IMEG engineers and designers discuss innovative and trend-setting building and infrastructure design with architects, owners, and others in the AEC industry. Topics touch on all market sectors, engineering disciplines, and related services. Listen here or subscribe to “The Future. Built Smarter.” on your podcast app.

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Robin Greenleaf
This episode of The Future Built Smarter features a 15-minute conversation with Robin Greenleaf, an IMEG managing principal and the immediate past chair of the American Council of Engineering Companies—the first woman to hold that position. Robin shares her key takeaways from her time on the ACEC board and her career in general, including her insights on the challenges and opportunities that face U.S. engineering firms. “There’s such a large range of engineering companies, ranging from size to where they are to what they do,” she says. “We’re dealing with workforce issues and supply chain issues and inflation, and it affects all of the ACEC member firms.” In addition to navigating these business challenges, Robin adds that today’s engineers are also faced with a critical technical task no other generation of engineers has faced: combatting climate change through reducing the built environment’s carbon footprint. “We’re in this really unique moment in history, where basically we are the ones who can make a difference in what the next generation gets,” she says. “That’s the single biggest issue that I see engineering firms dealing with—what’s our strategy for how we can make a difference.”



IMEG Director of Sustainability, Adam McMillen, joins this 14-minute episode to provide a summary of the clean energy and climate provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA. “At a high level, the act has really opened the door for taking advantage of these incentives while also trying to stimulate economic activity,” he says. One of the biggest aspects of the act is that, in addition to offering these provisions to the private sector, the IRA offers a “direct pay” incentive to non-profits—entities that could not take advantage of previous renewable energy technology tax credits due to their lack of tax liability. “Essentially it is a grant, and this is a huge step forward, for sure,” says Adam, who also has written about the IRA on the IMEG blog. To avoid wading through the act’s hundreds of pages, he also has created a simple table that lists the credits, the technologies/building types they apply to, and the incentive levels. While not included in his table, several other provisions can benefit homeowners. “For example, there’s a 50 percent tax credit toward a heat pump unit for your house,” he says. Everyone interested in taking advantage of the provisions should expect more clarity and guidance once the act is more fully developed in early 2023. “Everyone is saying we should know a whole lot more by January, so you should start doing your planning now, but don’t pull the trigger until you know more.”



Security continues to become an ever more important aspect of building design, and in this episode, we focus on the security strategy known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED. Our guest is Ryan Searles, a senior security consultant at IMEG and certified CPTED professional. Ryan has also written about the strategy for the IMEG blog and says it is much more than just “large boulders and trees”—it also leverages architectural elements, social programs, colors, lighting, natural surveillance, natural access control, and even traffic curbing. “We’re seeing CPTED being applied a lot more now,” he adds. “We live in crazy times—in the past four to five years we’ve had a lot of civil unrest and more active shooters. So, more clients are implementing this strategy. Used along with electronic and physical security measures, it provides a solid, holistic approach to safety and security and really helps secure buildings and keep people safe.”



In the first of two related episodes, structural engineer Laura Hagan talks about her participation in IMEG’s internal IDEA! program, designed to foster innovation and sustainability across the firm and investigate future trends in the AEC industry. The program also frees up participants to focus on their areas of interest and take what they have learned or developed back to their team. “A big part of what I’ve been working on is accessing, calculating, and tracking embodied carbon on projects and developing a tool to visualize and communicate the information to a client early on to help make project decisions,” Laura says. “That’s a big goal for me and something I think is pretty powerful.”



Using a HoloLens to provide an augmented reality (AR) experience is discussed in the second of two episodes on IMEG’s internal IDEA! program. This segment features guest Abby Coleman, an IMEG intern who participated in the program, which is designed to foster innovation and expose participants to future trends in the AEC industry. Abby describes the HoloLens and AR as a “translator” between designer and client, and discusses several AR experiences she and others in the program created, including an educational STEM-themed AR tour of a library and a portrayal of how a HoloLens allows clients to immerse themselves within a design.



This episode of The Future Built Smarter examines equity in healthcare. Providing the caregiver perspective on the topic are guests Dr. Anne Doran, a pediatric hospitalist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, Chicago, and Dr. Megan Morgan, a registered nurse and pediatric nurse educator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Both share their views and experiences on equity, inclusion, diversity, and bias within the healthcare environment. “We’ve seen a big push to have a more astute awareness of where the gaps in care are and how we address diverse populations so that we are inclusive of all—culturally, spiritually, and even among populations of varying levels of health literacy,” says Dr. Doran. “We have a dedicated team of people bringing an awareness and education to the organization to be able to deliver care in an effective way.” The ability to overcome language barriers and communicate is paramount, adds Dr. Morgan. “I think the biggest success recently has been interpreter services on an iPad-type device that can be used in patient rooms,” she says. “This provides ‘face-to-face’ interaction with the translator so that the family can see somebody of their culture speaking to them in their language and translating for them. This has created great collaboration among the healthcare team, the patients, and families.”


In this episode of The Future Built Smarter, Jeff Ryan, Managing Principal for Design at Christner Architects, joins us for a discussion on the Ball Helix Central Research & Development Center, winner of a 2022 Design Excellence Merit Award for Innovation from Lab Manager magazine. Christner was the architect, lab planner, and interior designer for the project, and IMEG provided structural, MEP, fire protection, and civil design, in addition to commissioning services.
The center transforms the research culture and the scientific capabilities of Ball Horticultural Company, the world’s largest ornamental seed producer. In collaboration with Ball’s steering committee, the design team identified three design principles for the project. “One was, of course, to enable great science,” Jeff says, adding that the company—with an average employee tenure of 27 years—was experiencing a wave of Baby Boomer retirements. “So, they really wanted to elevate their ability to attract researchers and enable new and existing staff in their ability to do great work.” The second goal was to evolve the company work culture through strengthening the existing collaboration, trust, mentoring, communication, respect, and safety, and adding focus on employee happiness, productivity, and wellness. “Finally, they wanted to communicate all the great research that was coming out of the center,” Jeff adds. This would be accomplished by improved connectivity between research and business through shared spaces, transparency, and science on display; creating technology and spaces for global communication and collaboration; and enhancing client visitors’ experiences with connections to the science, the gardens, and the greater Ball Horticultural Company brand.
A central part of the project involved incorporating the center’s existing demonstration garden into the overall design of the new building. “This garden is beautiful, and we decided to leverage it in the scientific space with the idea that the researchers would be engaged with the garden as a physical representation of the work they’re doing,” Jeff says. “The building is formed so that the garden pushes into the middle of the research space and you can see it from wherever you are. You can see it from the office space and from within the labs and even from the back of house with windows that penetrate all the way through the research space. It’s a stimulating environment for discovery.”
In addition to this podcast, you can learn more about the Ball Helix project and see photos of the facility by reading the Christner Architects project story and the IMEG case study.



In the first of two episodes on reducing embodied carbon in structural systems, IMEG structural engineer Laura Hagan joins Mike Lawless and Joe Payne in a discussion about SE 2050, which calls on all structural engineers to understand, reduce, and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by the year 2050. The SE 2050 Challenge was developed by the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) and the SE 2050 Commitment Program developed by the Sustainability Committee of the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). IMEG joined the Commitment in April. “Structural engineers have always played an important role in the design of a project; now we are able to look at what we are doing through a different lens and see the role we can play in being able to reduce the environmental effects of the buildings we design,” says Hagan. “The more we understand about how to make reductions in embodied carbon, the better the buildings will be for the client, the owner, users of the buildings, the surrounding communities, and the planet as a whole. I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens in the material industries, because we’re going to need a lot of innovation in the materials before we get to the year 2050.”



In the second of two episodes on reducing embodied carbon in structural systems, IMEG structural engineer Laura Hagan discusses life cycle analysis (LCA), which, in the context of the built environment, examines the lifetime environmental impacts of the different materials used in a building’s construction. The analysis provides data on the embodied carbon arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and eventual disposal or reuse of structural and architectural materials. This information enables clients to understand and compare the potential embodied carbon of various design options. “We’re looking at each and every structural and architectural component—that’s the industry focus right now,” says Hagan. “What’s coming in the near future will be mechanical, electrical, and plumbing components as well.”


This episode of “The Future. Built Smarter.” examines mass timber — a sustainable, fire resistant, and aesthetic building material that is rapidly gaining use across the globe. Our guest for this episode is Matt Cloninger, a structural engineer for IMEG in Montana who has a lifelong passion for buildings made of wood and who has witnessed mass timber’s recent rise in popularity. “There has been a great fundamental shift in using mass timber in the last couple of years that has made it easier to use structurally,” he says. “More engineers and more owners are designing with cross laminated timber — or CLT — and other mass timber products. In the past the use of mass timber was very limited to small office building type projects, but the building codes have shifted a bit and now give us a little more leeway in what sort of buildings we can design using CLT. Now there are more commercial and industrial applications since the codes allow us to go taller.” Matt also discusses the Stadthaus, a multiple-story residential building in England that exemplifies the benefits of mass timber. “As more owners, developers, and engineers see this product and what it can do, they are going to look at how it might be applied to projects for which they may not have considered it.” For additional information not in the podcast, download IMEG’ executive, “Mass Timber 101.”


Numerous healthcare organizations have adopted the guiding principles of the Quadruple Aim, a framework for healthcare excellence that focuses on improving population health, reducing the cost of care, enhancing the patient experience, and improving provider satisfaction. Many of these organizations, however, are missing out on opportunities to support these desired outcomes through an intentionally designed built environment. In the first of a series of episodes based on the executive guide, “Enhancing the Quadruple Aim through Data-Driven Decisions in the Built Environment,” IMEG Director of Healthcare Mike Zorich provides a high-level explanation of the Quadruple Aim and offers examples of various design strategies and elements that can enhance it—and ultimately help the healthcare industry deliver better outcomes for patients, caregivers, communities, and the world.


Numerous healthcare organizations have adopted the guiding principles of the Quadruple Aim—a framework for healthcare excellence, the goals of which can be greatly supported through an intentionally designed built environment. In the second of a series of episodes based on the executive guide, “Enhancing the Quadruple Aim through Data-Driven Decisions in the Built Environment,” IMEG Director of Sustainability Adam McMillen discusses how the built environment can help healthcare organizations achieve the first goal, improving population health.


In the third of a series of episodes based on the executive guide, “Enhancing the Quadruple Aim through Data-Driven Decisions in the Built Environment,” Joel Yow, co-founder of linear A, discusses how the built environment can help healthcare organizations achieve the Quadruple Aim’s second goal, reducing the cost of care. “You don’t want to make an investment in a new building that’s meant to reduce the cost of care, and then misplace it or mistime it and then just generally increase the cost of care by not really thinking through the data enough,” he says. “When looking at patient origin, for example, we’ve provided reports and data to clients that show them where their patient populations are coming from in relation to where they are currently located. It always surprises me how often there are two or three people out of 10 in a room who say, ‘I had no idea this high of a percentage is coming from out of state,’ or that ‘this many people are in a service area in which we don’t have any facilities or assets.’ There is this lightbulb that goes off where they realize they really need to understand their patients better in order to better serve them.”


Podcast co-host Joe Payne recently spent a fitful night in the hospital. How his experience—and that of all patients—could be improved is examined in the fourth of a series of episodes based on the IMEG executive guide, “Enhancing the Quadruple Aim through Data-Driven Decisions in the Built Environment.” Guest Corey Gaarde, a biomedical engineer and healthcare information technology specialist at IMEG, discusses how the built environment can help healthcare organizations improve the Quadruple Aim’s third goal, enhancing the patient experience. “The patient journey starts at home and ends at home,” he says. “If there are ways that we can bring home-level types of experiences into the healthcare environment, why not? Things like an Alexa-based device in the patient room to play music, to change the television, to control the lights, all hands-free. Things like this are very easy to do in a hotel setting, so why not do them in a patient care environment? ‘Hospital’ is part of the word ‘hospitality’, right? We need to push architects and engineers to think this way, push IT to think this way, push the design space, and really consider what the overall future vision of a smart patient room or experience looks like.”


Improving provider satisfaction is examined in the final episode in a series of podcasts based on the IMEG executive guide, “Enhancing the Quadruple Aim through Data-Driven Decisions in the Built Environment.” This episode features two healthcare providers—Dr. Anne Doran, a pediatric hospitalist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, Chicago, and Dr. Megan Morgan, a registered nurse and pediatric nurse educator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Both share their experiences as healthcare providers who have worked in a variety of settings. “The caregiver experience has evolved over time as we’ve become more patient- and family-centered and try to deliver care in a way where we partner with not only the entire healthcare team but have the family be part of it as well,” says Dr. Doran. “It’s a lot more collaborative with families and the entire caregiver team —including nurses, therapists, social workers, case managers. The evolution has been great for families and a lot more collaborative for the team.” The two caregivers also offer input on how to address staff burnout through such things as employee assistance programs and caregiver-only respite spaces. “A chapel, rooftop garden, or areas that families use for respite aren’t always ideal locations for caregivers to seek respite,” says Dr. Morgan, whose facility has “tranquility rooms” for staff to utilize. “Having a space that is dedicated to each floor or unit for employees to go and just seek five minutes of respite—maybe that’s all the time they have in their day besides a lunch break—is so important.”


This episode takes a brief look at how the commercialization of the aerospace industry has opened the doors for more engineering firms to become engaged in such projects. Guest Ed Dean, an IMEG structural engineer who has designed several launch facility projects, discusses how IMEG entered the market, and the benefits commercially oriented firms bring to aerospace clients. “Commercial buildings and structures are not done in an institutional way, but rather on a very rapid schedule; things are very much fast-tracked and you’re delivering certain ‘just-in-time’ design elements. We apply this approach to the design of launch facilities, saving clients both time and money.” Ed also talks about being on site for launches and discusses a mock rocket IMEG designed to allow a client to test their launch facility equipment and processes prior to an actual rocket launch.



In the first of a series on sustainability strategies of the future, IMEG Director of Sustainability Adam McMillen discusses embodied carbon. “We have pretty much figured out how to reduce operational carbon,” he says. “Now the AEC industry is ready for the next step — reducing embodied carbon in steel, concrete, and wood.” Getting these materials to a construction site requires extraction or harvesting, processing, and transportation — each of which requires energy, mostly from burning fossil fuels, which in turn releases CO2. These emissions combined make up the carbon footprint, or the embodied carbon, of a material. “People in the industry and elsewhere are really starting to get it,” says McMillen, who counts Bill Gates and Wisconsin Girl Scouts among those who are helping to spread the word. Learn more in this 15-minute podcast.



In the second episode of our series on sustainability strategies of the future, IMEG’s Adam McMillen discusses embodied carbon in chillers, boilers, and other MEP equipment. “Naturally, engineers put a lot of equipment into buildings,” he says. “That equipment contains a lot of steel and comes from all over the world, so it obviously has a carbon footprint.” Quantifying that footprint is critical. “It’s starting to become clear that the amount of carbon a company has on its books is going to be a liability in the future, from a climate change perspective, a dollar perspective, and a regulations perspective. We need to get all this quantified so that companies can clearly see these big numbers as a risk to their business and demand lower levels from manufacturers.” Reversing the “throw-away” mentality also is crucial and includes designing buildings for a much longer life. “Let’s not think about constructing a 50-year building — let’s think about a 100-year building,” McMillen says. “And let’s think about 30-year MEP equipment.”



In the third episode of our series on sustainability strategies of the future, IMEG’s Adam McMillen discusses cold climate electrification. Essentially, this is a means to providing heat in cold climates without burning carbon-emitting fossil fuels. In areas with cold winters, McMillen explains, we currently use natural gas-burning furnaces or boilers for heat. Electricity, however, is used to power our cooling systems in the warmer months. While electricity is produced predominately by coal-burning plants, there is a trend by utilities toward greater use of renewable energy as a source. “We see our electric grid getting cleaner, year after year,” says McMillen. “So, imagine a future in which our grid is fully clean, and instead of using fossil-fueled boilers we’re using some sort of electrically-based heating equipment. As a result, we would then have perfectly clean heating and cooling for our homes and our businesses.”



The fourth episode in our series on sustainability strategies of the future examines thermal energy storage. To illustrate, consider hospitals and industrial facilities that use heat pumps to create the large amount of heating hot water needed for their buildings. This type of heat pump can’t operate when temperatures dip below 15 degrees, however, and a gas-burning boiler is typically used as back-up. Thermal energy storage provides a carbon-free alternative. In this strategy, the heat pump generates additional heating water during the warmer part of the day and stores it in a thermal energy storage tank. That water can then be used to heat the facility during frigid overnight hours or anytime the temperature dips below 15 degrees and the heat pumps shut down. Conversely, chilled water storage in the summer months enables facilities to shut down their chillers in the hot afternoon hours and cool the building with water saved overnight to shave off peak demand charges. IMEG Director of Sustainability Adam McMillen discusses the challenges, solutions, and many opportunities of this new strategy.



Battery energy storage is examined in part five of our series on sustainability strategies of the future. “Most of us in the industry have had a lot of questions about batteries,” says IMEG Director of Sustainability Adam McMillen. “When does it make sense? When will they be cost competitive? How do they fit into the big picture? These are all good questions because the last thing you want to do is put some expensive, embodied-carbon heavy, lithium-ion batteries on your campus and then have them not really do much for you.” Co-host Mike Lawless, IMEG Direction of Innovation, joins Adam in delving into these questions. They also discuss the many future opportunities of this strategy, such as pairing batteries with renewables such as wind and solar to provide facilities with both reliable and sustainable backup power when the grid goes down as well as a method to eliminate expensive peak demand charges from utilities.



In the final episode in our series on sustainability strategies of the future, IMEG Director of Sustainability Adam McMillen discusses five steps any owner can take to begin the process of decarbonizing their building. “There’s a lot of discussion today about decarbonizing — the push to make sure we all electrify our buildings because the grid will get cleaner in the future. This is a big change, and a lot of owners are wondering how to wade into it without a lot of risk,” says McMillen. “So, we’re summarizing five things owners can do today that don’t cost a lot of money and that will help ensure their buildings will be ready for electrification—whether it’s a new building, or even an existing building that’s undergoing a major renovation.”



With legalized medical and recreational marijuana continuing to expand across the U.S., many new grow facilities will be licensed and constructed in the coming years. This episode examines important infrastructure considerations that are critical for “keeping the plants happy” and achieving successful harvests — not only for cannabis but also for other crops grown within controlled environment agriculture (CEA) facilities. “Our experience designing these facilities allows us to provide valuable information and lessons learned for owners who will be venturing into this market for the first time,” says IMEG’s Luke Streit, a project manager for several cannabis grow facilities. Luke discusses a variety of topics during this episode, including water and energy use, HVAC systems, power requirements, and other unique challenges encountered by CEA owners. Based on a recent IMEG webinar, this podcast provides valuable information for owners and architects alike.



The 2021 National ACEC Engineering Excellence Grand Conceptor Award – which honors the year’s most outstanding engineering achievement in the U.S. – was presented to IMEG Corp. for its design of the Denver Water Operations Complex Redevelopment. This episode examines the project’s extensive water and energy efficiency goals and challenges from the perspective of Ken Urbanek, who led the IMEG team on the $205M redevelopment featuring a 186,000-sf LEED Platinum, net-zero energy and “One Water” administration building. “This project is a testament to what we in the AEC industry can do,” says Urbanek. “It demonstrates that given the right drive from ownership, we can achieve carbon-free emissions, net zero energy, and even significant reductions in water use. Engineers, contractors, and architects – we can all deliver on this.”



All signs point to an exponentially increasing number of electric vehicles on U.S. roads in the coming years. What this monumental automotive revolution will look like and the changes it will bring — from roadside restaurant charging stations to EV-provided emergency back-up power for homes — are discussed in this podcast featuring Keith Vandenbussche, Automotive R&D Market Leader for IMEG. “Some automotive manufacturers are projecting 100 percent EV production within 10 years,” says Vandenbussche, adding that some forecasts call for 1 million new EVs on the road this year alone. “In addition to solving the R&D and manufacturing challenges this will bring, on the consumer side we have to make sure the infrastructure to support EVs is in place so that the consumer is supported and confident in buying these vehicles.”


Helping employees feel safe and secure as they return to the workplace is discussed in part one of a two-part IMEG podcast based on the recent executive guide, “Back to the Office: Key Steps for Safeguarding Health, Well-being and Continuity.” Part 1 features guest Charles LeBlanc, an IMEG security expert and a co-author of the guide. Charles, who is also an electrical engineer, looks at security not only from the technical side but also from the behavioral side and how each perspective affects the other. “People are feeling a lot of discomfort right now in regard to returning to work,” he says. “Office managers, meanwhile, are trying to figure out how to bring people safely back, and how to do it in a comforting way that reduces anxiety.”


The role of crisis management in helping employees feel safe and secure is examined in part two of an IMEG podcast based on the executive guide, “Back to the Office: Key Steps for Safeguarding Health, Well-being and Continuity.” This episode features Ryan Searles, a security, threat assessment, and emergency preparedness expert — and who, in a former life, earned two Purple Hearts while in special operations and chased pirates in the Indian Ocean. Ryan draws on his vast security experience in the private sector to explain how organizations can help employees be prepared for and recover from crisis situations — from COVID-19 to catastrophic weather to active shooters. He also explains the importance of taming our “lizard brains” when responding to an unfolding emergency.


Acuity adaptability – a healthcare model in which patients remain in one room regardless of level of care – is being considered by many healthcare organizations looking for safer, more efficient care delivery in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. But is this model feasible – and if so, under what conditions? “One of the things that you look for when you are exploring this option is how to balance the patient experience, patient safety, and the staff experience,” says Erin Clark, R.N., a clinical operations specialist and guest on the 35-minute podcast. Also featured on this episode are IMEG National Healthcare Director Mike Zorich and HIT Specialist Corey Gaarde, co-authors of the free executive guide, “Acuity Adaptability: Innovative Planning and Design for Responsive Healthcare Delivery.

In an arc of development that stretches back nearly 200 years, virtual reality is now finally making great inroads in design and construction. In this episode of The Future. Built Smarter., IMEG Director of Virtual Design Sarah Garthaus and mechanical engineer Mike Lawless discuss how VR has emerged from the shadows of video games to become a powerful and ever-evolving tool for the AEC industry. They examine the variety of current applications — from immersing stakeholders into a design to fully understand a space to immersing engineers to identify clashes — and predict what the future may hold for designers and owners alike.

We’ve long heard the words “Smart Building,” but these days “Intelligent Building” has become the buzz phrase for the opportunities presented by the IoT and the ever-growing amount of building system data it provides. In this pilot episode of the new podcast, “The Future. Built Smarter,” IMEG engineers Jeff Carpenter and Mike Lawless explain the important distinctions between the two phrases. They also discuss how Intelligent Building design expands the focus beyond building systems to consider such things as the occupant experience – all while providing more concrete, actionable, and measurable paths for building owners to take in their quest to benefit from the IoT.