partners. There's been a long time of a us versus them, right? You want to keep the residents or the office workers on your side of the border and retain the taxes. And I think this is really now about a regional approach to to how we're going to be living. So it's not New York city. It's the New York city MSA and living in the Hudson Valley and working, you know, coming into New York city twice a week, instead of five times a week, it's all going to seem like we're all part of the same same community. And we need to work together more.

Joe Bates:

Kevin what, what questions do we have on this?

Kevin McMahon:

We have a great question that ties right into this discussion. Does the panel see more use in high rises of residential and commercial cohabitating becoming part of the same building, you know, leveraging the efficiency of elevators and heating and air conditioning systems addressing some of the panels that comment

Kate Wittels:

For, for a long time, I always was saying that office was going to become an amenity of residential and every tall office tower was going to have two floors of coworking in some sense. And you, you would subsidize that off some sort of check from your employer to work out of that for a couple of days a week, or what have you. And I think that office offering is going to be more and more offered in the residential products, especially the high rise, dense residential product. You don't have to get a bigger apartment, but you have a floor go to when you want to get away from your children.

Joe Bates:

Kate, I want to follow up with you on that one. Again, I'm, I'm sort of talking from the perspective of the DC area out in the suburbs. We have a lot of mixed use planning going on where, you know, it's required now to have retail in the bottom and apartments, condos up top. And, and the idea is that it will reduce traffic, et cetera. And it's not, you know, we're just seeing people who are, you know, they're still moving to the suburbs, but then they're working in DC and still have to commute. And there's just a lot more traffic going cross-ways every which way. You know, what are your thoughts on that?

Kate Wittels:

I think DC I mean, it's congestion, do you see as that people need to be getting out of their cars more and having more public transit options than just what the Metro is providing. Right? I think there's a example that people want to go places. We have to figure out how to get them more there, more efficiently without the congestion of single person vehicle travel.

Joe Bates:

And that's going to be a challenge, especially in the near term, at least because the CDC is saying, hey, drive, drive a solo now.

Kate Wittels:

Yeah, I think what's be interesting is bus. I think the advent of bus rapid transit and where, how we're going to be using buses differently is going to be really, really interesting.

Joe Bates:

Yeah. I saw a photo of a bus where they're, you know, they tape off various seats and the untaped seats you can sit in. So there's this weird, you know, social distancing thing going on. What do the rest of you all think on this question that Kevin proposed?

Peter DiMaggio:

I think for what it's worth from my side, I think you, you touched on one, that's absolutely critical caked in, and then you mentioned that, which is the public transportation system. And for many, many years, we said, it's going to work well, if there's a great public transportation, as far out as that goes, that's how far people will move. Right? So if the train line goes out 50 miles, people will be 50 miles out, 70 miles. And I think it's going to be really interesting to see how people respond to public transportation. The exact opposite is what's happening in our offices right now. We have 50 of them. So we have all these different kinds. The places where people drive to work are filling up very fast because they don't have to deal with that, that danger or the potential exposure. So it's an odd mix of the places where we don't have public transportation or working very well to get back in the office. I don't think that's sustainable. I think ultimately we'll figure out a way to safely transit and then, then we'll get back to where we were. But however long that takes and that's a tough challenge to, to keep the public transportation to some ways, for instance safe. That's why I think we're seeing in New York, which are very slow movement to come back to the offices.

Speaker 6:

Well, that is the issue. I mean, for, for our firm, I mean, we we've, I like all of us, we've probably sent out surveys to our staff to figure out what are some of the key drivers. And, and one of the ones that keeps coming up is public transportation. So that's why we're moving very slowly with bringing people back to New York, but our other offices are coming back much more quickly because they are suburban suburban offices for the most part they commute via or bus, or it's a little bit easier. A lot of people are in their own car. But Boston, New York, Philadelphia, where they're taking more mass transit again, it's coming back much more slowly. So we'll have to figure out how to do that safely. And and ms. Strategy is going to have to be a part of that equation.

Speaker 6:

And remember that's out of our control as office leadership, right? As, as from leadership, we know we can, we can really have pretty good control what's going on in our offices and we can work with our building management to even have pretty good control of what's going on. If we're a tenant, once you get outside of that and people control their own home environment very well. It's that piece right in the middle of that you know, Kate, you mentioned something that struck a nerve partner and you, you mentioned that on a regional level, I think we're going to have to really partner with, with the mass transit systems and the public transportation systems to, to solve this problem collectively. And I think we said it earlier, the subways have never been cleaner. I forget who mentioned it. Yeah. But you know, that's because there's not much use right now, you know, once we started having more people on the subway, so it'll be clean less frequently, there'll be more cars that are out in service at any given time.

New Speaker:

And it's going to be, again, something we're going to have to help manage, because it is a key driver to getting us to where we need to go. Yeah. I mean, there is some collectivism in here as to how we behave as a society that I think, again, it's out of our control a little bit, but I mean, not, not so much, I think individually we add up. And that's why I did say, like, if we look at our Asian friends in the beginning of this, the first question, I think how they behave in a very organized and very dense places you know, Hong Kong after SARS, they completely changed their mentality and they're in a completely different situation now. And again, it wasn't just the engineering community that responded is the public health, but it was also just the general public in terms of not having an emergency aversion to math, you know, using their elbows for buttons, if they didn't have gloves, you know, just, I think they're a little behavior modifications, as we said, that we'll all get used to.

Speaker 5:

But they do have that, you know, they've had a long mentality needed to have you know, live work half rezzy, half office towers. And you know, that wasn't necessarily a commentary like, Oh, I may about mixed use and I'll go to thing. There was a commentary about speculation in the real estate market. Like let's make sure the column spacing, the engineering can convert because we're building these cities so quickly. So I think there is something in that too. That's really it's very optimistic and it's about, you know, if we build it, people will come. And that we shouldn't, we should kind of borrow from that mentality to how do we engineer buildings that can be very flexible, you know? Kay. You had that great example too about you know, Rezi flexibility with office floors. But again, like how do we, how do we design ultimately very flexible spaces that can last a long time?

Speaker 6:

Certainly with RCI. Yeah, I was. I'm wondering if you have any specific examples you can share with us that you're aware of. You mentioned, you know, the SARS outbreak and what types of engineering changes were made, or is there anything that you, you know of that you can share with us?

Arathi Gowda:

Well, there were changes to their their wind code essentially. So they have one of the most aggressive code standards and people are following it around the world in terms of not just wins and the public realm that would blow people over, but also about contaminant control. So these are things that it's like being a good neighbor because one of the contamination points was in the vent stack of two adjacent rez buildings. So it was a plumbing stack. There was a re entry point. And so they were wondering like, it's not just a tooth, but it's also, if there's something in that vent stack going wrong, that you can contaminate amongst floors. But you know, again, it's even Peter, you had mentioned that it's, it's not just our disciplines, but there were many other responses from the public health departments, how people change their behavior. And certainly we have a very big contribution and particularly in dense environments, because there are a lot of engineering control points that could facilitate better health management

Peter DiMaggio:

Joe, to your point. I think there have been so many unbelievable advancements in fluid mechanics, which might be a strange question, but our ability to model how particulates move around and environment, and it came from the fire industry was doing work and the blast resistant design community was doing work like this ability to model really high end modeling of how people interact and how fluids interact with people really does exist today in a way that it didn't exist five years ago. So we have the capability, the question is, do we want to use it and adapt it and really go in that in that way, because I think we could really solve this problem on a technical level where at least address it in a way we couldn't previously.

Dino DeFeo:

Well, actually to that point, we are doing that already. A number of higher education institutions have reached out to talk to us about the way they use their classrooms and the placements of students with the air distribution and the air flow across those, the students in there, the people using a room so that they understand that there's a, there's a, an airflow. That's not hitting every single student. You're trying to space them out so that the separate airflows hitting separate groups of students. So you're not contaminating everybody in one shot. So you're already starting to look at the computational airflow in a, you know, in an auditorium or a classroom to see the impacts of having 10 students, 20 students, a hundred students, depending on the size of the room. So it's something that people are looking at and it's a, it's guiding their, the way they're bringing the kids back to school.

Joe Bates:

Kevin, what other questions do we have on this subject?

Kevin McMahon:

You have a question that I think impacts every business out there. It's how does the panel see the balance between densification or efficiency and hygiene? Will we be moving? We went from officers to cubes and we moved them back to offices out as the panel, see that sort of dynamic playing out?

Kate Wittels:

Well for a firm that's never had a private office. I don't see us going to private offices. So we will probably not be densifying as much anymore. And especially with a little bit of hoteling and a little bit of work from home and part time, work, home, and an office. I think it's very easy to densify and still maintain your office space or even a little bit less office space.

Peter DiMaggio:

I'll take the easy part of that question. I don't think you will see more private offices again, you know, a month and a half ago where we had older buildings, which had that we were able to get people back and then we realized, but why did they go back? Because the whole purpose of being in that office environment are at these point is to collaborate. And so I think that's the one easy one I can give you is my opinion. That's not the solution to have more people in private offices so that they can social distinction, you know, keep their air, their own environment clean. They may as well work from home at that point. So I don't know that you'll have none of them, but I don't think that's what you'll see. You're going to see people really trying to figure out how to keep their conference room safe, because that's why we go to the office.

Kate Wittels:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's a great point. It's about why are we going to the office? What are we doing at the office? Not do we need just another place to work. And it's a space spaces. They're going to be designed around those functions of collaboration and cultivating brand and selling to our clients and making employees happy and willing to, to work and stay at the company.

Arathi Gowda:

I mean, it's just you know, working at SOM we just went through a office renovation, which was quite interesting. So all of our major offices in North America are having a new office right as this was hitting, we were like, we have these beautiful spaces that we enjoy. We were all excited to go back. But I think, you know, Kate hit on this a little bit in some earlier points that you know, we all took as a value, almost less desk space and more collaborative and conferencing space. And also recognizing that it is also for us to not just be locked into our desk, only working like this, but we do a lot of you know, conferencing, more soft spaces, more areas to eat and then have more informal conversation. So, you know, Peter, your point is to how do you keep those spaces clean beyond like a, to a twice a day protocol. It's easy to do that at your desk. You know, you're just, you are wiping that, but I think it might turn into almost like a gym where you carry your towel everywhere and you wipe it down.

Arathi Gowda:

It just becomes a different office etiquette in these collaborative spaces. And we've seen that as obviously a design trend. It's a, nobody wants to see, or just always be an identified area, but everyone wants to be on the soft couch or, you know, in the sling chair in the conference room, like group thinking. So that's why people are going in and the cappuccino maker, which is far superior to anything we have at home.

Joe Bates:

Well that, that that's sort of goes to another question of those, those other shared spaces that we haven't really talked about, the kitchen, the bathroom, I was reading an article about how you can with the sort of power flushes. Now you aerosol you know, not to get too into it, but there's a health issue in the restrooms now. How do you all see addressing those communal space health issues?

Arathi Gowda:

We've started talking about that vacuum flushing, which has long been the con of the noise and it's annoying, but the aerosol is much less. We were talking about that on a recent airport. So it significantly reduces the amount of water reducing the aerosol, but for a long time, everyone was like, eh, sounds terrible, which it does, you know, but if you're in an airport and you're already used to hearing that on the plane but I think you've heard conversations. I think there's also, and again, an interesting social nexus with these conversations about gender fluidity and how do we plan? Because again, we often do our plumbing, this based on code counts. And we don't think about having more counts, you know, both for you know, for people to feel safe with gender fluidity, for mothers rooms and other things. So I think it's going to change the way we engineer and plan for these spaces to try to be not just code, but above that, you know, think about people first.

Arathi Gowda:

And how do you have, you know, an extra thing or two, and so people could be faced out, like you go into the bathroom, you don't have to be right next to someone because you just had the code minimum, you could go every other. So these are some of the things we're thinking about. And it's interesting. Cause even standards like the wells certification, or they've been asking about things like this, and now this is kinda coming up a little bit more like, how do you, how do you have more counts of these essential places to clean?

Dino DeFeo:

Yeah. I mean, you touched on it. Code was always the code minimum. And you know, when you're designing a building, you're looking at what is, what do I need to do to meet code? I think we're, we're going, we're getting to a place where we're going far beyond what code requires and what is appropriate now.

Kevin McMahon:

So we have a question that's specifically, I think it's from a designer, and the question is, can the panel discuss educational facilities and the challenge of social distancing among children with large classroom settings? What is the solution to that?

Dino DeFeo:

Well, you can social distance into classroom. I don't know if you're going to social distance in the quad and the bar and every place else the kids go. But as far as what a lot of the higher ed is looking at right now is, is limiting the class sizes. So if you had typically that you use a small classroom for a class size, you're using your medium sized classroom class size, and the medium went to a large and a large became a virtual class. So you're, you're using larger rooms for the, then the number of students that you had. My daughter is actually just entering college now and they just actually today emailed their list of what they're doing. And it's a masks are going to be required everywhere in common spaces when you can social distance. And they're looking at flushing out their HPAC systems much more often. So when you're running a school building, you're you're using, instead of ending the day at four o'clock or five o'clock and shutting the systems down, you're running it for an extra hour, with extra ventilation air to flush the building out. So there's going to be a number of techniques that they're going to be doing to in order to make sure that they can keep the spaces clean. It's just, it will be a challenge because kids don't always follow the rules as much as they probably should.

Peter DiMaggio:

I think one of the challenges will be the short term issue and then the longterm issue. And I think Dino just did a great job of talking about using very reasonable methods in the short term. The other one that we're seeing is, and as I mentioned with the offices, colleges are splitting classes. So if you have two classes a week, one time you're in the, in the class at one time, you're the remote person. So I think the next two semesters we'll see a lot of that. And the real question will be, let's say we get our hands around this virus, right? Let's say we get a vaccine. Do people go back to the way we did things previously and start packing people into classrooms? Or do we say, this is the first of many of these potential pandemics that we may have and are they all airborne and are the same solutions they are?

Peter DiMaggio:

So, you know, my, one of my partners wants to talk about the fact that we're in the fog right now, and we know some of our challenges, but the really big challenge for the designers is know you're designing a building right now and do you design it as if this isn't going to be here and we're going to solve it. And in the near term, you use social distancing and hand washing and masks. What do you say these kinds of pandemics may be coming again? And let's build something into this facility. And that's a really big challenge for the designers right now.

Arathi Gowda:

Yeah. I mean, I would, I would just add to this and I think people can tell already in the audience that I'm the engineer for a better social, social fabric, like keep making these points. But you know, this even gets back to classroom size or what we advocate for. Cause we get pushed. I think as engineers all the time to be code minimums, it's a lot of invisible things and there might be things that are very visible, like features that people want to pay for. And so there is a space in this too. There's a, a broader conversation about pedagogy and classroom size. But this moment is saying, you know, actually protect children, protect that institutional learning and have less children in a classroom that even though we're in the fog, maybe we can, we can be advocates for that after we get out of the fog.

Joe Bates:

Kevin, one last question. And then I'm going to ask everyone for some closing thoughts on this.

Kevin McMahon:

Okay. This, this question ties into the code discussion and the American Disabilities Act drove a lot of projects for all of us over the years. Does the panel see the government and different government agencies creating many more code modifications with this pandemic in all different facets of a project, you know, such as simple things like increasing the distance between bathroom facilities in the inside, the bathrooms, et cetera?

Peter DiMaggio:

I'll take a quick shot at that. I hope we don't do that. Dino alluded to it started out with, and I think Kate did also, my preference would be we go more towards a performance based design. We've thought it for seismic. We have a lot of structural engineers. So we like when the code specifies what kind of performance the building would need to have. And I think if we do see code changes, I'd love them to be performance based changes. And then you would have the engineering and the architectural societies really figure out the best way to solve that rather than mandating specific things. I personally would like to see that flexibility.

Arathi Gowda:

Yeah, I would agree. And it's, you know, going back to that was a perfect way to describe it, Peter, the fog, but we saw a similar thing with 9/11 and fire codes. And I think again, because we, we are seeing that the science is changing on what works best or not. And I also think what works best for this particular disease might not be the same as what works for flu or, or other things that we're still going to be concerned about. A performance based method would be really important versus being very reactionary to this specific instance of health concern.

Joe Bates:

So I'm going to ask the final question for each of you and Kate. I'm going to let you start us out on this one, give you a second to get your thoughts for repaired here. But so we thought we talked about a lot of things today. The, we talked about the buildings we work in, we live in public transit, educational settings. What are, what are buildings going to look like 10 years from now that we haven't included today? What are the, you know, I want you to put your crystal ball out there and tell us what's going to be standard in 10 years. That, that isn't today.

Dino DeFeo:

I think you're going to see buildings that to be much more flexible. You're gonna, I'm sorry. It was not directed towards me, but you know, I think it's going to have to be much more flexible. We've spent a lot of time. I think I started by saying, looking at energy efficiency and not so much the wellness of the people using the building. We're going to have to focus on the wellness part of the building and make sure that the occupants are, are safe and are taken care of. And it become a respite for them and not so much a place that is ready to go to, but a place they want to go to.

Kate Wittels:

I think well, I mean, it's hard to have a crystal ball. I think we're gonna, you know, adapt to new technologies and how we do it that are going to become commonplace. I mean, I think we we've changed so quickly from home, from working in the office, to working at home that I think we can change our behavior to do anything. So if we put our minds together and try to make our society better for women, whether it's climate or equity, I think we can force ourselves to have better behaviors in that sense. And so maybe it's more not about what, how the buildings will look differently, but maybe we'll have different people in the buildings and we'll be using them in a different way for betterment of our society. I hope

Joe Bates:

Peter, what do you think?

Peter DiMaggio:

I always have two words. Do you know, stole the first, which was flexibility? The second one I'll throw in is, is comfort. People are going to expect more from their buildings because they're comfortable in their home and they know they could be there. So the two things about coming to the office are first. What is your reason for being there? And I have a reason now I expect to have a view or, you know, I can open my window and get fresh air. So I think that was already coming. But I think the pressure on the design community is going to be huge to be comfortable in the office.

Joe Bates:

Arathi, I'm going to give you the last word here today. What's going to be different 10 years,

Arathi Gowda:

No pressure with all of these superstars. But I do think that to Kate's point, you know, the future, there's going to be a multiplicity. We don't know, but I mean, when do you know that we have an aging population? So health is going to continue to be top of mind. And Joe, you said it, well, that it's going to be, this is not something that we're going to forget tomorrow is going to be a generation of us being very mindful. But we also have the climate eight ball. So I think that there is in 10 years, I hope that both of these things have more of a symbiotic relationship as compared to what they've been in the past, where we've been exclusively efficiency and exclusively health. And that's been, I think, really damaging to the engineering of our buildings that it's like, it was never both when, when it was always one or so I'm, I'm pretty hopeful that we're looking at these solutions that are really quite clever and bring the costs down.

Arathi Gowda:

They become more ubiquitous. And they look at that nexus of efficiency in health. And I think there's a lot of things that are really quite exciting now, too. It's like all dirty. And everyone's talking about this filtration humidity, like very aggressively, and we've been circling the drain on that for a long time. And I think we're getting very serious right now. You know, Peter, even to your point about comfort, it's like, well, you know, we, we had because of code because of liability, but now we're getting serious in our forums about, okay, come on. Like what's, what's going to be the best thing. And I think that's the part where it's, it's really fun and geeky, and it's fun to hang out with engineers on those topics. So I'm very hopeful that people will come. What are the good conclusions?

Joe Bates:

Yeah. All right. Well, thank you to all our panelists day after he's going to have a final goodbye here for us, but earthy Peter, Kate Dino, and Kevin. Thanks for fielding those questions for us as well. Daphne back to you.

Daphne Bryant:

Thanks, Joe. And thank you for joining us today. Thank you to our panelists and our donors for making this session possible. Lots of great information and giving us something to think about. We have a short evaluation that we will send you this afternoon. So please share your experience with us and be sure to join us on July 16th for our next session funding and the new normal, have a great afternoon and stay well.

 

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