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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From Revit to Project Reviews, Summer Intern Ready for the Real World

Farnsworth Group always looks forward to the opportunity to hire interns for the summer.  It’s an occasion to give these students a chance to apply in the real world what they’ve been learning in the classroom.  Plus, there’s always the chance we might learn a little something new, too!

We asked a few of our summer interns to blog about their experience with us during their summer. 
Tiffany Wernsman attended Southern Illinois University where she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Studies and just completed her Masters of Architecture from SIU.
It was an absolute pleasure being a part of the Farnsworth Group team! 

At first, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into, but everyone involved in the company played a role in making my transition from student to intern much more comfortable than I could have ever imagined.  Each and every day provided me with an opportunity to learn a new lesson from professionals amongst various disciplines in a unique atmosphere.

The first day of employment I went through basic orientation and later was taken out to lunch with the entire architecture department.  It was in that moment that I learned of the strong relationships and collaborative methods that have been developed amongst my peers at Farnsworth Group.
As the weeks went by, I had the opportunity to get real hands-on experience and took part in a multitude of different projects.  I was given the chance to attend work load projection meetings, monthly center staff meetings, safety training programs, monthly Revit webinars, architecture group meetings, visited project sites, attended lunch and learn sessions, attended a group golf outing, and developed documentation for numerous projects.

These events gave me a real sense of belonging, making me feel like I was part of not only the architectural group, but the entire Farnsworth Group team.  From meeting people who had just begun their careers, to consulting with corporate individuals, project managers, and principals, everyone that I encountered was a pleasure to work with and made me feel at ease.
The very first project that I had in depth involvement in was the Heritage Enterprises Evergreen Senior Living renovation competition.  I had the opportunity to set up existing, demolition, and proposed plans, as well as construct a Revit model, 3D views, and renderings all while collaborating with our Interior Design department.
I really value the learning opportunity that Farnsworth Group has provided me throughout the duration of my summer internship.  Although I am progressing towards the finish line for my time here at Farnsworth, my mentors here have given me the courage and professional advice necessary to succeed in my future endeavors and for that I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What it's like to intern at Farnsworth Group...

Farnsworth Group always looks forward to the opportunity to hire interns for the summer.  It’s an occasion to give these students a chance to apply in the real world what they’ve been learning in the classroom.  Plus, there’s always the chance we might learn a little something new, too!

We asked a few of our summer interns to blog about their experience with us during their summer. 
Josh Brown is a Civil Engineering major entering his senior year at Bradley University.
When I accepted my job as a municipal intern with Farnsworth Group, I was excited to see how what I was learning in the classroom could be applied to the experience I would have at Farnsworth Group.
My first week swept by getting acquainted with the office, along with training in preparation of going out in the field. Once my first week was complete, I was suddenly getting involved in more projects than I can even begin to count.
In my first summer, I experienced everything from design work to construction inspection.  Not only was I able to apply what I had been learning in the classroom, but I learned more than I could ever imagine. I worked under two Professional Engineers who were always able to give me direction and guide me along the way.
Some of my first projects included drafting currently built projects. I spent my time using field notes to make as-built drawings of the projects we had just completed. These projects included water main, storm sewer, sanitary sewer and water pump stations.  By the end of my summer, I was able to see much of our hard work come full circle through design, bidding, and construction.
What really made my experience at Farnsworth Group great was having the chance to experience every aspect of a project - from seeing the design of the project on paper to witnessing the project actually being constructed. The tools I have now from my experience here will help me excel in this industry as I move forward.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Would I Want to Call a Landscape Architect?

Landscape Architects create and shape the outdoor world around all of us. Farnsworth Group boasts that our Landscape Architects create memorable spaces, but how does this process work, and when do you contact a Landscape Architect for your project?

Let’s begin by pretending you are the Director of a Parks and Recreation Department.  You have a large piece of undeveloped land that was previously on the outskirts of town and will soon be surrounded by new residential neighborhoods. You will need to know how to best develop this space for the members of your community, but even more so how to pay for such developments. Call a Landscape Architect to develop a Master Plan- a pretty picture to show the community how the overall space may be developed, and more importantly how it could be developed into future phases. The Landscape Architect will put together a budget that accompanies the Master Plan that you can use to seek grant funding to make this park a realization.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What is Fire Protection?

What does a Fire Protection Engineer do?
A Fire Protection Engineer specializes in fire protection systems and design. They fill in the "gaps," such as a mechanical engineer designing sprinkler systems or electrical engineers designing fire alarm systems. They specialize in building and fire code compliance and assist architects and engineers with code compliance. They are becoming an integral, and often required, member of design teams, particularly in some occupancies such as high-rise office and residential, hospitals, schools, military installations, industrial and warehouse spaces.

Tunnel Smoke Test
Why is fire protection important?
Fires are a major cause of death each year. According to a study in 2010, one person dies every 169 minutes due to fire-related events. This is equivalent to a loaded Boeing 737 aircraft crashing every 17 days, killing everyone on board.

Code compliance is an important aspect of the design process, and the design must be in compliance with all relevant codes to avoid delays. Any errors or failure to comply with these codes can hold up the Certificate of Occupancy and can end up being very costly.

What does fire protection involve?
Active systems:
The most commonly identified with fire protection. Active systems require a certain amount of motion and response in order to work.

Fire sprinklers:
Suppress fire growth to allow occupants to get out and help limit property damage.

Fire alarm systems: 
Smoke detectors - These alert the occupants in the early stages of fire development.
Notifications - Include horns, strobes or speakers. These devices alert occupants of fire, weather and security threats and may include voice instructions.

Smoke control:
Smoke is actually more deadly than the fire itself. This is an important consideration in tall buildings, since smoke spreads upward, and occupant evacuation is slower and more difficult. This is very important in non-evacuation facilities like hospitals.

Passive systems:
These attempt to contain fires or slow the spread through use of fire-resistant walls, floors and doors. They allow buildings to remain structurally intact until they are evacuated.

Fire walls:
Fireproof barriers are used to prevent the spread of fire between or through buildings and structures. They are used to protect exits, such as stairwells. In hospitals, they are used to protect those who are bedridden and unable to leave.

Occupants need to get out of the building safely ASAP. Exits include doors, ramps, corridors and stairwells. Exits must be separated in case there is an obstruction and wide enough to allow sufficient occupant capacity.

Firefighting features:
These features include site access, fire lanes, water supplies, fire hydrants, standpipes, elevator fire controls and fire command center for high-rise buildings.

Specialized applications:
These applications include hazardous material storage (flammable liquids, toxins and explosives), rack storage (warehouses), water sensitive occupancies (computer data centers) and industrial process (spray painting or use of flammable liquids).

For more information about fire protection, contact Farnsworth Group Fire Protection Engineer Burt Singleton, PE, at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why Would I Want to Call a Land Surveyor?

We list land surveying as one of our specialties on our website, here’s the low-down on what it is and why you might want it.

Pretend you’re a major mall retail developer and you want to make some changes.  Before you talk to an architect, you’ll want to know exactly what you own and where the property limits are.  You’d want a drawing to summarize these details called a Boundary Survey or perhaps an ALTA Survey.

Now pretend you’re a project manager with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and you’re getting ready to widen a road.  Who do you want on the engineering team – why a land surveyor of course.  Our survey team will go out “shoot” or photograph the entire designated right-of-way, and maybe even “fly” the site to ensure that all sidewalks, interchanges, monuments and signage are in place and located.  If you were a DOT employee, your constituents would want accurate mile markers or road stationing. 

What if you were a Town Planner and you were considering a new water treatment facility.  Well you would certainly want a topographic site survey.  This map would provide ground contours to within a foot, along with spot elevations for accurate design.  Additionally this survey might help you determine utilities owned by the municipality.

Now you’re a school administrator and your school has raised enough money to build a new Sports Facility Storage Shed.  Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re gonna call a land surveyor.  Why?  Because you’ll need some assistance assessing the best place for the shed on the school grounds so that it will not interfere with any underground or overhead utilities.

And so, you are likely a property owner.  Have you been thinking about building a new fence?  Our team of surveyors could ensure that you are building the fence on your property and make you aware of any recorded easements that may impact the location of where you would like to build your fence.

Ultimately, Land Surveying is the art of location…an important aspect to engineering excellence.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Green Your Home for Summer

Although some parts of the country are unfortunately still seeing snow, for most spring has finally sprung!  As you begin your spring cleaning chores, this is a great opportunity to discover new ways to help save energy (and money) during the upcoming hot summer months.  Many of these strategies are simple, economical and will reduce your energy consumption all season.

Ensure that your electronic devices, like computers, are placed at least a couple feet away from your air conditioner’s thermostat. These devices often produce extra heat that your thermostat can detect, causing the air conditioner to run longer than needed.

Your oven and stove produce a large amount of heat when cooking.  Grilling outside, microwaving your meals or using a toaster oven reduces the amount heat produced in your kitchen at dinnertime. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

AABC Commissioning Group 9th Annual Conference

Farnsworth Group, Inc. has been selected to present at the AABC Commissioning Group (ACG) 9th Annual Conference on Total Building Commissioning to be held in Chicago April 16-19th, 2013.  Brian Davie (Normal, IL) and Josh Hickman (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) will be discussing such topics as Building Enclosure Commissioning along with future requirements of the LEED rating systems.
Our expertise in the field of both commissioning and LEED navigation will provide the base for a comprehensive and interactive presentation. We will review the benefits and importance of Enclosure Commissioning, along with multiple real project examples.  Conference participants will leave with an understanding of how to implement Building Enclosure Commissioning as well as informative lessons learned.
Another topic of conversation will be how Building Enclosure Commissioning fits into the typical Commissioning and LEED version 4.0 processes. Multiple project case studies will be utilized including: New Orleans Schools, a University near St. Louis, MO, a Healthcare project in Peoria, IL, and a Department of Natural Resources project in Spooner, WI. Thus, a broad spectrum of project types will be explored to highlight the strategies, benefits, complexities, and lessons learned.
Our team will also discuss opportunities for cost effective implementation measures and the benefits of including certain requirements upfront in the design phase. The methods used to functionally test the enclosure will be discussed and the tasks outlined.  Cost is often a big concern for typical commissioning, let alone adding additional systems such as the building envelope.
Myths, concerns and accuracies will be outlined and discussed to allow for a realistic picture for project teams. A discussion will ensue on means and methods to reduce cost while maintaining the integrity of the commissioning process and the owner’s goals for a project.  Our experience will be leveraged to lead a conversation to help ease project teams’ concerns about Building Envelope Commissioning.
Selection to present at the ACG annual conference is proof of our experience and of our dedication to ongoing efficiency within the built environment.  If you would like to learn more about envelope commissioning, come by and see us at the ACG conference or email Josh Hickman at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Christening, Launching, and Commissioning in the 21st Century

"Christening, launching, and commissioning are bench marks of abiding importance in the history of a United States Navy ship. One sees in these closely related events a striking parallel to the human experience of those Americans, young and not so young, who man the ships for our nation’s defense on the oceans of the world. If launching may be likened to birth, and christening the endowment of individuality, then at commissioning the ship is at the threshold of a productive and rewarding maturity."
- E.B. Hooper, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret), Director of Naval History

"Christening and launching are the inseparable elements which endow a ship hull with her identity. Yet, just as many developmental milestones must be passed before one takes his place in society, so too must the newly-launched vessel pass such milestones before she is completed and considered ready to be designated a commissioned ship of the United States Navy. The engineering plant, weapon and electronic systems, galley, and multitudinous other equipment required to transform the new hull into an operating and habitable warship are installed and tested. The prospective commanding officer, ship's officers, the petty officers, and seamen who will form the crew report for training and intensive familiarization with their new ship. Crew and ship must function in total unison if full potential and maximum effectiveness are to be realized. The most modern naval vessel embodying every advantage of advanced technology is only as good as those who man her."
 - John C. Reilly Jr., Head, Ships History Branch

Oftentimes, some of mankind’s oldest ideas turn out to be some of his newest and brightest ideas. These two delightful quotations – regarding the commissioning of ships – are taken from a publication of the History Division of the United States Department of the Navy. They speak to the long and storied tradition of ship commissioning that can be traced all the way back to some of our earliest civilizations and societies.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rethink: What Are Buildings For Anyway?

We have private companies building spacecraft, sexy little electric cars, computers smaller than your favorite book…and yet building control has remained fairly stagnant.  However, current technology inherently has tremendous growth potential for building controls to conserve energy.

Imagine something as simple as an app that tells you when a building is generating more energy than it is using and turns on your EV charger, or other energy using systems.  Now take it to the next step and utilize trend data to predict the energy projection and use for a given day along with estimated energy costs.  That is where we’re heading – integrated project teams leveraging Building Information Modeling (BIM) throughout design and construction phases have helped move the industry towards net zero energy use.

Energy modeling tools and capabilities are bringing us towards efficient performance and proper system designs.  To maximize implementation, water management and ongoing financial incentives are hopefully around the corner.  Rethinking how the end user occupies a building and the role buildings play in each of our lives goes beyond design and gets to the heart of owner and end-user requirements.
Having a true understanding of the end-use allows a design team to maximize the efficiency of the space and energy using components.

The Farnsworth Group team is utilizing the learned skills and latest technologies to create and implement net zero energy goals at Fort Carson, Colorado.  Find out more about the team, goals, and technologies used by visiting our Energy Portfolio.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Working at Pipeline Sites with SPCC Regulations

By Erica Sykut, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Pipeline site related projects often pose unique environment permitting issues.  Aside from the typical land disturbance, endangered species, archeological and discharge permits that impact most construction projects, pipeline sites may be subject to Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations.  These regulations can be tricky to navigate through, especially since the SPCC regulations have only been fully in effect since 2010. 

Any site that has above ground oil storage capacity greater than 1,320 gallons or has had an oil spill in the past three years should have a written Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan.  This plan outlines how the facility will operate to prevent oil spills, the measures that are in place to control a spill and the steps that will be taken to clean up a spill.  While an SPCC plan deals directly with oil containers on a site, it also has an impact on the overall site’s layout and should be taken into consideration anytime work is proposed at a regulated site. 

Impacts to a site’s SPCC can be particularly tricky for projects that do not impact oil storage.   Any project that involves below grade work of any kind could impact the site’s plan for managing spills.  Secondary containment measures are the most common site feature to impact SPCCs.  All diked areas within a facility around oil storage containers (including large electrical transformers) should be designed to contain a specific volume.  It is important that any berms or dikes disturbed by a project be fully restored to their original condition as soon as possible within a project’s timeline.  Collection of additional topographic survey data may be prudent to ensure the site is properly restored, especially if a section of a dike wall had to be disturbed for the installation of improvements, or if something is constructed within a diked area.  Contractors and facility operators should also be cautioned when ‘dressing up’ diked areas with gravel or spreading excess fill to avoid transporting soil off site.  This additional material can cause secondary containment to become undersized.

Also as part of the SPCC, site drainage is considered.  In the event of a spill, oil will pool anywhere stormwater does.  If a project involves changing the site’s drainage patterns, the SPCC may need to be revised/updated.  Even if no alterations are planned, it is important that the contractor understand the importance of returning sites to their original grade/condition.   Often contractors bring in extra gravel or spread excess excavated material on site and ‘make it look pretty’ without any consideration to the site’s drainage patterns.  After years of various projects/improves, it is not uncommon for sites to end up with significant extra fill material in some areas and drainage plans that no longer properly function as a result. 

Working at pipeline sites often involves many special considerations.   Because of the nature of work and potential hazards found at these sites, extra consideration to project details is not only warranted but essential to keeping a client in compliance with regulatory agencies.  For further information on SPCC regulations visit: or 40 CFR 112 for full SPCC plan guidance.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I Did Not Know About Recycling

Most of us know to separate our paper, plastic, glass and aluminum from the regular trash. Some of us even know how to dispose of electronics, CFL bulbs, paint and batteries. As our landfills continue to grow, it is important to continue searching for new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Although cork is a renewable resource, it is not often recycled after use. The ReCORK program collects used wine corks, turning them into flooring tiles, insulation, craft materials and sports equipment. Over 39 million wine corks have been collected since the inception of the program. In addition, ReCORK sponsors the planting of thousands of cork trees each year to offset the carbon footprint of recycling.  
Monofilament fishing line is non-biodegradable and cannot be recycled by usual means. The lines often end up in our lakes and oceans, creating a potential hazard for wildlife. The Berkley Conservation Institute recycles the fishing lines, creating artificial habitat structures that promote plant growth and appeal to fish. These “Fish-Habs” are made of monofilament lines, spools and other post-consumer products. The Institute has recycled over 9 million miles of fishing line since 1990.
Have a bowling trophy that has been sitting in your basement for decades? Old trophies are often made of molded plastic, which is sometimes difficult to recycle. Lamb Awards and Engraving in Westminster, Maryland, pioneered trophy recycling by reusing trophy parts or donating complete trophies to charities. They also accept unwanted medals and plaques.
Over 12 million crayons are made in the United States each day, most of which eventually end up in landfills.  The Minnesota-based Crazy Crayons “upcycles” crayons, transforming unwanted, broken and used crayons into new crayons with fun shapes. Even the wax covered crayon wrappers are bundled and reused as fire starters.
Have some furniture, clothing or household items you just are not using anymore? The Freecycle Network is comprised of local groups, moderated by volunteers, with the intent of giving and getting unwanted items for free. Members can post items that they are willing to offer, giving items that would normally be thrown away a new life. This website gives a new meaning to “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resume Writing Tips from Farnsworth Group

Finding a job that you like can be a lifelong quest for even the most qualified candidates. Once you factor in resume review and interview preparation, the whole process can seem incredibly daunting. In order to help ease the stress of the job search, Farnsworth Group has put together a list of helpful resume writing tips. 

A quick tip before you even begin writing your resume is to identify the position you are seeking and go from there. Ensure your resume highlights the experiences you have acquired that best relates to the desired position, including any internships or co-op opportunities. Don’t get hung up on coming off as a braggart; highlight your accomplishments, i.e. President of the Structural Engineers Club 2007, Cum Laude. Be sure to check your dates. Your resume is your story, and an employer will review your work history and education, putting the pieces of the story together. Be honest. Employers have methods of confirming the information listed on your resume, and it could cost you a position in the end. 

Your objective should be brief, highlighting your desired position, should you choose to have an objective.