Building Communities for Nearly 80 Years

August 11, 2010

For nearly 80 years, BLDD Architects positioned itself as a community builder, not only in the marketplace, but also within the firm itself.

The design firm—with 74 employees in Decatur (its home office), Bloomington, Champaign, and Chicago, Ill.—strives to make every employee a member of a community of professionals whose talents and skills are constantly being improved. BLDD was named 2007 AIA Central Illinois Outstanding Firm of the Year for service to the profession, public service to the communities it serves, and the education and training of its employees.

“In all aspects of our professional service, we devote significant attention to the intangible building that we do,” says Steven Oliver, AIA, president of BLDD.

“Building character, respect, confidence, relationships, community spirit, and a drive for innovation are just as important as designing great buildings,” he adds.

In late 2007 BLDD formalized an unofficial policy that gave employees time off to help co-workers—and BLDD retirees—in need. Under its “Community Building Time” program, each employee is given eight hours of paid time a year to assist other employees.

Under this program, employees have:

Helped other employees address drainage problems, unusually high utility bills, and water infiltration damage in their homes.Raked leaves, mowed lawns, and shoveled snow for colleagues who were temporarily unable to.Come to the aid of co-workers whose property was damaged by violent storms, bailing out flooded basements, cutting up tree limbs that have fallen on cars and houses, and providing other disaster-related assistance.Visited employees at the hospital and helped them with everyday tasks.

BLDD picks up the cost of supplies and lunch for employees who give of their time. The firm paid for a mechanical contractor to survey the furnace and ductwork system of an employee with unusually high heating bills.

As is the case at many design firms, new intern architects at BLDD are assigned a mentor—a licensed architect, but not the intern's supervisor—to help the intern through licensure.

The difference at BLDD is that new interns are also given a friend or “buddy” of similar age who can show the newbie how to fill out at timesheet and where the coffee machine is located. BLDD friends have helped interns find living arrangements, and many BLDD friends contact their novices even before their first day. BLDD's mentoring program has contributed to more than 90% of BLDD's architectural interns becoming licensed.

BLDD devotes more than $1,000 a year per employee toward training. Last year, the firm paid for employees to attend more than 60 educational seminars and conferences. BLDD also pays 100% of the costs of the LEED AP exam, NCARB council record application fees, and AIA exams.

Interns are encouraged to attend at least one seminar or conference a year, paid for by the firm. Upon their return, attendees are encouraged to present their findings from the conference at a lunch-and-learn for the entire office. This process reinforces interns' presentation and public speaking skills, while spreading knowledge to colleagues.

BLDD also gets its interns out into the field to tour projects under construction, The project architect for each job is charged with helping interns appreciate the contractor's role and the division of labor in the field, with a focus on constructability, sequencing of trades, and the translation and use of drawings in the field. BLDD interns report that these hands-on tours have helped them better understand how to approach the detailing of buildings.

BLDD University, the firm's in-house academy, organized more than 40 AIA/CES-approved lunch-and-learn sessions at BLDD offices in 2008, with an average of 50% or more of the architectural staff in attendance. Partly as a result of these sessions, the firm made significant changes to its master specifications and has adopted new materials and products for use in its projects.

Every BLDD employee must develop a personal and professional business plan to set goals. These are reviewed with the employee's manager quarterly.

A number of BLDD employees have been able to move up over the last few years thanks to this feedback. A project architect became the firm's director of specifications (a new position), and an administrative assistant was given a part-time position as BLDD's marketing assistant. Individual staff members also have been able to align themselves with market-sector groups in the various offices, thus fulfilling their career passions. — Jeff Yoders, Senior Associate Editor

 
Additional Benefits at BLDD Employees can work four 10-hour days a week and have Fridays off. BLDD has had its own rock group, Ted Crispy and the All Vegetable Band, since 1986; three of the four original “Veggies” are now principals of the firm. Interns are paid time-and-a-half for work beyond 40 hours a week. Annual profit-sharing bonuses for all employees based on tenure and performance. 5-10% pay increase for earning professional licensure. CPR and First Aid training offered. No mandatory retirement age.