Firm Profile: SGA AECbytes Profile (March 18, 2020)

SGA, an architecture and planning firm recently recognized by Fast Company as one of the most innovative firms in the world for the use of BIM in its Virtual Design and Construction approach, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

SGA was founded in 1991 as a full-service architecture, planning, interior design, virtual design and construction (VDC) and branded environments firm with locations in Boston and New York City. Winner of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” award for architecture, SGA is built around a strong design culture that is truly client-inclusive. Our passion for unparalleled design comes from the successful integration of creative solutions for unique client needs.

With 70 architects, interior designers, environmental graphic designers, project managers and support staff at SGA, our success is borne from a time-tested ability to manage complex design programs, budgets and schedules for a broad spectrum of project types.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

SGA has a proven track record with major life-science facilities, corporate clients, urban development partners, and prominent higher education institutions throughout the US.

Most of the firm’s current commissions are confidential, but we have recently completed dozens of spaces at the center of tech innovation, scientific research, urban development, and alternative project delivery methods. Highlights include TitletownTech, an innovation center built by the development arm of the Green Bay Packers; Linx, a LEED Gold certified campus for science and technology companies; 287 Park Avenue South, an adaptive reuse of a Classical Revival building in Manhattan’s Midtown South; the first PHIUS (Passive House Institute US) certified student residence halls in the state of Massachusetts at Wheaton College and Williams College; 90 Arboretum Drive, the first Mass Timber building in the state of New Hampshire; and the Vertical Cluster, a proposed Class-A vertical research tower that will serve as a next-gen building type for life-sciences developments in dense urban areas. Some of these projects are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Some of the key projects that SGA is working on. Top left: TitletownTech in Ashwaubenon, WI. Top right: Linx in Watertown, MA. Lower left: PHIUS residence at Williams College, MA. Lower right: Vertical Cluster in Long Island City, NY.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important would you say AEC technology is to the firm?

SGA formed our Virtual Design and Construction practice in 2014. Our tech-forward approach allows us to deliver a cost-effective, streamlined process for design and construction. We can save our clients millions of dollars, deliver their projects on shortened schedules, and provide sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on the environment.

As a leader in VDC and one of the few architecture firms with a dedicated VDC practice, we are involving people, process and technology to save clients time and money, mitigate risk, and deliver innovative, progressive building solutions (Figure 2). This is extremely important because many of our clients manage mega-projects with considerable budgets. Clients will only work with us if they trust us to be able to steer the team away from pitfalls that are common occurrences in the industry. VDC enables us to provide certainty-of-outcome via a collaborative, model-first approach.

Figure 2. SGA’s real-time-renderings allow the practice to communicate how their design intent (Enscape Rendering - left image) comes to life during construction (Finished Photography – right image). SGA’s models represent the actual materials, design intent, specifications, details, and coordination.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? And if so, what is it?

Embrace technology. We take a hands-on leadership role to understand and integrate a process that can harness the full potential of the design, development, and construction partners (Figure 3).

We are also vendor agnostic, meaning we are not married to any single product or tool. The best tool for the job wins, and we favor tools that support our way of working rather than changing our process to fit the tool.

Figure 3. SGA's integrated process enabled by VDC.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

Finding Like-Minded clients and builders who see opportunities in sharing responsibility and risks.

Our onboarding process and execution success planning sessions are designed to set the team’s expectations for collaboration and enhanced delivery (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4. SGA utilizes online Bespoke Dashboards in real-time that are completely different from the industry standard; the dashboards enable teams to be effective on a daily basis.

Figure 5. Execution Success Planning (ESP) sessions at SGA set the tone for the project and align the goals of the entire team, developing consensus about what is going to be the success of the project.

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

Predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence will continue to develop and will undoubtedly return great value to those in development, design, and construction who are forward-looking and have the ability to apply them in practice.

The traditionally separate design and construction industries will begin to merge as seamlessly integrated processes and will overtake legacy siloed business models.

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

Integrated, open, and inclusive. Tools should seamlessly share common information and integrate easily so that they can deliver on the elusive enhanced efficiency that our industry has been chasing for decades.

AEC tech should be open and allow for highly structured information to be freely ported to different platforms without penalty.

AEC tech must be inclusive to owners, designers, builders and everyone in-between.


Acknowledgments: The responses to the questions for this profile were coordinated by Adam Spagnolo, Partner, Director of Business Development + Marketing, SGA.

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