Interface Engineering

Specialty: Mechanical, electrical, plumbing and technology engineering; specialty lighting, fire protection, energy modeling and building commissioning

Management: Omid Nabipoor, president and CEO; Seattle team includes principals Nick Rich and Phil Michaels, associate principal Doug Smith and associate Rob Kuchcinski

Founded: 1969; 1988 in Seattle

Headquarters: Portland

2008 revenues: $26.6 million

Project 2009 revenues: $25 million

Current projects: Bow Lake transfer/recycling station; Shoreline Public Health lab addition; Medina City Hall and Police Station; Highline Heritage Museum; Skagit Food Bank; Puget Sound Energy Operations Center modernization; Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park

Photo courtesy of Lawhead Architects
Interface Engineering was the sustainable design consultant for Puget Sound Energy’s $3 million Skagit Service Center in Burlington, completed last year. The 30,000-square-foot building has a raised-floor air distribution system, high-performance heat pumps, a rainwater harvesting system and ventilation air heat recovery.

Sustainability is a byword at Interface Engineering: A quarter of the staff are LEED-accredited, and nearly a third of its projects are LEED-registered.

“Every project we do we’re always thinking about sustainability,” said Phil Michaels, a principal in the company’s Seattle office.

Clients, too, are looking to build sustainability in their projects, he said, and make the most of their investment.

LEED certification isn’t always on the agenda for commercial clients — the cost and paperwork can be significant — so the firm tries to be practical, finding ways to integrate sustainability with a light touch.

“We don’t have additional fees we ask for to go with those ideas,” Michaels said. “We see what makes sense to them.”

BIM is big

Interface recently hired an expert building-information-modeling developer to help the firm design its building-systems plans more efficiently and improve its ability to integrate its designs with those of other project team members.

“This is where the industry is going,” Michaels said of BIM technology, “and it provides our clients with better solutions” while saving time and money.

Recent projects include a King County transfer station, Medina City Hall and Police Station, the Highline Heritage Museum in Burien, Vulcan’s Rollin Street Flats in Seattle and the Newport Way Library in Bellevue. The firm prefers to get involved with projects during the concept stage, “where the high-dollar decisions are made,” Michaels said, “and we can integrate sustainability at a much lower cost.”

By the time the projects reach the design-development stage, it costs too much to backtrack or start over with new plans.

One obstacle that keeps consultants like Interface from joining the planning early, at least for public projects, is the state fee schedule, Michaels said. Under the guidelines, schematic design and design development are good for only one-third of the architecture or engineering consultant’s total fees for basic services. The result is that consultants are put at risk if they invest significant time early on in the design phase and the project doesn’t go forward.

Still, Michaels said, many public owners “have been good about bringing us on earlier. It’s still a newer concept.”


The recession has taken a toll on the firm. The company has laid off 10 percent of its staff this year, bringing it in line with its work load, Michaels said, though “because we’re very diversified, we weren’t impacted as hard as companies not as diversified.”

Staff members are using some of the down time to train on BIM, he said, and do cross training on energy modeling.

The firm has also been adding to its expertise by merging with other firms that offer complementary skills. Recent mergers include DuPont Engineering, James D. Graham and Associates, and j Omega Engineering. “We’re looking for areas we want to grow in,” Michaels said.

The Portland-based company has more than 180 employees; its Seattle office has 17. Other locations include San Francisco, Sacramento, Calif., and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Proposals pick up

Project proposal activity has been picking up, Michaels said, particularly in the public sector. Much of the work is for modernizations, expansions and remodels.

“New construction is not as attractive as making the most out of your existing building,” he said.

The firm’s strongest markets now are public works projects, higher education, health care, commercial remodels, integrated design projects, commissioning and energy modeling.

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