McGuire Engineers: Serious Impact
McGuire Engineers: Serious Impact
The Chicago-based engineering firm has built its reputation in large part by showing building owners how to run their buildings more efficiently, typically by reducing energy consumption. Founded in 1986, McGuire Engineers has a rich legacy of providing engineering design and consulting services for both existing and new commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings.
So why not create a new space that showcases simple steps the typical office can implement?
Real office, real budget
The result was a stunning new space that clients could walk through and think, “I could do that,” said David Brooks, vice president and principal. “Because we are trying new technologies, materials, and techniques, we can be confident when we make recommendations to clients. We’re experts because we’re using these solutions every day.”
Included in the design were carefully selected efficient light fixtures, re-used and recycled materials, and controls to monitor and adjust energy usage.
The workspace is open and airy. In fact, the standard perimeter of executive offices was nixed to avoid monopolizing window space. Instead, employees work in full view of the windows to take advantage of the natural light. On cloudy days, employees use individual task lights, which require less wattage than overhead lights. All lighting is controlled in zones and by timers or motion sensors to shut lights off when no one is in the area.
A high-efficiency alternative refrigerant cools the IT closet, and a new system measures actual water usage (previously,
the building owners charged tenants based on their installed capacity, regardless of how much water they used). To greatly reduce the amount of paper used, the office installed large-screen TVs to view the oversized blueprints the firm produces. There are also many simple things, such as plenty of potted plants (at least one per person) to help improve air quality.
If there’s one belief that runs throughout McGuire Engineers, it’s that sustainability is no longer a fad. “We see some serious moves by owners and companies taking social responsibility for the buildings they own and the impact that they have on the environment as well as their employees,” said Brooks.
He said company founder Anthony McGuire has been on the green bandwagon since the 1973 oil embargo painfully turned America’s mind to energy conservation. “Tony actually played a part in the energy guidelines developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers in the 1970s,” he said.
In a city bristling with skyscrapers and commercial buildings, McGuire Engineers has a ready audience focused on sustainability. Building owners typically come in knowing they are operating with inefficient equipment. “They want to know the low-cost and no-cost solutions,” Brooks said.
“We basically look at how they’re operating the building. Are they turning equipment on and off at the right times? Are they still burning a bunch of incandescents?” Sometimes, the solution is as simple as a switch to fluorescent lighting. “If they have access to capital, they may look at replacing equipment and ask us to help them justify the cost through energy savings.”
Today, the vast majority of McGuire Engineers’s work centers on design engineering. “Everything you don’t see in a building is what we do,” Brooks explained. “But if we don’t do a good job, you know about it because you are uncomfortable or unhealthy or unsafe.”
McGuire Engineers’ staff engages in close working relationships with clients through the entire project, from the early conceptual stages and design through construction, occupancy, and post-occupancy consultation. A smaller portion of business comes from energy efficiency and energy consulting activities, although Brooks’ goal is to double that.
Unfortunately, a growing practice area for the firm is forensic engineering: the investigation of systems that fail and cause damage to determine why the failure occurred. “The past 10 years were so fast and furious that people took a lot of shortcuts,” Brooks said. “It’s not an area we are eager to work in. I’m afraid it reflects poorly on our industry.”
During the recession, McGuire Engineers hunkered down like everyone else. The company moved to a smaller space and cut staff by 10%. Work hours were reduced to prevent further cuts. Today, the headcount rests at 25, compared to some 40 people before the recession took hold.
Yet Brooks notes that, over the years, efficiencies have had a marked impact on the firm. “We do a lot more with 25 people than what we used to do with 40. People come in knowing how to use computers, whereas 15 years ago we had to train them. We used to have a drafting department just to do markups; now designers do their own on the fly.”
Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, McGuire Engineers has left its mark on some true Windy City icons. When a traveling exhibit, that included the Dead Sea Scrolls, passed through the famed Field Museum, the ancient texts were housed in a special exhibit designed by McGuire Engineers. Patrons of the Art Institute of Chicago probably never knew that McGuire Engineers was hard at work upgrading the venerable building’s HVAC system with minimal disruption to exhibits and events.
The works of celebrated authors, such as JRR Tolkien, and CS Lewis, rest securely at Wheaton College, protected by humidification and fire suppression systems designed by McGuire. Other notable projects include the John Hancock Building, Wrigley Building, and The Museum of Science and Industry.
All along, McGuire’s business strategy has been to get close to owners of multiple buildings. “We understand that their buildings are sometimes their biggest investments, so we look at ourselves as stewards of their investment,” Brooks said. He attributes the company’s success simply to paying attention to its clients. “It’s very easy to be myopic and assume that only what you think is important. It is what your client thinks and wants that is important.