Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering: Firm Profile

What is the history and background of the firm?

Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering (7GAE) was founded in 2012 as the first company operating under Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Since inception, Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering (7GAE) has grown from four employees to over 70. Much of the firm’s success comes from our tribal roots and our core ethos of Seven Generation Sustainability. This ecological concept urges us as the current generation of humans to live and create sustainably and in ways that will benefit the seventh generation into the future.

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

7GAE is focused on two core sectors of architecture and design: federal and tribal. We are focused on strengthening our tribal repertoire, which is primarily comprised of cultural buildings, healthcare facilities, and housing. One recently completed project that exemplifies our expertise is the Mille Lacs Band District 1 Health Clinic (Figure 1), a 78,000 square foot facility that was planned to seamlessly connect a number of clinics and departments, creating a “one-stop shop” for members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. We also worked with tribal members to integrate Ojibwe culture throughout the design process and to recognize the important of the surrounding wetlands through biophilic considerations such as a curtain wall offering spectacular views of the wetland from the clinic’s waiting areas.

One of our key ongoing projects is the IHS Rapid City Health Clinic (Figure 2). For this project, 7GAE has the opportunity to document a historic Native American national historic site, mitigate cultural loss, and design a contemporary medical facility offering ambulatory care, diagnostic imaging, behavioral health, and preventative services. AEC technology such as 3D scanners have been critical during this process as we preserve and document so that culturally important structures are not lost to history, even as we look forward to ensuring improved medical care for patients. For us, this is a key example of how the right technology can facilitate progressive design while simultaneously respecting the past.

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

7GAE has been using AEC technology since the very beginning. Today, we utilize Autodesk Revit to produce all our design documents. Utilizing Revit, we can coordinate any potential design conflicts in a three-dimensional world, and we can do it all in real time. Add-ons like Dynamo are also helping our team speed up basic tasks outside of Revit, and our eventual goal is to use Dynamo for automated design and to easily make complex model changes. Over the past year, we have invested in a 3D Laser Scanner to assist our team with field verification of existing conditions (Figure 3). Using the scanner to create a point cloud removes the potential for human error from the field verification process.

We are also in the process of developing a standard protocol to utilize Navisworks through our design process, which will allow our team to identify systems clashes and resolve them during design rather than during the construction process (Figure 4). Finally, 3D printing has captured our imagination over the past year. We 3D print buildings in pieces for a better idea of how the building will look and function, and we also print custom statues, sculptures, site layouts, and countless other designs.

We are currently exploring a number of ways to incorporate energy modeling for all our projects. An increasing number of clients want specific feedback on Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and what factors will impact energy usage within their buildings. After using Sefaira in 2019, 7GAE has transitioned primarily to Trace 700 (Figure 5). This design and analysis software has been key for our growing engineering team and is equipped to optimize project design with regard to factors like HVAC options and architectural features.

While the use of AEC technology has always been a priority for 7GAE, there is no question it has become increasingly important in 2020. The simple collaboration tools of Revit and BIM 360 allow for cloud collaboration from anywhere, which is more efficient than working over a typical VPN as so many of our employees, consultants, and subcontractors are working from home. AEC technology not only allows our team to provide a three-dimensional graphic representation to an owner (Figure 6), it also allows our team to work in a collaborative environment and resolve issues in real time. AEC has been and remains a priority for 7GAE as it streamlines the process of design collaboration and better allows us to meet the needs of our clients.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology?

At 7GAE, we try not to say, “Well, we’ve always done it that way!” We embrace change and growth, so we are continually looking to expand our knowledge and incorporate new hardware and software into our workflow. As the AEC industry changes, we aim to keep our staff educated and enthusiastic about embracing that change. Our desire is to stay on the cutting edge of AEC technology by adding new tech to our standard workflow and processes as we work toward the common goal of providing unique solutions to unique projects.

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

One challenge we face currently is integrating the point cloud process for modeling existing conditions with BIM360 technology. Since moving all of our projects to BIM360 for cloud-based coordination, we have a current stop gap of where to locate the point cloud so that it will be accessible to all users while minimizing conflict for those working actively in a project where the point cloud is being used.

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

7GAE sees AEC technology evolving in the future to incorporate more virtual reality simulations. It is getting easier and easier to imagine stakeholders standing in a room, putting on a VR headset, and feeling immediately connected to and immersed in a newly designed space. Creating that connection between stakeholder and design well before a space physically exists is an exciting next step in AEC technology.

In the more immediate future, we predict a much faster workflow where detailing is incorporated directly into model elements and more processes are automated. Dynamo and Edgewise, for example, have certainly made progress toward automation, but we are eager for the day when the technology allows us to take it to phases beyond basic modeling.

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

Our wish list includes additional laser scanners for field investigation because that approach has been invaluable for so many of our projects and will continue to be critical in the future. In addition, we are eager to begin incorporating software and training that allows for virtual reality simulations.

Although technology plays a tremendous role in the day-to-day activities and success at Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering, we look forward with both feet planted firmly in the ground. As a tribally-owned firm, we are careful not to forget our roots. Fortunately, progressive AEC technology is frequently helpful as we celebrate and recognize tribal history and culture in collaborative design processes that meet the needs of our clients today.

Acknowledgments: This profile was facilitated by Marc Raybin, President of Cardinal Communications Strategies, Inc.

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