Design Vault Ep. 31 Brendan Iribe Center with Simon Trumble (2024)


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Doug Pat (DP)

Let's go inside the vault. The design vault.

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Simon Trumble (ST)

It was a building that was not fully confined. However, we put on ourselves the fact that we are in a neo Georgian campus. And how do we want to think about it? We've pushed the lines on that. But the handful of elements that come together from that in these neo Georgian buildings are always the white columns, the brick is used, it's on the floor, and then it turns up the walls and places and it becomes the auditorium itself and the campus and the buildings spin around it. The auditorium is the anchor from which everything works.

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This is my guest, Simon Trumbull. I'll share more about him shortly in this episode from the Design Vault, which highlights Simon's project, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering in College Park, Maryland. The Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering in College Park, Maryland, is designed for work in virtual and augmented reality computer vision, robotics and computing platforms.

The university describes the new building as a reimagined kinetic hub for the campus. The building is both inwardly and outwardly focused, connecting the university with a new innovation district and is easily visible from its prominent location. The dynamic building plan is comprised of two main components: a six story instructional and research space, and a 300 person auditorium joined by a connector.

The main feature of this building is a large glass facade characterized by an inventive curtain wall system that controls solar gain while creating the optical illusion of movement. Interestingly, the campus architecture happens to be deeply rooted in a classical neo Georgian architectural tradition. For this reason, Brick was used in a number of ways as common wall sections and knee walls, parametrically modeled wall patterns and as the main exterior feature of the Antonoff Auditorium.

Hi, I'm Doug Pat and this is Design Vault. Simon was educated in the United States, Mexico and Italy and holds a Bachelor of Design and Master of Architecture from the University of Florida. He's currently a design principal at HDR with a career spanning almost three decades.

His experience extends across an array of large scale technology, intricate projects that span the globe. Among the many buildings Simon has been involved with, he's been the lead project designer on jobs such as the Inova Center for Personalized Health Research Building in Falls Church, Virginia, the USACE’s Baltimore district East Campus Building Four in Fort Meade, Maryland. The USACE’s Baltimore District Defense Intelligence Agency Headquarter Annex Command and Control Facility in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

And the project we'll discuss today, the Brendan Iribe Center in College Park, Maryland. At the core of his design philosophy lies the art of distilling complexity to its essentials. He's committed to capturing clear, simple and adventurous ideas, developing them into refined design solutions for technologically demanding building types. Simon is a registered architect, LEED accredited professional and a member of the AIAA.

So welcome Simon, it's nice to have you with us today. So tell us a little bit about HDR. Now I know it's a large office. Where is the office that you're located? What's the size of the firm? How long has it been around and what type of work do you do?

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HDR has been around since 1917. We're a very old engineering backed company and it started out in Omaha. The office I'm in, we like to call it the Washington DC office, but really we're in Arlington, so pre-Civil War, we would have been DC. At that time, in 1917, the engineering based company Hennessy, H.H. Hennessy was the leader of the office and it started out as a water and electrical service to that area of the country, grew from there to add civil and then architecture services around the thirties and then really bloomed in the fifties to around the time 1700 or so employees. Today we’re in countries around the world.

We're about 200 plus offices and I think about 12 and a half thousand employees with still the largest aspect of it being the engineering company, transportation, aviation, full services architecture is about 15 to 20% of the company. And in general, because of this engineering background, because of this engineering focus, we stick mainly to very technical, sophisticated engineering, heavy buildings, and hence why you see some of the work that we have.

It's a particular focus. Health care isabout 45%, 43% of the work we do in general. And then science and technology picks up about 20%. And then from there it's a plethora of different types of work, again with an engineering bias to that particular work.

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And yet these are really beautiful buildings. I drive by the Penn Pavilion once a week down in the city. You guys design that, right, that big red curvilinear building?

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Yes, that goes way back. Actually.

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It's stunning.

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Yeah. The office has really made a push over the last 20 years to bring how we think about buildings, the idea of buildings to the forefront. Because when you start thinking about the engineering aspects of building, it's very straightforward. These are the issues, these are the facts. Here's how we develop it. But when you bring architecture, you bring a bit of poetry to it.

How do we want this to operate? How do we want this to provide for the future? How do we want people to work within it? Iribe’s a great example of that, how that comes together, both for the campus, for the facility, and then, you know, for the client itself.

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Yeah, it's a beautiful building. So to back up a second here. So I said you've been practicing as an architect for almost three decades, but 30 years we kind of laughed about that. Tell us how you ended up at HDR and what kind of experience do you have before that? And currently at HDR, if there was a before that.

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It's an interesting story. I'd like to call myself a retread because when I came out of school I joined a company called Cooper-Lecky and Cooper-Lecky is fairly famous for having worked with Mylan to do the Vietnam Memorial. Kent Cooper was Saarinen's project architect on the Dulles Airport. So he comes through that lineage of things and they ended up doing the other one that people might know is the Korean Memorial.

They were the project architects doing that, again, coming out of Vietnam. That company got bought out by another company called CUH2A. CUH2A today became the sort of S&T backbone to HDR. So there had been a purchase there in between that time. I spent about five or six years with Smith Group here in DC. So it's interesting because all of that ties together, at Smith Group I was mainly focused on workplace buildings downtown DC, renovation down to the National Cathedral. There was an 18 car underground bus parking terminal. Another thing. So again, almost every engineering background type building for that, it's a beautiful installation. If you go there today, you have no idea that there's about 18 busses parked below ground there and 550 cars or so parked there.

So, you know, I come out of things like that. The Constitution Center, which was the renovation of the largest office building in DC, again with Smith Group. And then I came back to CUH2A which became HDR and have been here ever since.

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You're clearly enjoying it.

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Yes, but apparently I'm getting old.

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You don't think so until you look in the mirror in the morning.

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Right. Exactly.

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So let's dig in here and talk about the project. How did your office get the project?

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Well, so this is even a stranger one. The head of design for HDR Brian Kowalchuk had been called to come to the university. We had done the physics building on the university. I was the lead designer on that one as well. And they had a donor or possible donor in Brendan Iribe, and they wanted to talk through ideas for what's possible.

So Brian met with Brendan on and off for about a year, doing designs and talking through projects and design ideas for how to do a project and to get Brendan excited and focused on helping the university. At the time, this is back in 2016, Brendan then decided to give the university a donation to build this university or build a school.

He gave them a $31 million donation and Michael Antonoff I don't remember the number, but I think it was around $5 or 6 million also donated and it was about the time that interest then passed away from a bicycle accident. So all of this kind of came together. Brendan had been invited back. He had just finished designing Oculus goggles and was fresh off of selling this to Facebook in 2014 for the small sum of $2 billion.

And this is 2014. So the university, of course, very happy to talk with him, invited him back. He, Andrew Reisse came back to the university and took a tour and realized that this was the same computer science facility that they had gone to when they were students years ago. No difference, no changes, no upgrades. And matter of fact, he ended up using a restroom that was broken that they tried to stop him from using, but he needed to use the restroom.

He just couldn't believe the state of the facilities. And here Silicon Valley is drowning in money and in need of high quality students. So he and Andrew Reisse looked at each other and said, Well, how much can it cost to build a school? We should do something about this. And he was thinking $2 million or so, $4 million, but ended up giving $31 million and talking others into it when this all came around, everybody was so excited to do this.

The teachers had gotten together and donated $1,000,000. I'd never heard of this before. The teachers got together and pulled money. Brendon's mom put in a million or so out of her own pocket. He talked other friends into giving a little bit here and there, and when the state saw this, the state was very, if somebody is putting up money, they'll back it.

So they came in and this basically turned the wheels and made it all happen. And then the university found a site and that was really what kicked us off. Brendan wanted to bring Silicon Valley to the east. And how do you do that?

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Well, it's pretty impressive. You know, my wife went to school there many years ago and that campus needed a lot of work. This whole neo Georgian thing stylistically, you know, there was a lot to be done there. And recently we've had some friends’ children who are going to school there. And they said the campus is spectacular. When I saw the images your building, I was blown away.

I mean, they're really doing some beautiful architecture there.

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The architecture around that campus has really taken leaps forward, not just our building, but some of the other buildings are coming around there. We're sort of in the tech and innovation part of campus. They've designed different zones and they still have their historic core that neo Georgian architecture, fundamentally that underpinnings of neo Georgian still there. And that's affected our building as well.

How we think about it, white columns, brick walls. But what we did was sort of a blended reality. We've pushed and pulled these pieces together and we've created an inside outside that most previous neo Georgian buildings don't really have. You go to classrooms and then, you know, dispel knowledge to each other. But you can turn and look and you go from seeing the blackboard, so to speak, to seeing the outside, this is the old traditional way of teaching, used to sit under a tree and have a discussion.

So we go back to those times, even though today we're in VR headsets and using technology at a different level.

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That's a great analogy. So let's back up a little bit. Tell us a little bit about the site. How did they find room on campus for this building?

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Well, the university decided on the site at the front of the campus, and when they did, they said what we want to do is design a gateway building.

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Is this down on Route one?

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This is right off of Route one near the old guard gate. So there's a guard gate that has been moved into position previously. If you see the two in scale, one absolutely just devours the other, One said a person scaled, the other is a six story building with, you know, 16 foot floor to floor. It's in a 25 foot first floor.

So we're talking about a very large space. But they wanted to create a gateway to the campus. That was the charge from the university. The charge from Brendan was how do we unlock the emotion of these students? And then the charge from, so to speak, ourselves is how do we create a knowledge hub, a place where everybody wants to come, they want to stay, but they want to exchange information.

You really learn better one on one that you do sitting with the teacher. It's when you start teaching each other that you really learn. And so we're bringing all these charges together. The campus had given us an old parking lot site, the parking lot for the previous computer science building. It's still there, by the way, but the parking lot for that building.

And when we got the site, started looking at it and started to do designs across US 1 is a new innovation hub that's being built, sort of partnerships with businesses. And then the other side from our site is the old campus, the heart of the campus. So we kind of created a building that essentially was a line that bent from the grid of the campus, looking back into the heart of the innovation campus, looking to the new innovation hubs that are coming.

And that has basically a view to them. We call those the reset zones. These are almost free spaces, but they're knowledge exchange spaces that happen vertically up the building. And those two sides. One of the other things we did was towards that entrance of campus. The building rides us up. It does that for two reasons. It's on columns.

It floats above the landscape, but it's really two reasons for it. Half of that land they gave us is a flood plain, couldn't build on it. So we have a fairly large program and all of a sudden we have half the site, literally half the site. We had to be a little bit inventive about it. And so the core of the building sits over that flood zone and, you know, serendipity to that, that space is also one of the sort of gathering hubs that people come to. Now. It's almost like being under the shade tree. They use it for events that students break out into that space and that breakout space flows into the building where there is also a little bit of a stadium seating zone that just provides these different types of environments where people can decide where they want to go, how they want to focus and use it for different types of events.

The whole ground floor is designed to be explored and used for different scale either university events, private events, and it's used all the time on that floor too. But facing the gatehouse. So facing the entrance of campus, so to speak, are the High Bay labs. And those High Bay labs are in basically open glass areas. They've got robotics.

They're doing, say, unmanned aircraft type things. They've got huge doors. They can bring in vehicles, whatever they might be doing in those, there's about four or five of them and they're 24 hours a day. So at night, there are lanterns and guideposts for the campus itself and for the students to both come and see what's going on. But a reminder, the University of Maryland is doing things and going places. It's alive.

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So I'm curious. We'll talk a little bit about the building stylistically. So it's clearly contemporary. Did you have any directives regarding style when you got started? Did they say, Hey, we definitely want a contemporary building with all of these neo Georgian pieces of architecture around.

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The campus Master Plan, which is one of the better master plans I have seen and I've worked with. I'm sure there's some others, but it's quite brilliant, you can go download it for yourself. It's a great example of how to do things. Has defined certain areas as historic and historic buildings that you need to stay within context with and other areas as moving beyond that historic into a we'll call it a new historicism, for lack of a better word, because this was the new gateway and because of where it stands, it was a building that was not fully confined.

However, we put on ourselves the fact that we are in a neo Georgian campus and how do we want to think about it? We've pushed the lines on that, but the handful of elements that come together from that in these neo Georgian buildings are always the white columns. We walk through our building, it's all white columns in there, and then places those white columns go from standing very simply straight up to being pulled and leaning as they face the future and the future campus growth.

And that's kind of how we thought about it. The brick is used. It's on the floor, and then it turns up the walls and places and it becomes the auditorium itself. And the auditorium spins. It's almost a rock in the river and the campus and the buildings spin around it. The landscape spins off of that rock. The auditorium is the anchor from which everything works.

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And we'll talk about that in just a second. So I'm curious about the project restrictions. So you guys clearly had a flood zone issue. What were the zoning requirements? You talked a little bit about historical requirements and then the university versus the client. How did you guys work within all that and how long did it take to kind of meet all of those directives before you were building?

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So this is about a one year design process. So if we say we spend about a year in discussions to think about the building to really work through developing a program that made sense for both the building and the campus, and then to then develop and work with the site, because once we found out actually that it was half the site was gone, there was a lot of discussion of other sites.

And so we actually did some test fits and some design work for sites across the street, for sites in the green space that's there, argued heavily that we should not be touching that site, that green space should be seen as sacred to the campus. Everything should support it and surround it. And we came back to our site and had to think inventively about how to deal with this floodplain.

And I think once we started to anchor onto that, the two computer science buildings really working around a courtyard again, it's a courtyard that's blended into our building and it started to make a lot of sense. There were other issues: the power needs for the building, the water control, for the building. So there's a lot of other things that happen.

Parking areas got cut off, so circulation and access needed to be developed. But we went through all of these different challenges in isolation with the goal of creating the building where it is as a gateway and the building where it is in relationship to the other campus computer science buildings.

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So the building plan is really unique. And when I was reading about this building, it mentioned parametric digital modeling. So you clearly use computer modeling for the form of this building and plan. And then ultimately for at least one of the facades on the interior, one of the walls and the interior.

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We use it in a couple of ways. The brick itself is actually laid out using parametric tools. I'll explain that a little bit more. The brick on the Antonoff Auditorium, the plan arrangement, it's 22 different curves to make that elliptical shape for the auditorium. The auditorium shape comes out of some of the acoustic design for the room. So it's a visual classroom more than it is a traditional auditorium.

So there are huge screens up there. So the visual access, as well as the stadium kind of seating for that used a little bit. And I say just a little. The majority of that was used for the wall panels to design the wall panels that are inside, and those take cues, The University of Maryland's mascot is the Terrapin turtle.

And so the diamonds on the shape of the back of that turtle were used as a kind of kickoff cue for how we did the wall panels inside. That is a sort of Chevron shape that cascades curves and wraps around that auditorium on the inside.

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Wow. That's a really neat idea. So how does a contractor lay out a building plan with all of those ellipses? How does that work?

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Really interestingly, there was a lot of discussion early on that we would go from Rhino to construction straight forward. So there are bent and curved steel tubes. There was a lot of discussion with the contractor that they would literally do almost a CAD cam type of situation just using the electronic design drawings to go and construct the building.

However, they did more of a hybrid with that. So we have curved steel studs backing up that brick and those curved steel studs are designed straight from the computer, so then they are shaped and placed, a more regularized steel frame, although it has some curvatures as well, also coming straight from the computer. And so those are brought together in order to then layout the auditorium and then to provide backup for the brick and then to work from there.

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Wow, what a great way to do it. The only way to do it.

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It's doable otherwise. But the reality is the time to do it today is not the same. And you would shy away from doing certain things because it'll take too long. We have 22 different curves. You might break that down to five or four and you have two different corners and work from there with the gentler bend. It doesn't make sense, but when you see it in plan, the auditorium itself warps in order to allow the courtyards to re match up from the old computer science building to the new computer science, and then to have a staircase that wraps up to a second floor terrace from which you can access the second floor of the main building.

But you also have this garden space. Again, we talk a little bit about nature and the studies looking at the screen and then being able to go outside. In nature, we have three gardens, we have the great gardens, we have the rooftop on the second floor garden, and then we actually have another garden on the very rooftop called the Reisse Park.

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And that was a gift, so to speak, from Brendan Iribe and Andrew Reisse to their buddy who had passed away. And it's got a little gallery up there as well as a garden space, then gives to the campus now, one of the greatest views that they could possibly have, and that gets used all the time for donor meetings, special guests, what have you.

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So what was the CAD program that you guys used? Was it Revit?

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Our backbone for everything is Revit. On the design side, our backbone has become Rhino and then grasshopper scripting in there to do some of the algorithmic work that we have. So just getting back to the curvature of the brick, because we have a curve in plan, but we also have a curve in section, that brick is skinnier or together it's closer together at the top than it is in the middle.

It's a belly in the middle and so the layout, the curves, what we wanted to do is to not have a bunch of cut brick. And of course we have to have every 30 feet or so an expansion for the brick. And so the expansion is laid up, tied together with the curves, but tied together with the brick module so that the brick module is defined such that we have a half brick or a whole brick throughout those curvatures along the section.

So that's where using grasshopper scripting a little algorithmic work helps to do something that I don't think we could normally do without a tremendous amount of planning work.

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Yeah, I would imagine the coordination on the job was really something else. So how many people were on the team and you were clearly leading it? Were there a number of PMs or 1 PM or how did it work?

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There was a PM and an Assistant PM. We talked for a while about separating the main building from the auditorium itself. The auditorium was almost a project on its own, I think that got debated about above my pay grade and rejected. I still think it might have been the right way to go with about five designers, I would say working on the building, both interior exterior and the auditorium.

We have some specialty spaces within the building. We have about four project architects and three interior designers working on it. So what would we end up with there? 12 or 15 people or so working on the project fairly consistently and then pulling in some folks to help with a couple of gurus and scripting algorithmic design that really help.

And you know, we have another layer in that brick facade, which is a sort of design element playing up, really showing algorithmic design work in there. It's almost like as if somebody break the bricks and they pull and they fall back into the wall. They almost look like they're falling out, wind blown and in movement. This is in the auditorium and it's a little design feature, really showing off algorithmic design.

You really wouldn't notice the fact that the curvatures had to be figured out that way or the wood paneling had to be figured out that way. Doesn't show that this was a way of really showing and playing with the tool, but using regular brick.

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So none of the bricks were custom.

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None of the bricks are custom.

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Unbelievable. And how many different Glen-Gery bricks did you guys use?

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The original is a mix of three different bricks, but it's basically a neo Georgian mix and it's the campus mix that they've had on that campus. The brick was a big debate because when we started to think about this sort of rock in the landscape, we played around with a lot of different materials and we were looking at metal, we were looking at stone, we're looking at precast.

There was other ways to think about it. We started to come back to a precast brick and we came back to regular brick masonry construction done the original way. We have some brick lintels up there that are about 3 to 4 feet big. Those were, if you want, really custom detailing to pull that off. But in general, it's the Georgian mix for the campus and it made sense to anchor the campus in its history, so to speak.

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Excellent. So did you guys learn anything interesting or new? Was there something that came up for you that was like, wow, this is something I've never dealt with before?

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The curve on the Brick was a lot of debate. When we worked on this early. We looked at the egg sitting in the landscape and we were thinking of that egg. The curvature is both in the bottom as well as the top. And we spoke with a lot of brick experts on doing I'll call it the counter curve, the bottom half of that curve.

And in that discussion, we would have to use seismic anchors to really hold the back. And there was a lot of discussion about whether we really have to invite quibbling into this or if we could follow the curvature of the bell. At the end of the day, I think we chickened out just a little bit. We took it, I'll call it from the belly line straight down and from the belly line above as the curve.

Our thought was within the auditorium. We could light that bottom space, so we'd put a curved light at the base and really have that belly kind of light up. And so the egg would sort of glow from the base. We do have that at the top as well. It solved a lot of other little issues that you say. So it took the detailing down a notch.

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I'm sure. As you're talking about all this masonry, Do you guys ever have any challenges finding the right mason?

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I would say yes. What's happening today? I'll call it The Art of Work. And this is maybe a product of us as architects, us as a building system. We want less craftsmen and more builders, I’ll use the word we. The old days of craft is really moved to the factory more now than it is in the field.

We don't allow that in the field. We don't have control of it in the field. We're not sure about it in the field. And so I think finding brick masons who can do this in the field is a really difficult job. That's what scares us off from doing it more than anything else. And that's what drives the cost up a little bit more than anything else.

At the end of the day, it's a simple job. It's a job that requires precision. The precision part is what's difficult, not that the job is difficult.

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Very interesting. Yeah, I ask that of everyone. I think it's probably 75 / 25%. In my experience, it's really challenging to find a great mason, somebody that can do a good job. They don't need a whole lot of hand-holding. We put together some tests in the field and then we get rolling. It's not always easy. So I understand.

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Yeah. I think today that the notion of craft, those that do it are very, very special. Those that are carrying it on are in demand.

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Right? So you get the right mason, you got to wait for them and you got to pay for them.

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You have to wait for them and you have to pay for them. We tend to do it in smaller places than the whole building or the larger buildings, but I think that's the holdup in a sense. They want to dom they the masons, the mason company, want to do very straightforward buildings. They get in there, knock it out, and they go, But it's not Well, it touches us poetically, so to speak.

It's not what moves people. You know, at the end of the day, when we talk about sustainability, the greatest sustainable work is the work that's loved because people take care of it. The stuff that we toss away is because it's manufactured. It's simple, there's no caring, no love to it. And so we create that garbage by what we do, and that's something we should be very particular about. Think hard about.

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What I was just about to ask you for some wisdom, but it was right there. Well, the things that are done really well are taken care of. I love that. That is so beautiful. So you've been an architect for a little while. Based on what you know today about being an architect, do you have any words of advice for your younger self or even young architects just getting started in the business?

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Oh good question. When I started out, I wanted to be a car designer and I went to design school. And the design school I went to taught with principles of architecture. And so I fell in love with that aspect of it. I think today a lot of young people, there has to be a bit of a labor of love.

And I think what happens today a little bit is we think we have a degree and we think we've learned it and we haven't. You've just opened the door to possibilities. And so you need to be a consistent learner and go after it. You need some sort of love or some sort of passion to do that. And I think you need to find that and to find that growth.

You said, I've been in this business for 30 years. I have 60 or 70 more years of learning that I need to do. I know that there's so much more to learn and I’ll keep pushing.

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Yeah, that humility is really important in any business, but in this specifically, we have to be really good at a lot of things to be a good architect.

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100%, yeah.

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So Simon, it's been great to speak with you today. Thank you so much for your time. Where can people go to learn more about HDR and yourself?

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Well, I would suggest HDR Architecture. You can look up the Arlington studio if you'd like, but better yet, I think just look at the work that's done. There is a plethora of work that the company does, so would be where I suggest everybody to go can always type in my name Simon Trumble and you'll run into me so happy to talk with you.

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Your buildings. The HDR work is really stunning.

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I thank you very much. I think it's a big push that HDR has been doing. We're focused on improving what we do. We come at it as the HDR group. It's not so much about me or somebody else. We come here to serve our clients and to do something a little bit more than what they had thought possible.

00;33;59;20 - 00;34;02;12


Well, thank you very much Simon. This has been great.

00;34;02;14 - 00;34;07;11


Thank you, Doug. Appreciate it.

Design Vault Ep. 31 Brendan Iribe Center with Simon Trumble (2024)
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