L ord, Aeck & Sargent, a 156-employee architectural firm with offices in Atlanta, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chapel Hill, N.C., has been serving clients in scientific, academic, historic preservation, arts and culture, mixed-use, and multifamily housing markets since 1942.
One of the first architectural practices to offer an AIA-registered continuing education program, the firm established its Lord, Aeck & Sargent University in 1993. LASU is overseen by a six-member advisory board consisting of the firm's manager of professional development, its human resources manager, and four of the firm's principals.
Participation in LASU programs has grown steadily, says Daniel Schumm, manager of professional development. In 2000, 18 classes were offered, with an average of nine credit hours per employee. Last year, the firm provided 109 classes, with more than 2,700 attendees averaging nearly 23 learning units per student; 59% of these classes qualified for health, safety, and welfare credits. The top 70% of students, who represent longer-term and typically technical staff, averaged nearly 43 credit hours, not including external classes, seminars, or workshops.
The goal of LASU is to offer a solid continuing education program that benefits all employees and strengthens profitability. The LASU curriculum has a mandatory core program that offers orientation and an overview of the firm's standards and norms. The remaining courses, at which attendance is voluntary, provide a well-rounded curriculum that covers design (“University of West Florida: Advanced Schematic Design”), process-oriented programs (“Construction Administration Contract Duties, Norms, and Forms”), building technology (“Solar Energy: Systems and Applications of Heating Water Using Solar Energy”), leadership (“Ethics in Professional Architectural Practice”), and tools (“Using Sketchup as a Preliminary Design Tool”).
Classes are offered in a variety of formats—lectures, roundtable discussions, user groups, project/construction site tours, and online as well as instructor-led interactive computer-based courses. The firm also offers offsite, full-day leadership development programs for associates and principals.
Most classes are taught by internal staff experts, and the firm's principals are all required to instruct. LASU also uses outside experts to serve as instructors—specification experts, professors from local architecture schools, fire marshals, structural and mechanical engineers, commissioning agents, building condition assessors, vibration- and acoustic-control technicians, and sustainability consultants.
Schumm says that having the principals—including Larry Lord, FAIA, Antonin (Tony) Aeck, FAIA, and Terry Sargent, AIA—teach classes bolsters “knowledge building” within the firm and ensures that the LASU's goals stay aligned with those of the firm. Having the principals in the classroom also keeps the firm's leadership directly connected to the professional development of the staff and gives the staff exposure to what other studios and groups in the firm are doing.
Lord, Aeck & Sargent University is managed with the aid of a sophisticated online system that enables employees to enroll in classes, review past classes and materials, and monitor transcripts online. Data is tracked for a minimum of six years, thus enabling the LASU Board to evaluate trends and identify areas where improvement is needed. Detailed reports are easily generated for the firm, studio, local office, or individuals. The system even tracks incidental expenses, such as lunches, manuals, and transportation. A feedback survey module allows continuous evaluation of course quality, instructor skills, and program effectiveness, says Schumm.
Given this long-standing commitment to lifetime learning, it is not surprising that, in 2007, the American Institute of Architects singled out Lord, Aeck & Sargent to receive the national AIA/CES Award for Excellence. As one juror said, “This is a comprehensive, serious, and laudable program, exemplary in all respects.”
Green through and through
As a firm, Lord, Aeck & Sargent can claim a long-standing commitment to the design of high-performance, environmentally responsible architecture, with a portfolio of green building projects that spans 20 years. Recent projects include the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute Buildings A (LEED Gold) & B (LEED Platinum), designed in collaboration with Gould Evans; the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center (LEED Gold); and the Southface Energy Institute's Eco Office (seeking LEED Platinum). This last project was recognized by the EPA's 2007 Energy Star Challenge for Architects, earning the year's only perfect score of 100.
The firm designated 2007 “The Year of Sustainability,” and kicked it off with a keynote address by Edward Mazria, AIA, at the company's annual retreat. Mazria, the architect behind Architecture 2030 and the 2030 Challenge, has become the chief public voice for the link between the built environment and global climate change.
Lord, Aeck & Sargent adopted the 2030 Challenge in February 2007, making it one of the first architectural firms in the country to do so. The 2030 Challenge calls on the global building sector to immediately reduce energy usage by 50% in new buildings and major renovations, with the ultimate goal being to design completely carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030.
In addition, Lord, Aeck & Sargent has partnered with Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit organization working to reduce carbon emissions, for the purpose of making the firm's operations carbon neutral. The firm is also buying only green office supplies, reducing travel for meetings, expanding its office recycling program, using compact fluorescent lighting, and encouraging its clients to take similar measures.
To fine-tune its green operations, the firm selected 22 staff members to participate on two task forces:
The “How We Live” task force was charged with greening the company's daily operations. A draft Green Operations Plan was developed, addressing office operations, office renovations, staff training, employee recruiting/benefits/retention, and marketing. In addition to advocating the partnership with CarbonFund.org, the task force recommended LEED certification for future office expansions. As a result, the soon-to-be completed expansion in the Atlanta office is pursuing LEED-CI certification.
Some 38 staff members, nearly one-fourth of the firm's technical employees, have attained LEED Accredited Professional status. The task force also encouraged the in-house continuing education program to sponsor a minimum of one in-house learning session on sustainability per month—a target that was more than doubled.
The “How We Practice” task force was charged with mainstreaming green design across all of Lord, Aeck & Sargent's studios and offices. At the end of 2007, the task force drafted High Performance Design Norms that parallel the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system, with the addition of a sixth category to address post-occupancy.
Walking the line on Atlanta's BeltLine
Over the last few years, Lord, Aeck & Sargent has made its biggest community commitment to Atlanta's BeltLine, a development project that will create green space, trails, transit, and new development along 22 miles and 3,000 acres of abandoned railroad right-of-way that encircles Atlanta's downtown and midtown areas. Working with Georgia Tech students, Lord, Aeck & Sargent developed the BeltLine's street framework plan pro bono. The master plan, which will connect disparate pieces of land to existing neighborhoods in a unified fashion, has been incorporated into the BeltLine Overlay District in the city's zoning ordinance.
Leading the effort for Lord, Aeck & Sargent was David Green, AIA, LEED AP, a principal of the firm and an adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Architecture. Green and his Georgia Tech students designed street plans and grids for several areas that will one day become neighborhoods along the BeltLine. In recognition of his work, Green was award a “Golden Shoe Award” from PEDS, an Atlanta advocacy group dedicated to making Atlanta safe and accessible for pedestrians.
— Cheryl Cullen, Contributing Editor