Monday, May 11, 2015

What It Takes to Place in an International Design Competition - An Inside Look

Recently Farnsworth Group’s design team took First Special Mention (Fourth Place) for a design competition submittal for the Super SkyScrapers Competition - 07 (2015) - Cycling Heaven: Sky Velodrome in Toronto!  Over 150 entries were received.  While the announcement was made in April, the team submitted on February 27, 2015.

Collaboration. Democracy.  Holistic Design.
With collaboration at the forefront, all members of the architectural team were invited to submit preliminary concepts at the outset of the process.  Ten concepts were submitted and a blind voting process identified the overwhelming favorite scheme.  It was selected because it addressed site, scale, urban context and the creative spirit of the competition.  Once the strongest scheme was selected, Greg Straub led the team of Caius Jennison, Nicholas Bruner, Doug Draeger, Rob Kiester, Josh Rucinski, Brian Sulley, Shane Roberson and Kim Spencer.

The competition provided a means for Farnsworth Group’s staff to test interoffice capabilities and strengthen collaboration processes.  The team used new software, varied communication styles, and work-sharing concepts to achieve the final goal.  SKYSADDLE Velodrome was created.

Bringing it all Together
The model was developed in three separate offices, and continuity required constant communication and the blending of ideas that drove the final cohesive design compilation.  Each night, the three independent parts were uploaded to the main model for review and discussion the next day. 

Farnsworth Group’s team learned a considerable amount and triumphed in its first competition.  Next up:  to be determined, but it’s in the works! 

For additional information about the competition, please go to:  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Asset Management for Educational Facilities

Have you ever found yourself wondering when you should replace the roof so that you get the most bang for your buck while making it last as long as possible? Or, have you ever considered when might be the optimal time to address that old, deteriorated masonry wall? Perhaps you have asked yourself: when is the best time to apply a coating to your wood floor in the gymnasium? Moreover, how does one prioritize, plan, coordinate, and budget any number of such projects?


Asset Management is an engineered approach that determines what facility assets you have, their condition, their performance, and if they are doing what you need them to do at the best cost. It is a strategic approach that creates solutions to address shrinking budgets and rising demands on the built environment. More formally defined, asset management is the systematic and coordinated activity and practice through which an organization optimally manages its physical assets and their associated performance, risks, and expenditures over their life cycle for the purpose of achieving its organizational strategic plan. Due to the fact that there are fewer dollars that organizations have available to renew assets, they must become better at maintaining the assets they have, mitigating risks, and extracting their highest value.
How it Works
An Asset Management project is a multi-step process. A group of engineers and/or architects performs a comprehensive organizational needs assessment. This helps the professional team evaluate where a particular organization falls on a maturity scale by looking at the policies, practices, and capabilities while identifying gaps and shortfalls in the overall Asset Management strategy. The figure below summarizes the maturity categories.

The next step is to conduct on-site condition evaluations while considering and maintaining goals set forth in master planning strategies. This helps each organization create an inventory of their assets. Each area evaluated is then rated and a roadmap is developed that charts specific actions. Roadmap recommendations may include: training for O & M workforce, facility commissioning and/or retro-commissioning to create maintenance strategies for new and existing facilities, building system monitoring for real-time performance feedback, and/or implementation of a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) and Sustainment Management System (SMS). [Note: A CMMS records, manages, and communicates the day-to-day operations, while a SMS is a decision support tool to forecast the aging of systems to determine best scenarios for investments to prolong remaining service life.] The full breadth of an Asset Management framework that can be provided is illustrated below. 

Guiding Concept
Asset Management is the powerful approach to evaluating component degradation while balancing financial inputs for asset maintenance or replacement. It ensures the longest service life and brings the best and highest value to the organization. Every element and aspect of the built environment experiences degradation over time, so it is vital for organizations to know when to apply maintenance to components or when to replace them in order to reduce the impact of degradation to the overall condition of the built environment and the organization itself. To illustrate this point, refer to the graph below. After a component is installed, its degradation is slow at first, but it then accelerates as time progresses. The organization can apply maintenance to the component to extend the lifespan. However, maintenance will only extend the life of the component for a finite amount of time before total rehabilitation or replacement is needed. Asset Management helps map out the best scenario(s) for the most beneficial time(s) to apply maintenance or rehab that align with the organization’s financial capacities and budget capabilities. 

For example, referring again to the figure above, when a roof is installed, it will show little aging for the first 10-15 years as illustrated by the blue line. After that point, the performance of the roof will begin to degrade more rapidly. If a coating or other maintenance strategy is applied to the roof at 15 years from the date of original installation (blue dot), it could extend the life of the roof for another 5-10 years before rehabilitation is needed as demonstrated by the blue-gray line. The green line demonstrates a complete replacement of the roof at year twenty. This model, of course, impacts plans and budgets, creating opportunities to contend with and balance against other degrading components through the built environment.

Next Steps
Would you like to know more information about Asset Management and how it can help you optimize financial inputs? Contact the Asset Management specialists at Farnsworth Group to help map out your Asset Management strategy. Call Scott Burge at 217.352.4169 or email him at



















Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Importance of Interior Design

 How much time does the average American spend indoors during a typical week?  Studies show on average, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors.   With spending such a significant number of hours in doors there has been a number of counter studies.  These counter studies evaluate how the built environment affects an individual’s overall health and well-being in a variety of different sectors of interiors spaces.  With this information employers and building owners are becoming increasingly aware how this can affect the bottom line.  There has been a substantial amount of research related to proper design improving student performance, contribution to quicker recovery time in hospitals, higher sales in retail markets, and more productivity in the working environment.  The focus of proper design in these spaces and how it affects the general public is an important aspect to create healthy functional spaces for the present and future population.
Registered interior designers specialize in creating these indoor environments.  An interior designer may focus their ability in a specific field including residential, commercial, sustainable design, healthcare, retail, education, hospitality, federal, historical, or assisted living; just to name a few.  Designers work with local and federal jurisdiction to establish the level of code compliance, product and interior build-out features, furniture, and equipment needed in order to pass code established by these jurisdictions. Designers work closely with the client to establish a design aesthetic layout the function and programming requirements of the space.  Interior designers coordinate with the architects, engineers, product vendors, and contractors to keep projects on schedule and within budget.  The coordination and communication between client, designer, architect and contractor assists with a smooth and successful project build-out.
Aesthetics play a major role in a successful design; professionals must be knowledgeable in design theories in order to create an aesthetically pleasing space.  Harmony and balance of patterns and architectural elements only a practiced designer can accomplish in an environment which has not been built yet. Designers are able to anticipate how people will feel in and move through an indoor environment and therefore effectively function in the environment.  Many use a systematic and coordinated methodology that involves the integration of research, analysis and knowledge into the creative process.  In addition to the design theories interior designers use within the built environment, they also have a keen understanding of product manufacture process and chemical make-up of interior basis products and substrates.  Specific indoor environments require different levels of needs as it pertains to maintenance, acoustics, and longevity, anti-microbial, cost, fast-tracked, or chemical resistant’s.  All of these items are taken into consideration when making selections for an indoor environment and a registered interior designer is well versed in all of these aspects of design.
In truth, a building can be built without an interior designer but an environment cannot be created without one.  With so many studies showing the pros and positive outcomes of hiring a professional interior designer one could see were the payoff would be.  Historically speaking an interior designer role first emerged in France around the Renaissance in order to coordinate all of the interior finishes.  The idea still stays the same but with the specialty needs of many areas and the technology of product changes every day it is a designer's job to achieve the following goals: 
  • Work with jurisdiction and understand life and safety goals of the building as well as the classification of the product needed for the particular build out. 
  • Have a knowledge base of the building function and the level of maintenance, proper product placement and location.
  • Work with the client on the vision and function in which the space is to make. 
  • Find and selection product which will meet and exceed all items stated above. 
  • Lastly, have knowledge based in all related fields such as architecture, landscape, electrical, and mechanical so communication can happen smoothly to have a coordinated and well defined design.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Discovering the Origin of Bananas - Urban Agriculture Reconnects Our Community to the Food that Sustains Us

By: Edward J. Barry Jr. • Principal and Jeff Martin • Landscape Architectural Manager

In celebration of National Peace Corps Day several moons ago, I made a presentation to a delightfully rambunctious bunch of elementary school children in Kewanee, Illinois. Naturally, I waxed fondly and passionately on the importance of serving one’s fellow man, and on the value of experiencing the rich cultures outside the boundaries of our American shores. Toward the end of my presentation, I held up a banana (which had been a staple food in all its many forms in East Africa’s Uganda where I had served), and asked if anyone knew where this delightful and nutritious fruit came from. Without skipping a beat, a particularly earnest young man rose to his feet and firmly stated that “Bananas come from Wal-Mart!”

This experience has stayed with me through the intervening years. The earnest young man in that classroom was no doubt trying to be clever and just a bit snarky, too. But he was also revealing the fact that beyond the modern-day grocery store where most of us in the developed world purchase our daily sustenance, he had no idea about the origin of bananas, or their rich botanical history and complexity.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014: Safety IS a Priority

contributed by Monica Washington, Safety Coordinator, Farnsworth Group
Safety at Farnsworth Group is something that is taking top priority and is beginning to impact the culture…and our bottom line. One way our company is making this happen is through a strategy of implementing Four Keys of Safety: Awareness, Training, Accountability and Recognition.

AWARENESS of safety is something that our company has always maintained, but with renewed focus we are elevating the importance of keeping employees safe. We are learning from our past, the good things we are doing and identifying opportunities to improve. We are enhancing the good to make it great and implementing improvements to strengthen any programs. As part of the key to awareness, each manager meets monthly with their group to focus on safety and how it relates to their team and their job duties. The managers are getting more involved with safety and they are engaging their teams with safety in a positive approach.

TRAINING, the second key to our strategy focuses on understanding the risks and providing training to minimize those hazards to keep our employees safe. Safety training at Farnsworth Group takes many forms from classroom training to online to on the job training. Over 65% of our staff has taken the OSHA 10-Hour Construction Industry Training. Other trainings include special industry training as well as general safety training. Our training style and methods are evolving allowing us to incorporate training into our every day job responsibilities.

Awareness and training support the third key of safety which is ACCOUNTABILITY. Employees are held accountable to work safe each day, complete training in a timely manner and wear personal protective equipment.  Looking out for coworkers as well as their own wellbeing is critical to building a culture of safety. The requirement to report incidents and address near misses helps us to be proactive in our approach to safety.

Finally, RECOGNITION encompasses all the other keys of safety by celebrating accomplishments and rewarding staff for safe behavior. We are in our infancy developing strong recognitions around safety but plan to flush out and continue to make this a strong focus in 2014.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Art Matters. Architecture Matters.

Bringing Two Creative Endeavors Together at Peoria’s New North Branch Library
by Edward J. Barry Jr., Principal, Farnsworth Group

“Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is a practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope - it is homage to the value of human life, and it is vital to society. Art is a sacred expression of human creativity that shares the same ontological ground as all human work. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.” - Michael Gungor

These words, by singer-songwriter and author Michael Gungor, summarize beautifully the intrinsic value of art in our world. A value that can oftentimes be sidestepped or forgotten in favor of more pressing or pragmatic societal priorities. Curiously, the word “art” in Mr. Gungor’s sentiments could be readily replaced by the word “architecture” to create an equally powerful message. Architecture, like art, is an essential element of a dynamic and progressive civilization, providing an equally powerful expression of the human creative impulse. It then brings to the table the added dimension of functionality, offering purposeful shelter for all manner of human activity.

When these two prized endeavors – art and architecture – work in unison under the same roof, the result can be particularly rewarding for both of them. The opportunity for such creative collaboration presented itself at the recently completed North Branch Library located in Peoria, IL. Designed to gently find its place amidst the surrounding native prairie grasses, this all-new facility is intended to embody the highest and best principles of environmental and cultural sustainability.

Monday, September 16, 2013

if ENERGY took the spotlight...

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Electric Energy Law
Did you know that at Farnsworth Group we have an entire team dedicated to energy?  We have Energy Engineers, Certified Energy Managers, Certified Energy Auditors and even a spare International Groundsource Heat Pump Association member or two.  [In fact we’re looking to hire a new team member. Our commissioning agents perform energy audits, and retro-commissioning is often about ensuring that energy usage is in-line with expectations.
Not to get all statistical, but there are some interesting statistics about energy:
  • 40% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2012 was consumed in residential and commercial buildings, or about 40 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).1
  • In 2010, the United States’ primary energy consumption was nearly 98 quadrillion Btu, nearly 19% of world total primary energy consumption.2 
  • The amount of energy Americans use doubles every 20 years.3
Maybe these statistics indicate that energy usage requires some careful consideration.

Recently we combined with a team from Atkins to complete Sustainable Infrastructure Assessments on nine installations for the U.S. Air Force.  Our team is tasked with conducting assessments of the current buildings and energy usage and produce lists of project-ready recommendations for smarter energy consumption.  The project is taking the expertise of a large internal team to conduct the site visits, calculations, evaluations and report writing necessary to ensure that the Air Force can make some informed decisions about changes.
We have also recently worked with Los Alamos County to conduct energy audits of 16 buildings within the county’s portfolio.  Our team identified more than $99,148 in annual savings through identified Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs).

Farnsworth Group has also served on several General Services Administration projects to help identify energy savings.  Sometimes we even team with local energy providers to help “energy hogs” identify smarter ways to use energy.  This can mean infrastructure upgrades (systems or HVAC units), but often it’s the application of smart technology and heating and cooling a facility only when it’s needed.
What Can You Do
There isn’t anything easier than turning off the light when you’re not using it; but the projects above point to simple lessons in your personal energy usage.  One of the things you can do is set back your thermostat when you’re not at home.  Additionally, your energy provider may have some tips on conserving energy at home and at work.  Consider searching your provider’s website right now.  Rebate programs are abundant – maybe you want to put some money back in your pocket and make a difference – one Btu at a time.

Here are a few more random facts about energy!
Cited Sources
1          U.S Energy Information Administration, What is Energy:  Energy Basics,, September 2013.
2          U.S Energy Information Administration, What is Energy:  Energy Basics,, September 2013.
3          Royston, Angela. 2009. Sustainable Energy. Mankato, MN: Arcturus Publishing Limited via