Specialty: Architecture, civil engineering, structural engineering, land-use planning, interior design, graphic design, strategic marketing and building science
The media might have people “spooked” about the economy these days, but worries about the country’s economic malaise are “a bit overblown,” according to Jeffrey Brown, BCRA president and CEO.
With the election behind us, “people will gain more confidence,” Brown said, predicting the economy “is poised to take off in the early part of 2009” once the credit market loosens up.
The regional economy is holding up especially well and serves as “an example to the rest of the country,” he said. To stay on track, the firm just needs to focus on “keeping a good, positive outlook that’s also realistic.”
BCRA is maneuvering through the current climate by trying to “avoid focusing on the wrong areas in terms of the market,” which means steering clear of housing and offices and concentrating more on military, health care, nonprofit work, recreation and higher education, he said.
Hiring at the 165-person Tacoma-based firm has been slow over the past year, but Brown expects to maintain current staffing levels. In recent years BCRA has added offices in Seattle, Wenatchee and Alexandria, Va.
The firm, which is earning about 70 percent of its revenue from public sector clients, has been “chasing a lot military work,” Brown said, including recent projects at Fort Lewis in Pierce County and Fort Bliss in Texas.
BCRA “hasn’t seen the real dividends” realized yet from setting up its Washington, D.C.-area office, where it hopes to snag more military and federal contracts, “but there’s potential for work flowing from the East in our direction,” he said.
Closer to home, the firm has a number of projects in the works. Examples include a 200-acre master planning project for South Kitsap Community Park in Port Orchard, a renovation of Dean Hall at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, an expansion of the Green Hill School in Chehalis and the redevelopment of the Bremerton Housing Authority’s Westpark community.
Brown said several emerging trends are changing the business.
The general contractor-construction manager delivery system, which has been growing in popularity, puts more control of the project in the contractor’s hands, Brown said. Despite some of the advantages of the system, “the owner has only one point of accountability.”
When an architectural firm works directly for the owner, it serves as a check on the project, he said. Otherwise, “we’re not serving our client as well as we would like because we’re working for a contractor.”
Building information modeling is a technology that has a lot of potential, Brown said, but computer hardware hasn’t caught up with the software. One popular product, Revit, for example, “does not perform well in terms of speed.”
For now, BIM is best saved for large, complex projects, Brown said. “It’s still got a long way to go before it’s effective. We’re 40 percent there.”
BCRA has been pushing into a field, building science, that Brown feels is “almost completely untapped.” Practitioners use science to understand, prevent and resolve problems related to building design, construction and operation. Using methods such as digital thermography, “we’ll go in and do close-in diagnostics” of building failures, Brown said, checking up on problems such as heat loss and moisture in a noninvasive way.
“We’re doing seminars on this stuff all over the country,” he said.
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