A roadmap for technology design with the future in mind

April 1, 2024

Among the many critical decisions made during the design and preconstruction phase of any commercial construction project, planning the technology systems plays a pivotal role. From the telecom infrastructure, audio visual, to security cameras and door locks, there is a growing list of systems that are as crucial to a building’s function as steel and concrete. Thoughtful design ensures that each of these systems work seamlessly together.

Thoughtful technology design is what Aptitude’s Design Phase Services group aims for daily. Chris Andrews oversees Aptitude Design and Preconstruction, which is comprised of three key functions: technology design, Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) services, and estimating. Having worked on hundreds of design projects, Andrews will attest that a successful, well-planned technology design supports several goals:  helps ensure that systems function properly, can enhance overall building performance, can help create efficiencies that support meeting higher sustainability standards, and can ensure that a building’s infrastructure is adaptable for future changes. All of these goals can be achieved when technology design is part of preliminary planning conversations for any construction or renovation project. This article offers a roadmap for what that journey looks like when a client works with our design team.

It starts with a conversation and a story.

Andrews and his team are technology experts, yet they are also creative. Their role in being able to envision how systems will operate within a building while still meeting technical requirements means that they must use the right side of their brain as often as their left. They relish the beginning of a client partnership because it’s a chance to discuss a new vision and write a story – paint a picture so to speak – of an ideal outcome.

“We are first and foremost, focused on outcomes and focused on capturing needs,” said Andrews. “We’ll sit down with a new client at a whiteboard or on an iPad where we can just scribble notes. We won’t pay any attention to a brand name, manufacturer or anything like that. Our first question is what do you want that room to do?”

The initial schematic design (SD) conversation is spent asking clients questions such as: How many different types of content do you want to send to the TVs? What areas of your building do you need secure? For intrusion detection where are your points of risk? Do you want those doors opened with a key card or a phone credential? Andrews’ team uses the answers to all of these questions and more to write a narrative in paragraph form that the client can review and confer with as a starting point.

After the story is told, the map is made.

The SD conversation and the resulting narrative is a stepping off point for what Andrews refers to as “a big dart.”

“Before we spend hours and hours making scale drawings, we share the narrative and apply a ballpark price to that so our clients can start to see a budget take shape,” he said.

VDC services can be pivotal to the next step; drawing the map that not only allows an owner to see a model of the technology systems in their space, it also saves considerable time in labor, it can help pinpoint design flaws, it ensures accurate counts for equipment procurement, and it essentially gives the project team a clear-cut visual for how they are going to build the systems.

“My focus is, between design, VDC, and estimating, making sure the three entities communicate together and share data. If Emory can export all the data out of a Revit model we’ve just drawn and give it to an estimator and say, all right, we’ve already got all your quantities, we know everything piece of equipment we’ve put into this job, here it is. Then, that’s less labor we’re spending on, less time counting, it will all be mapped out,” said Andrews.

The Emory he mentioned is Emory Burch, Senior VDC Manager for Aptitude. If you ask Emory how he spends his days, he’ll tell you that he “virtually builds all of the low-voltage systems before they go into a commercial building to make sure they are going to work in a 3D world, which makes the actual install as efficient as possible.”

Putting VDC into action at SMU’s football stadium.

One recent VDC project Burch worked on was for the Southern Methodist University football stadium endzone remodel project in Dallas, Texas. Aptitude Project Manager II Steve Edmiston reached out to Burch because he knew that having a 3D drawing would be very beneficial for installing the structured cabling at the stadium.

“There were a lot of difficult pathways and duct work to navigate, and they were able to create a detailed VDC model with to-the-inch information,” said Edmiston. “This enabled our install crew to prefab pieces that had to be cut and really helped the project go smoothly.”

“We’ll go through and make sure that, for example every single rod is not hitting duct work, and we’ll give the contractor exact dimensions for where to put each rod and how long to cut each piece. We’re speeding up their installation time tenfold really,” said Burch.

Edmiston touts the work Burch and his team do for its part in exacting and accelerating a project team’s ability to deliver better results for clients.

“The potential of more advanced VDC models for improving our jobs is great,” said Edmiston. “They are taking it to the next level with the details they can break out so we know exactly what to look for.”