Firm Profile: ROJO Architecture AECbytes Profile (July 15, 2016)

ROJO Architecture, a small Florida-based design firm specializing in architecture and interior design, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

Founded in 1998 and located in Tampa, FL, ROJO Architecture specializes in upscale luxury projects for design-sensitive clients. A growing organization, its team consists of program/project managers, architects, interior designers and interior architects, and it has worked on a wide variety of projects including hospitality, retail, commercial office buildings, medical office buildings, hospitals, surgery centers, interior architecture/interior build-outs, religious buildings, military buildings, education buildings, custom residential homes, and multi-family buildings.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

ROJO Architecture continues to serve several market sectors including hospitality, medical, religious, educational, retail, office/commercial, and luxury residential. Some of the key projects it is currently working on are shown in Figure 1, and its client roster includes JSA Medical Group, Florida Orthopaedic Institute, Holiday Inn, Starwood Vacation Ownership, Memorial Medical Center, University of South Florida Research, and others.

Figure 1. Some of ROJO Architecture's recent projects. Top left: Van Dyke Imaging Center for the new St. Joseph's Hospital in North Tampa, Florida. Top right: The Portland Apartments, a 12 story residential tower in St Petersburg, Florida. Lower left: Wyndham hotel (now Holiday Inn) in Tampa, Florida. Lower right: ISPC Financing Headquarters in Odessa, Florida, chosen as Metal Architecture's 2012 commercial building of the year.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

(Responses to this and the following questions are provided by Rob Glisson, AIA, Principal and CoFounder of ROJO Architecture.)

I changed my major to Architecture in 1984 - the same year the Apple Macintosh was available.  I talked my father into getting me one for college - I had the first Macintosh model and an image writer printer - together, the two items cost $3,000.00. I used MacDraw and MacDraft throughout my college years - my teachers did not approve, thinking I would lose my touch for the project.

After college, in 1988, I went to work for a firm drawing by hand - and hated it.  After 1 1/2 years, I went to work with a firm using CADD on a Mac and never looked back.  John Saldana, my business partner, and I founded ROJO Architecture in 1998.

AEC Technology has been a very big part of our firm.  Our first program, MiniCad, allowed us to develop 3D models which could also be used for 2D construction documents. We loved this idea - we didn’t know it at the time, but we were BIM before there was a BIM.

MiniCad grew into VectorWorks, and today, it allows us to create wonderful designs using BIM and rendering techniques. We are very fortunate that both Apple survived (remember the late 1990’s?) and VectorWorks flourished. Even today, 19 years after drawing our first drawings in MiniCad, we can double-click MiniCad files from as far back as 1992 and they will still open in VectorWorks. This has been a wonderful feature to have - unlimited access to our entire history of documents.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

We push technology. We believe that it is too expensive to be on the cutting edge of technology. After all, we are architects!  But that said, we follow very closely. Once a technological direction begins taking the lead, we are quick to jump on and push ahead.

We update our hardware when it is 3 years old and our software is always up to date. One of the requirements of today’s architecture firms is that we have to stay up to date with technology. When I came into the practice of architecture in 1988, I worked with several people that had performed their work the same way for their entire career and would eventually retire using those same methods. The methods of delivering architecture today change so fast, it is difficult to keep up. We work hard to see the trends and then work hard to stay in front.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

Our team is so used to upgrading that it is built into our DNA. Resistance comes from contractors, engineers, and some owners that are not capable of seeing the emerging trends and wish to keep “going on” the way they have been doing. Sometimes, what we are pushing is so far out there that they just can’t see the light coming their way.

As far as our challenges with our engineers go, there are not that many. Our engineers, all of whom use AutoCAD/Revit, state that, “most of the time, your drawings are easier to import into our system than those coming from architects using AutoCAD/Revit .”  They state that the nice thing about our system is that every drawing comes to them the same way, using the same import procedures. Drawings from other architects come to them in many different formats that they have to flush out during the import process.

We have struggled a bit more on the BIM issues.  Revit, to date, has not been very IFC-friendly. In most cases, we have funneled the engineering BIM documents through 3rd party software, such as Solibri. Once we get all our files in this 3rd party software, everything seems to work fine (Figure 2). It would be nice if Revit could be a little IFC friendlier!

Figure 2. Some of ROJO Architecture’s BIM work on the Rinker Welcome Center project at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. The top image shows a rendering of the project, while the lower images show BIM models and coordination using multi-disciplinary models.

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

We saw BIM coming and were well prepared. Today, the changing AEC technology is more about the delivery of a job. In the near future, we believe that we will not be using paper for documents but iPads instead. BIM models will perfectly explain to contractors and owners what a building should be and how it should be built. More and more BIM information will be incorporated into our models and go much farther than they do today. Things like shop drawing information, cut sheets, and installation instructions will be attached to the model. It will not be necessary for the contractor to provide that information to an architect since they have already attached it to the model.

Additionally, we believe BIM will move architects and contractors back together like the olden days, creating a “master builder.” This Master Builder will not be an individual but a company of architects, contractors and engineers.

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

Keep advancing and making our world better …… sounds hokey, but that’s what’s needed!

Any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology implementation that the firm would like to share?

In today’s world, technology is advancing every day. iPads, apps, the cloud, etc., are constantly changing. It is important that ROJO keep their eyes on the path and not be overly distracted by the clutter of advancement around us, but we can’t ignore it either, and will take continue to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

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