Architecture firm StudioGC, Autodesk, University of Illinois team on 'boot camp'

May 26, 2009 |

CHICAGO [May 26, 2009] With the architectural and construction industry flattened by the economy, college recruiting fairs these days provide little for students beyond a lesson in futility. With no jobs to provide, recruiters can only extend encouraging words, a firm handshake and a promotional trinket.

That was apparent at the annual School of Architecture job fair held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last March. Only half of the recruiters from previous years attended.

But one downtown Chicago architectural firm opted to do more. StudioGC Architecture + Interiors, uses the virtual, 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) platform Revit to design new schools, village halls, libraries and police stations. Throughout the month of June, it will offer to UIUC architectural students a one-of-a-kind opportunity: boot camp.

No five-mile runs at this boot camp

Unlike most boot camps, this one won’t feature a screaming drill instructor and Reveille at 0500 hours. These recruits, instead, will begin their day at 8 a.m. with yoga. Then they’ll plop down beside a row of laptops for an intensive BIM design workshop like no other.

Beginning June 1, StudioGC will host a month-long immersion in advanced Revit, the virtual, 3D modeling platform that is rapidly making 2D drawings obsolete.

“As we prepared for this year’s UIUC job fair, we knew that we had neither jobs nor internships to offer,” explains StudioGC founder, Michael Gilfillan, AIA. “Two summers ago, we employed a dozen interns,” he says. “This summer, we only have two.”

For 16 years, StudioGC has enjoyed a friendly relationship with the University of Illinois’ School of Architecture. Gilfillan and firm partner, Patrick Callahan, AIA, are both UIUC alums. As a rite of spring, they make the 160-mile trek to Champaign each year to recruit students for summer internships; many have advanced to become full-time staff. 

Given the economy’s woes, however, this year would be different. Together, Gilfillan and Callahan sought to create something unique for students, but also beneficial to the firm, formerly known as Gilfillan Callahan Nelson Architects. 

“Understanding the economic situation and lack of opportunities, we wondered, ‘How can we give these students real-world skills, without it costing us a lot in resources?,’” Gilfillan recalls. “We owed it to them to come up with an alternative.”

That alternative would be an opportunity for students. The annual job fair, they reasoned, would be the ideal forum to identify UIUC architectural students highly proficient in Revit. The boot camp concept poses a win-win situation: students get advanced Revit training, and the firm gets a close-up look at its future employees. 

“Once the economy gets back on its feet,” says Gilfillan, an optimist, “we’ll be looking at a mountain of new work.” The industry will look a lot different when we come out of the recession, he adds, and strong 3D modeling capabilities will be essential for business survival.

Freedom Tower first of many buildings designed in Revit

BIM represents a quantum leap in the technological tools used to design and construct buildings. Until the millennium, architects knew very little about BIM…until it was revealed that the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan would be designed exclusively in

Revit. Sensing this technological shift, StudioGC was among the first public architects in Chicago to take on its steep learning curve.

The architects of tomorrow, Gilfillan explains, will use Revit technology exclusively to design buildings, along with corresponding electrical, mechanical and plumbing infrastructures. The south Loop firm has already demonstrated its mastery with Revit, completing dozens of multi-million dollar projects in BIM.

Revit’s powerful calculators use algorithms to extract information from computer-generated models, bringing incredible accuracy to the entire design process. The result is pinpoint-accurate construction documents, which eliminates the customary 15% in construction waste. The data-rich, virtual models can be mined to generate other vital information—like calculating future energy usage, and forecasting the amount of construction materials needed—down to the last gallon of paint.

The result is a virtual prototype of the building in the computer.

The boot camp experience will be led by StudioGC Design Director Scott Delano, a Revit expert and former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee architectural instructor. Delano and other instructors will lead students in Revit exercises in the morning. After a brief lunch, students will assist StudioGC staff as part-time, paid interns.

Student assignments will include creating various design templates, as well as a Revit database of standard components—both time-consuming tasks for staff architects. The course ends with a Revit proficiency test and a 10-hour community service component.

Autodesk to join the boot camp experience

To flatten its own steep, BIM learning curve, the design firm has worked alongside vendor Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD® and Revit®, to learn the nuances of the platform. This long-term relationship made it only natural to involve Autodesk in the boot camp. The company produces a student version of its Revit software—available for free to college students—as well as to 14 Chicago public high schools.

“As soon as we heard about this boot camp, we wanted to be part of it,” says AutoDesk Territory Manager Alex Severino. His company will provide books, training manuals, and trainers for the student sessions. “StudioGC has been a leader in the Chicago architectural and engineering industry, since it made the full migration in 2005 from AutoCAD to the Revit platform,” he adds. 

According to vendor, the boot camp will give these newest recruits a considerable advantage over their peers when the design and construction industries begin to hire. “You have to expose students to the real world that they’ll be entering,” he explains. “Most traditional architectural internships take place after graduation, so this experience will be quite unique.”

Even more noteworthy, he says, is StudioGC’s “evangelizing” of the merits of Revit to everyone with whom it comes in contact. “They get it,” Severino says of Mike Gilfillan and Pat Callahan. “Both have been urging their clients and external supply chain vendors—essentially their engineering consultants and contractors—to make the investment, and join them on this platform.” 

UIUC collaboration

Last winter, StudioGC approached UIUC School of Architecture Director David Chasco, AIA, and Assistant Professor Carl Lewis with their boot camp vision. Seeing firsthand the dwindling number of job recruiters and summer internship opportunities for students, both were immediately sold.

“It’s certainly a good thing when a profession takes this kind of interest in our University of Illinois students,” says Lewis, who also serves as the school’s career services coordinator. “And Mike Gilfillan and Pat Callahan have long been important friends of ours around here.”

When the firm suggested a boot camp made up of only Chicago-area students because of its downtown location, Lewis suggested that StudioGC tap partial funding available from the Illinois Cooperative Work Study Program, a state-funded resource created in 1991 to encourage job training. This would help StudioGC to defray some of its workshop costs.

Upon its thorough screening of 50+ well-qualified UIUC students at the job fair, StudioGC extended boot camp invitations to these eight: Christina Collet, graduate student, McHenry; Daniel Martin, senior, Arlington Heights; Maria Nikolovski, junior, Naperville; Jacob Oostema, junior, Oak Forest; Fadi Salem, senior, Chicago; Christiana Symeonides, graduate student, Burr Ridge; Caroline VanAcker, junior, Palatine; and Kimberly Wiskup, graduate student, North Aurora.

Building upon the foundation

Lewis particularly likes StudioGC’s interest in providing an advanced, hands-on Revit workshop to students—beyond the school’s resources and what UIUC instructors can offer due to the school’s wide-based architectural program.

“We offer to our students a broad-ranged, holistic curriculum of architecture study,” Lewis explains. StudioGC’s ability to offer an advanced, hands-on Revit training workshop, he says, allows UIUC students to pick up where their college training leaves off.

“I tell them to have faith in the quality of their education, but to also understand that they have to create opportunities for themselves,” he adds. “This Revit boot camp will allow them to do just that.”

Established in 1992, StudioGC Architecture+Interiors (formerly Gilfillan Callahan Nelson Architects) is a 30-person firm headquartered in downtown Chicago. Its suburban studio is located in Rolling Meadows. As a community architect, the firm specializes in the Building Information Modeling (BIM) platform Revit. Its portfolio includes schools, libraries, municipalities, park districts and private sector projects. 



Joe White

Marketing Director

StudioGC architecture+interiors

(formerly Gilfillan Callahan Nelson Architects)

223 West Jackson Boulevard, Suite 1200, Chicago, IL  60606

phone: (312) 253-3400

cell: (847) 343-8218

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