This week is the first week that I have felt earnest pressure due to my job. While I have continued to work on the Clarence Brown Theater Garden, the arrival of the hard due date, which is the first deadline I have been given, has increased my stress levels. Our weekly team meeting focused this week on what I have completed to date. It made me more aware of how the process of design, check in, see what works, design again, check in some more… really works. The importance of working quickly, which has not actually been something discussed at work, has become a more concrete concept that is clearly an skill that is really valuable to a productive (and budgeted) design as possible.
This week I steered some conversations around the office toward the question of keeping relevant with new technologies. The landscape design team is required to each earn 12 continuing education credits a year. They do this through conferences and through lunch and learns. It is through these types of events the designers are introduced to new materials that they may want to use in their projects. Due to the University Standards however, it is not often that the designers veer from the material that is currently approved for University use.
When a new material is up for consideration, often it has been something that an individual has seen at a venue as mentioned above, and they would like to try it at UT. The material is researched by the specific person who is interested in it, and generally a sample is procured and installed somewhere on campus as a trial. For example, a new type of sod was installed for the circular lawn behind the torch bearer statue. After a year the new product did not meet expectations and was removed. Since then the lawn has been replanted to its pretrial state.
During the time a new material is introduced, the information is disseminated during the weekly team meetings. Consideration is taken for how maintainable the material is, and depending on its application, how well it stands up to foot traffic. Another major consideration for UT is steam heat. The design team has been actively looking for materials that can hold up to the extreme, consistent heat levels created by UT’s steam tunnels when they leak. The heat from these tunnels is incredibly destructive, and leaks are something that happens frequently. Planting material cannot withstand the temperatures the come from these leaks and even concrete cracks, separates and begins to fall apart at the site of these leaks. Because these leaks are often neglected for long periods of time the landscape design team is actively searching for material that can be used in place of concrete that is attractive when used as pavers, but will also not deteriorate with the heat.
The University organizes the resources that are approved for use through the University Standards. This method does not necessarily keep UT working with innovative materials.
My interview for this week was with Keith Downen. Keith is a project manager at facilities services for capital projects. Capital projects are the multi-million-dollar projects as opposed to the in-house projects that are just in the thousands of dollars. Keith is not exclusively limited to capital projects and has been involved with in-house projects as well. While his focus is the multi-million-dollar projects Keith does have a preference for the smaller in-house projects. With the capital projects Keith must deal with outside consultants and construction. There is a huge variety of people involved and lots of “moving parts” potentially waiting to go wrong. Additionally Keith enjoys having a larger, more personal role in projects that are smaller in scale.
Keith earned a business degree at Illinois College before joining the Air Force where he began doing surveying and site development. After leaving the Air Force Keith came to the University of Tennessee and earned a second degree in architecture. During his last year as a student Keith began working for MHM and continued to work for them for seven years after graduating. After MHM Keith worked for Lockwood Green, which is an engineering and architecture firm. He worked for them for 13 years before they went out of business and Keith started at UT. He has been at UT for 14 years.
Having worked for both small and large firms Keith offered the advice that he feels it is better to work for small firms before working for larger firms because at a small firm you learn every aspect of the job. Due to the small size, these firms don’t necessarily have the resources for people to specialize, and everyone needs to help in all areas. He feels this is valuable experience to take with you into a larger firm. Keith feels that larger firms allow individuals to specialize.
As an architect, Keith rarely gets to design at UT, so he enjoys it when he has the chance to. Originally UT architects did do their own design work, but now all the architectural work is contracted out. The reasons behind this feel like a potentially like a delicate topic. There are people who feel this is a liability issue, while others feel that it is more politically motivated.
Keith is currently writing new Standards for facility services. This was first brought to my attention in a conversation that several of us were having about green roofs. Keith made the comment that he is thinking of writing in green roof as standard for all new visible roof surfaces. Because of this comment I asked him how he could make that happen and I learned that Keith is rewriting the architectural standards for UT. We talked for some time about this aspect of Keith’s job. He takes this task seriously, as the guidelines are not meant to stifle creativity in those creating the design, but to reflect the aesthetic of the University look.
A little-known fact about Keith is that In addition to his survey and site development work while in the service, Keith was also a navigator and flew F-4’s. He described this experience as a “wild ride!” Requiring the wearing of a G-suit Keith took part in dog-fights, and dive bombing.
He described dive bombing as “racing toward the ground in a dive” and pulling up before hitting. This conversation turned toward commercial flight and interestingly enough, despite (or maybe because of) this history Keith does not like to fly.
Keith is also a runner and has run dozens of marathons, always swearing at about mile 20 that this will be his last, but inevitably always being lured into another – “just one more” (My quote, not his, and I get that.).