Planners, architects, and engineers have been professionally responding for years to a carbon-constrained world, offering greener approaches for designing, constructing, and managing the built environment. In the following TPR interview, DMJM H&N President Ray Landy details how his company has assembled an integrated consortium of talented professionals, ideally suited to help global clients adopt 21st century sustainable practices.
When readers and potential clients learn that DMJM is involved with a complex development or planning project, what should they assume? What are the firm's strengths and deliverables?
Our strengths are providing integrated services from front-end real estate consulting through planning, architecture, engineering, and into construction management and operations. While parts of the firm may appear externally to be conventional in some respects, since we sometimes do only architecture, sometimes do only interiors, sometimes only provide construction management, we are fairly unique in the industry given that our delivery platform gives each of us, and ultimately our clients, access to global talent and worldwide expertise that informs our staff, irrespective of where they touch the life cycle of a building or the urban structure, in more comprehensive and knowledgeable ways. From the very beginning over 60 years ago, when DMJM was incubated by a group of architects and engineers, it was one of the first multi-disciplinary practices where architecture, engineering, construction management, planning, economics, transportation, and infrastructure came together in a single firm to provide integrated services.
This integrated services approach then formed the vision that eventually became AECOM over 15 years ago and now integrates the services and staff of firms such as EDAW, ERA, ENSR, Metcalfe & Eddy, City Mark in China-all focused on the built environment and all focused on global clients and global knowledge shared and applied to our clients for their benefit and gain.
Each of us within AECOM has a unique set of talents and responsibilities to provide, and in the case of DMJM, it is that of design excellence in architecture, engineering, sustainability, and interiors, coupled with a program and construction management delivery platform that brings content-based and thought-based value to clients. Not that such a delivery platform always works well -it's all about talent and skills-but this is our purpose and that's what we really strive to do.
What is the value proposition for bringing "integrated skill sets" to a client's building project?
The value manifests itself in two ways for our clients. First, from my perspective, the delivery of buildings in the U.S. and most of the world is broken. In too many cases, projects end up with owners who only end up looking at a set of consultants and contractors who are pointing fingers at each other in lawyer's offices. And who loses? We all lose, but especially our clients lose.
I look to new types of alliances and firms with an integrated approach to delivery to solve this foundational problem for the industry. Integrated skills-architects who have access to construction management capabilities and who view the world from a different perspective, construction managers who have access to design-focused architects who also view the world from a different perspective-but can apply their combined skills in ways that change the paradigm of adversarial, litigious projects.
Some of the solutions are going to come from the alliancing contracts being implemented on large programs in Australia and which DMJM is now using on projects in the Middle East. Alliancing contracts can have a transformational impact on design and delivery, so our ability in DMJM to access those skills from our AECOM colleagues in Australia is now providing immediate benefits to our clients in Abu Dhabi and hopefully someday in the US. For me, this is integration.
Secondly, integration provides value to clients in providing direct access to skills, talents and knowledge under a single source or client manager. For example, many of our clients struggle with their assets-do we build, do we lease, do we consolidate, and how much does it cost? Having the skills of a firm such as Economic Research Associates (ERA) as part of the AECOM family provides us and our clients those answers very early in the decision process of our clients.
It is as much about setting a strategy as it is about developing a program and designing a building. It is so important to assess the whole life cycle of buildings and the reuse of buildings, especially in terms of climate change and conservation. All of us working in the built environment must be better informed-indeed integrated-into the life cycle of buildings and apply integrated skills and knowledge for our clients and our communities.
Share with TPR readers the global array of DMJM's current projects.
Let me start with the Middle East, as this is where I have spent most of my time the last several months. AECOM has over 2000 staff in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar, and DMJM is now working on major universities, such as the new University of Dubai, the new Sheikh Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and several resort developments in Oman, as well as providing a range of AECOM services for TDIC, one of the major developers in Abu Dhabi. Every time I am there I leave more impressed by the talents and smarts of so many of the Emirati, yet challenged by what is happening to the environment with non-sustainable development and what I will kindly term ‘design-free' buildings. There are very smart and engaging clients there with one of the most compelling histories and legacies in terms of where they were to where they are.
One of the most interesting aspects of the global economy and the Middle East is that U.S. architects and engineers are becoming increasingly more competitive globally with the weakening dollar, and there are more U.S. architects and engineers potentially available with our economy trending down. And as staffing shortages continue to worsen in the Middle East, I have had several UAE firms inquire as to whether we would be interested in taking on outsourced work from them to produce in the U.S. We won't do this work, but it is still a very interesting trend that no one would have expected five years ago.
In China, DMJM is working for a number of global and U.S. based clients such as GE, Paul Hastings, and John Deere. There are global relationships that allow us to follow them around the world with client knowledge coupled with local skills to execute effectively and rapidly. China is a major part of AECOM's growth and future, with approximately 2000 staff in most of the major cities of the PRC, as well as Hong Kong and Singapore. Last year AECOM became the first company to acquire 100 percent ownership of a privately held architecture firm, City Mark, and we expect them to grow exponentially in Asia and to work with us as well in other parts of the world. They're a very talented, young, design-focused and commercially-oriented firm that already has over 300 staff in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
In the U.S., our current projects range from NBC Universal's new headquarters and studios here in Los Angeles to program and construction management of a number of the large education programs in the U.S., including Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Detroit. A number of the AECOM companies, including EDAW and DMJM, continue to work on major components of the World Trade Center redevelopment, along with major programs for some of our major federal agency clients such as NASA and the State Department. And we are starting to see some signs of life for U.S. architects and engineers in Latin America and South America-we have some interior projects in Sao Paulo along with the planning for a major university and research park in Santiago, Chile.
Green and sustainability have not always been the watchwords of the planning and architectural profession or a client priority. How has recent public and government recognition of climate change affected the market and work of DMJM and the whole planning profession? Has DMJM been on the professional cutting edge of designing to reduce a project's carbon footprint?
I don't think we have been on the cutting edge. Most American firms have not been on the cutting edge. We have to change. We need to increasingly pressure decision-makers to mandate change, but we also need to assume the innovation, technology and smarts to make the changes ourselves.
Look at what's happened in Europe, the U.K., and Australia-they are so far ahead of the U.S. and continue to be the benchmark in terms of ideas and applications. In fact, we made a decision three or four years ago to import a lot of our talent from our sister company in the U.K. and Australia in order to be sure that we move faster with knowledge for our clients and for ourselves.
Climate change has had a profound impact on our business from a culture standpoint within the firm. Our purpose statement is "to enhance and sustain the natural, built, and social environment." And in order to live by that purpose, we are having to make some dramatic changes in how we do business internally and how we practice for our clients. We are now benchmarking our carbon footprint in the firm in order to achieve a 20 percent reduction by the end of the year and hopefully cut it in half within two years. It is not going to be easy to achieve this, but now I have a good excuse to use video conferencing instead of getting on a plane twice a week.
As a firm, we are also thinking a lot more about what we will do and what we won't do in terms of a client and a project's ability to live by our purpose statement. With integrated services from an engineering and approach standpoint, addressing sustainability issues isn't always a matter of LEED or BREEAM-it's not necessarily the criteria or the checklist-but it is bringing clients the knowledge and information that is important for them to make decisions about their responsibilities, the direct cost savings that result, and the direct cost benefits that accrue to them, as well.
As our business becomes more global-55 percent of AECOM's employees work outside the U.S.-the applications of sustainability are increasingly more needed yet more challenging. How one applies this knowledge that comes with the Western mindset toward issues such as sustainability is a challenge, but also a remarkable opportunity. Especially since so many of the global cultures where there is growth today are in areas and environments that once practiced sustainability in very profound and responsive ways compared to the West.
Lastly, in the February issues of The Planning Report and VerdeXchange News, we carried resolutions from the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Earl Blumenauer, moving toward a "Rebuild America" strategy of infrastructure investment. AECOM and DMJM have long been in that field; you do work in infrastructure. How much of America needs to be rebuilt, and what kind of energy, focus, and attention needs to happen for a program like "Rebuild America" to happen?
It's a huge part of what AECOM does. The innovation and ideas that all of us as citizens bring to regenerating our urban structure as part of the ‘Rebuild America' strategy will determine if the quality of our country for many generations to come. We are making many of the same mistakes over and over again, but fortunately we are seeing a new awareness among decision-makers, voters and in some cases, in our pocket books, which is driving change and attitude. Water is such a key issue globally and transportation, or lack of it, could potential stifle our economies in urban areas and we can't take that risk over the next 20 years. The challenges right now from other economies are so great and if we don't rebuild, if we don't regenerate our infrastructure, to be sustainable, safe and clean, future generations will suffer immeasurably here in the U.S.